Denver Health plans SharePoint recovery

In the absence of upfront backup and recovery planning, finding lost Microsoft SharePoint Server files can be troublesome. Specialized backup and recovery software helps assure lost files don't go missing forever.

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Lost files are a drag for users -- even more so when IT can't recover the documents quickly and easily.

Ensuring document recoverability is a given in most companies, but the realization that some files aren't easily recoverable can sneak up on an IT shop when a technology selected for one purpose ends up getting adopted for others as well. Microsoft Office SharePoint Server is often a case in point when it's brought into a company as an employee portal or for team collaboration but then morphs quickly into a repository for all sorts of corporate data.

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In the absence of upfront backup and recovery planning, finding lost Microsoft SharePoint Server files can be troublesome.

Denver Health, a healthcare system in Denver, felt the recovery pain as its SharePoint use grew and the system changed from a nice-to-have platform to a critical corporate platform.

From intranet to file store

Coincident with the availability of the 2003 version, Denver Health selected Microsoft SharePoint to create an intranet portal for its 5,500 employees -- business users as well as clinicians, said Paul Nath, webmaster and BizTalk administrator for the organization. Once the organization upgraded to SharePoint Server 2007 in July 2007, use of the platform ballooned, he said.

Denver Health's portal, called The Pulse, now houses 1,161 SharePoint sites. All administrative and clinical areas, 141 in total, have their own departmental sites, for example.

While everybody uses SharePoint at least once a year to take an employee survey, update personal information and participate in performance reviews, about 40% of employees use SharePoint regularly during the week. The number of personal My Sites has hit 5,621, Nath said.

Of the My Site users, most have started treating that destination as a home drive rather than relying on a network file share. "This gives them the ability to easily get documents to other people without having to provide access to a particular file share. It streamlines the opportunity for collaboration across our environment," he explained.

In addition, since implementing SharePoint 2007, Denver Health has started using every piece of the product lineup, including Microsoft Office Project Server (106 sites) and PerformancePoint Server, Nath said. Recently, it integrated SQL Server Reporting Services and now uses SharePoint as a central reporting hub, he said.

Recovery rethink

As SharePoint's use grew, Denver Health needed to adjust how it thought about backing up and recovering data in the system. Initially, the company approached its SharePoint servers along with the rest of the IT environment, from a disaster recovery viewpoint -- a "what would happen if the data center went down" perspective, Nath said.

"But with SharePoint housing so much of our data now," he said, "having to cherry-pick and restore a particular Excel file or a list item out of a database ended up being very time-consuming."

Recovering a lost SharePoint file would entail restoring a database to nonproduction servers and initiating recovery from there. Technicians emailed recovered files to users.

If the lost document was financial- or patient-impacting, the recoverability mandate was four hours and required a "drop everything," coordinated effort among the database, server and SharePoint teams. On the other hand, recovering standard Word documents could take up to two weeks, Nath said.

Initially, Nath's team didn't field too many SharePoint recovery tickets because most lost files could be found in the system's recycling bin. After 30 days, however, those files became unavailable and lately the number of recovery requests went from one to five a quarter to eight in the last three months, Nath said.

"That might not seem like too many, but when we saw this happening over and over, we knew demand would only keep growing," he added. And, since Denver Health was encouraging employees to use SharePoint rather than file servers, Nath said he figured "we better have a proactive data recovery plan."

The importance of compression

As part of that plan, Nath wanted to implement backup and recovery software designed for SharePoint. To save on server space, being able to compress the data was critical. "We were looking for a compression ratio of 4- or 5-to-1," he said.

Idera's backup and recovery software gave Denver Health what it needed. "Right now, we have 150 gigabytes of data in our SharePoint environment, and we've compressed that into a 100 GB data store," Nath said. "That's phenomenal for us."

 "Saving space with our SharePoint backups is huge. If we had to keep 150 GB active for weekly backups over two months, we're talking about having to have 2 or 3 terabytes of drive space
Paul Nath
Denver Health

Each night, Denver Health backs up its servers to tape for shipping offsite—and later moves it into long-term archiving for Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act compliance. In addition, it keeps about two months worth of compressed SharePoint data -- the 100 GB -- onsite on active disk.

"Saving space with our SharePoint backups is huge," Nath said. "If we had to keep 150 GB active for weekly backups over two months, we're talking about having to have 2 or 3 terabytes of drive space."

Denver Health's backup storage requirements are particularly large since it maintains active-active data centers. In other words, the organization is really storing 200 GB of SharePoint backups on active disk, one set at each data center.

On top of this, Idera provides a self-service capability from which Denver Health is reaping unplanned financial benefits, Nath said. If a clinician needs to recover a file, a site collections administrator can pull the backup from the active disk without enlisting the aid of a help desk technician.

"All of a sudden, we saw a cost-savings in reduced help desk tickets that we hadn't anticipated," Nath said. "Plus, we're empowering users to do their jobs better and get the information they need more quickly."

Beth Schultz is a freelance IT writer in Chicago. You can reach her at bschultz5824@gmail.com.

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