Economic Development and Technology

Small IT business boosts large utility company

Kentwood-based Element Four implements new backup solution for Birmingham Water Works Board.

August 31, 2018
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Element Four, a small managed IT services company in Kentwood, secured a large government contract over the summer.

The 12-person technology firm recently wrapped up a large project for the Birmingham Water Works Board in Birmingham, Alabama, by implementing a new backup solution for the municipal water entity.

“We love to work on projects for forward-thinking organizations like the Birmingham Water Works Board,” Element Four Chief Operations Officer Andrew Roe said. “They understand the crucial role that technology plays in their day-to-day operations and are willing to implement the best technology available to maintain uptime for their organization.”

The BWWB serves 600,000 people in five counties of Alabama and has 65 terabytes of source data spread across hundreds of virtual servers.

The agent-based backup product BWWB had been utilizing for its backups was unable to meet its expected recovery point objective, which led to some production systems only being backed up once a week.

The length of time the agent-based backup product needed to back up virtual systems was causing a strain on BWWB’s virtual machines. Whenever the backup application was running, consumers trying to access BWWB’s website noticed significant slowdowns.

“An organization that serves as many people as the Birmingham Water Works Board cannot afford to have their systems go down,” Roe said.

The agent-based backup solution also was difficult to manage. Due to limitations within the existing system, BWWB’s team of engineers had to rely on operations that needed to be run manually in order to fully protect their data.

To address these problems, BWWB decided its best course of action was to implement a Veeam cloud backup solution that provides reliable and cost-effective backups at its location and offsite to the Azure cloud.

Element Four’s redesign of the system utilized Veeam backup and replication to centralize all backups to the appliance at BWWB’s data center. From the data center, copy jobs are then sent to the Microsoft Azure cloud. Local backups allow for rapid file and server recovery, while Azure cloud copies allow for files and servers to be restored in the event of a disaster.

“Veeam’s restore capabilities and options are beyond compare to legacy products, which is something we take very seriously. There is no point in backing up data if you are not able to restore it when you need it,” Roe said.

Element Four also used a Cisco C240 backup appliance and implemented it with native connectivity to its hypervisor and storage network to streamline BWWB’s backup process.

BWWB now is able to back up its entire 65 TB production environment multiple times a day within its required recovery point objective and without the need for manual job execution and for an offsite tape library.

Element Four also hosts virtual private servers for clients all over the world in its cloud environment within Switch’s data centers in Kentwood and Las Vegas, Nevada.

The company plans to expand its staff to twice its current size within the next two years. In 2017, Element Four received a Michigan Economic Development Corporation grant to support the expansion with the approval of a $175,000 Michigan Business Development Program performance-based grant.

“Today’s announcement of (Element Four’s) expansion is the latest in a series of technology expansions in West Michigan over the past several years,” The Right Place Business Development Manager Jen Wangler said at the time. “West Michigan is continuing to outpace the nation in technology job growth.”

The grant incentive package was intended to help offset the costs — approximately $364,000 — related to the expansion and recruiting, attracting, and training high-skilled and high-demand computer engineers and programmers.

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