March 17, 2008
Ameren Corporation is headquartered in St. Louis, MO, and was created in 1997 following the merger of CIPSCO Incorporated and Union Electric Company. In 2003, Ameren Corporation grew with the acquisition of CILCORP, Inc., parent of Central Illinois Light Company, now operating as AmerenCILCO. In 2004, Ameren Corporation acquired Illinois Power Company now
operating as AmerenIP from Dynegy Inc. Ameren Corporation’s 9000 employees provide energy services to 2.4 million electric customers and nearly one million natural gas customers across 64,000 square miles in Illinois and Missouri.
The IT Generation Field Support team at Ameren Corporation provides primary on-site IT support for their customers, which are primarily coal and hydro-powered power plants. The team was tasked with finding an easy to maintain disaster recovery solution to protect their customer’s systems. These systems were responsible for interfacing with real-time, mission critical equipment, and they required extensive and time-consuming configuration.
Late in 2005, the IT Generation Field Support team began looking for a reliable backup and recovery solution for their customers’ mission critical servers. The team had been relying on Symantec Ghost to backup systems offline. This process was extremely labor intensive and required employees to work nights and weekends to take systems offline and create archives. The process also lacked flexibility for recovery, especially in situations where similar hardware was unavailable for system restoration.
The IT Generation Field Support team needed a noninvasive solution that wouldn’t require a large amount of time for installation and setup, and a solution that wouldn’t be resource intensive or have a large installation footprint on the OS. Since the customers are responsible for managing their own systems, it is imperative that solutions developed by the IT Generation Field Support team require minimal training and are easy to maintain. Customers wanted a solution that they could maintain themselves and without needing to rely on vendor intervention for recovery in crisis situations.
The IT Generation Field Support team needed an easy-to-use, noninvasive solution that wouldn’t impair their critical machines. The generation process network systems at Ameren Corporation control large and complex equipment. Any resourceconsuming solution would be unacceptable. The support team found that Acronis was a very application-friendly solution. Having the ability to throttle resources dedicated to the backup process was a tremendous asset. "As far as our applications are concerned, it isn’t even there," said Charles Bryant.
The IT Generation Field Support team evaluated other solutions from Legato and Symantec but found that other interfaces were impossible to navigate. The solutions often failed, while Acronis was consistently successful. As a pilot test, the team implemented the solution on a training simulator. Shortly after installing on the training simulator, the team faced a failure when trying to restore the system. The team contacted their Acronis sales representative and within 5 minutes they were talking to engineers who helped them resolve the issue. As it turned out, the failure was the result of a firmware issue with the RAID controller.
"I have never had such good, responsive service from a vendor — being so willing to
dedicate the right resources for the job immediately,"
Supervisor, Generation Support, Ameren Corporation
Instead of just having a reliable backup solution, the IT Generation Field Support team was able to create a comprehensive business continuity solution based on Acronis and VMware. The team took their rollout to the next level, installing Acronis with VMware, and provided customers with unprecedented portability. Hardware was no longer a concern or issue. Customers would be able to recover to essentially any physical or virtual environment as needed. The IT Generation Field Support team introduced the business continuity solution to their staff and were met with great enthusiasm and approval. The staff felt the products were easy to use and the customer sites took over the business continuity management of their systems much faster than the support team had expected.
The IT Generation Field Support team is continuing to install Acronis on a site-by-site basis across two states. Because the solution had provided them with everything they needed for their disaster recovery project, and much more, the team expanded the scope of their project to other business units where they hadn’t intended to use Acronis.
"In my experience, software vendors rarely, if ever, live up to their promises. As a matter of fact, in my 20+ years in the IT business, only 2 companies have fully lived up to their promises and provided what they said they would. The first is VMware, and the second one is Acronis. I think that was probably the most unexpected result I could have gotten,"
Supervisor, Generation Support, Ameren Corporation