PG Telco Keeps Rural Customers Connected and Protected Using Zmanda and Red Hat Solutions

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February 10, 2010

Customer: PG Telco/Zmanda

Industry: Telecomm
Geography: North America
Country: United States


Business Challenge:

Regional rural telecom company needed an enterprise-class backup and recovery system to ensure business continuity, and a reliable and scalable operating system that would prevent the servers from crashing

Migration Path:

CentOS to Red Hat Enterprise Linux

Software:

Amanda Enterprise 3.0 open source backup and recovery solution from Zmanda; Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5

Hardware:

Intel-based Dell PowerEdge servers, Dell EqualLogic Enterprise-Class Virtualized iSCSI SAN

Benefits:

Zmanda’s Amanda Enterprise ensures that PG Telco data is regularly backed up and archived; the rock-solid reliability, stability, and enterprise-class support for the underlying Red Hat Enterprise Linux operating system ensures that servers running Amanda as well as other mission-critical applications are always available

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Background:

The Prairie Grove Telephone Company is family-owned and operated and has been since its incorporation in 1906. Founded in 1888 in Prairie Grove, Arkansas, when a doctor strung telephone lines between his medical office and his brotherand#x2019;s pharmacy to communicate patient prescriptions, PG Telco was one of the longest telephone lines in Arkansas by the turn of the century with approximately 8,000 POTS lines and approximately 3,500 DSL customers, with an utmost focus on quality customer service and rapid response time. Zmanda is the worldand#x2019;s leading provider of open source backup and recovery software, with more than half-million implementations worldwide. Because it is based upon proven open source development and distribution practices, Zmanda is able to deliver its award-winning software at just a fraction of what comparable proprietary packages cost. Designed to be used by the largest multinational companies as well as small- and mid-size businesses (SMBs), Zmanda offers enterprise-class services and support to ensure the successful implementation of its software worldwide.

Business Challenge:

Until Scott Griffin joined PG Telco in 2007 as a systems engineer, the firm had no enterprise-wide backup system in place. That left all the mission-critical applications—and data—at PG Telco utterly vulnerable in case of a disaster or other unanticipated event. “I was under the assumption, coming from a larger company, that everything was being backed up,” said Griffin. “When I found out it wasn’t, my stress level shot through the roof. I immediately began evaluating backup and recovery solutions, to avoid something disastrous happening on my watch.”

Losing this data—customer account information as well as operational data—would be devastating for PG Telco, as it would disrupt its ability to provide all-important services to customers.

“The bottom line these days is that customers who leave us because of a problem with the service may not come back,” said Griffin. “Customer retention is absolutely dependent upon a stable infrastructure. And in this economy, we need to keep our retention rates as high as possible.”

At the same time this was happening, PG Telco determined it was critical to migrate its CentOS Linux workstations to a Red Hat Enterprise Linux based environment due to the need for a business production level, fully supported operating system on industry-standard Intel-based machines.

“As our company grew, we identified the need for enterprise level support and SLAs that we simply couldn’t receive while deploying on CentOS—if we had any problem, or issue – no matter how big or small, we had no support organization to turn to,” said Griffin.

In addition to the support concerns, the company needed to ensure they were receiving Red Hat Enterprise Linux upgrades and patches in a timely manner, which could cause a security exploit. “And with CentOS, if you break it for any reason, you own it,” said Griffin. “If you mistakenly misconfigure it, it’s your problem. You don’t get customer support that every business needs. It was not an ideal situation for any company that views reliability and stability as business-critical.”

Another reason Griffin wanted a supported operating system was to take advantage of the best practices the Red Hat team has accrued over the years. “There are always ten thousand ways to accomplish a task, but with Red Hat support, we get all the advantages of Red Hat’s knowledge,” said Griffin.

Solution:

Griffin immediately began looking for solutions to both his backup and operating system challenges. After thoroughly evaluating the top proprietary backup and storage solutions on the market, Griffin decided to investigate open source solutions as well—primarily for cost reasons.

“Proprietary solutions were simply too expensive,” he said. Zmanda’s Amanda Enterprise, as the leading open source backup and storage solution on the market, was the best open source product Griffin looked at. “We’d found our solution, due to the value and the reliability of open source-based, Amanda Enterprise,” said Griffin.

In addition to a much lower total cost of ownership (TCO), ease of use turned out to be a major deciding factor.

“The big-name backup solutions were not only extremely expensive, but clunky and difficult to implement,” said Griffin. Given the small size of PG Telco’s IT department—just three employees, including himself—Griffin knew he would have to install and manage it himself, “I needed something that was easier to work with and more flexible,” he said. “The Zmanda backup solution provided both.”

When it came to the operating system, there was only one choice: Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5. In fact, the decision had already been made prior to Griffin’s arrival at Prairie Telco.

“I was under the directive to have our servers migrated from CentOS to Red Hat Enterprise Linux within 30 days,” he said. “That made sense. As the leading Linux distro, Red Hat has a reputation for reliability and stability that was unmatched, and could provide the expert support for the platform that we desired.”

Benefits:

Today, Griffin rests easier at night knowing that Amanda Enterprise is reliably backing up and archiving all PG Telco data. “Now, if anything happens, we are covered,” he said. Installation was fast—and easy. “I needed to contact Zmanda Customer Support a few times in the first couple of weeks, and the support was excellent. They were able to talk me through everything,” he said. The openness and streamlined architecture of Amanda Enterprise has been an essential success factor. “If I need the log files, I can immediately put my hands on them,” he said.

On the operating system side, “moving to Red Hat Enterprise Linux has made the biggest difference in our ability to keep our servers up and available,” said Griffin. “There’s nothing wrong with running CentOS at home. But for business? No. From now on, everything will be Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5.”

Amanda utilizes a SAN storage server for storing backup archives, so it can quickly reboot after an unplanned outage and be fully functional. “So there’s no need to worry about system reboots or reconfigurations,” said Griffin. And the Dell blade servers that he runs Amanda Enterprise on perform better and are more flexible when running Red Hat Enteprise Linux. “They’re simply easier to use,” he said.

Griffin is both a Red Hat Certified Engineer (RHCE) and Red Hat Certified Technician (RHCT), and credits the training and certification for increasing his ability to implement and manage the Red Hat Enterprise Linux environment. The RHCE and RHCT training and tests were difficult—but well worth it. Now I have all the skills I need to manage the Red Hat Enterprise Linux environment.” The real value of the training and certifications has been proven on the job, he said. Plus, he likes being part of a group of RHCEs that enables knowledge sharing among peers at other organizations.

When he does need support—from either Zmanda or Red Hat—it has been exemplary. “With either vendor, if I have an issue, I don’t have to go to the Internet—there are professionals available to help me and quickly resolve any questions or issues,” he said.

The best thing of all is that the combination of Amanda Enterprise and Red Hat Enterprise Linux works as designed. “I can quickly set up a system, and know it will work as intended, and survive a reboot if necessary. That’s the bottom line,” said Griffin. “The fact that I no longer worry about the operating system allows me to more efficiently administer the servers.”

Not incidentally, Griffin has managed to please his boss at the same time he’s made his own professional life less stressful. “It’s a win-win situation,” he said. “I don’t worry any more, and my boss is happy that the investment has already paid for itself.”

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