REVIEWERS: Nathan Boughton, director of technical services, John Crumbley, director of technology support services, and Larry Moore, wide area network administrator for Aldine Independent School District.

BACKGROUND: Aldine Independent School District (ISD), one of the largest school districts in Texas with more than 55,000 students, aims to be a leader in educational technology. Aldine ISD's vision of education as an interactive, dynamic and collaborative process emphasizes the importance of technology integration to encourage a variety of ideas, promote participation and open the door to limitless possibilities. Over the past six years, Aldine ISD has received many awards and accolades. It is the largest urban school district in Texas to achieve an academic rating of "Recognized." A national study conducted by The Learning First Alliance of Washington, D.C., selected Aldine ISD as one of the top-ten school districts in the nation for African American and Latino students to receive a public education.

PLATFORMS: Our technology services group, serving 65 schools and six administrative buildings, relies on a fibre infrastructure, taking advantage of Gigabit Ethernet from the district's centralized data center to the main closet in each of the remote locations. From the main closet, the network extends via Fast Ethernet to intermediate closets and to the desktop which encompasses 35,000 data drops for 16,000 computers and 180 servers. We've also extended the network to 150 modular buildings using wireless technology. We take advantage of the high-availability bandwidth by architecting many enterprise-level solutions. Seventy-five percent of our data archiving, backup and data protection is completed from a centralized solution featuring ADIC and Syncsort equipment and software. Large-scale Compaq and Sun servers running Solaris 8 are used to house applications delivered throughout the district, while GigE fibre access to the Internet provides a mechanism for transport. The desktops run everything from Windows 95 to Windows XP. A Scalar 1000 with three cabinets and 750 tape slots is used for storage.

PROBLEM SOLVED: We have multiple platforms, and other backup solutions required various modules which meant more manpower that we couldn't afford. Syncsort Backup Express gave us the ability to work on multiple platforms without increasing our personnel.

PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: We had someone on site when we did the installation, and it was a no-brainer. We actually did the installation and part of the setup through the GUI. After looking at some of the other products, this was unbelievably easy. We use Backup Express to back up three terabytes of data in the district. The backup window for this is from 2:00 a.m. to 7:00 a.m., Monday through Friday. When we first installed the system, we did a lot of checking to make sure the backup was running correctly. Now, we have so much confidence in the system that we aren't worried about problems.

STRENGTHS: Probably one of its biggest selling points was the minimal manpower needed to run Backup Express. Some of the other products would have required an additional employee to run the backup system. With Backup Express, we can basically do it in our spare time.

WEAKNESSES: We are a school district, but we have virtually every operating system available. It would be great if Backup Express could support platforms such as VSE and AS/400. I know that Syncsort is adding new platforms to Backup Express, and these may be included.

SELECTION CRITERIA: We did this as a turnkey solution, setting benchmarks and describing what we wanted. From start to finish, we wanted a company that could produce a tape backup that backs up 55 servers in 30 days. We also examined benchmarks performed by several other companies from different segments of industry. We wanted raw performance and the best bang for our buck. That's why we selected Backup Express from Syncsort Incorporated.

DELIVERABLES: We've divided our large district into five separate vertical areas. Each vertical area has a network engineer and a repair technician. The engineers are responsible for the backups and restores in their areas. If someone in an area loses a file, the engineer knows how to use Backup Express to pull that file off the tapes and reinstall it on the computer. Our clients have easy access to the person who is going to fix it for them. We've had to do several restores, but using the GUI made them very straightforward and easy.

VENDOR SUPPORT: Customer service played an important role in our overall satisfaction. The customer service representative that helped with the installation process gave us his cell phone number, his mother's home phone number and even his number on an airplane. He was more than accessible to us. He was a true example of extraordinary customer service through the whole process.

DOCUMENTATION: The documentation was very good and met all our needs.

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