Tag Archives: backup

Another DR Planning Reminder – Hurricane Harvey

Hurricane Harvey is an on-going disaster of epic proportions. Flood waters are still receding in the hardest hit areas of Texas and Louisiana while the remnants of Harvey are dumping rain in Tennessee.  The flooding has affected millions of people and the devastation affecting their lives may take years to recover from. Relief agencies that are working to help the victims of Harvey need support now and will continue to need support for many months to come.

In addition to acknowledging the cost in human suffering, we shouldn’t ignore the financial costs dealt to businesses affected by this disaster. Some of these businesses may never recover from this disaster because of the extent of the devastation, and in some cases, because of insufficient disaster preparedness.

The full extent of the damage will not be known for some time, but it is safe to believe that with over 50 inches of rain falling in Houston and surrounding areas, some businesses had their servers and data storage literally underwater.

Radar Image from Weather Underground  on August 25.

I personally have been involved in creating disaster recovery solutions for IT for over 18 years.  In this industry, no one welcomes disasters and they are not viewed as events to capitalize on.  They are instead taken as harsh realities from which springs renewed desire to improve the way IT is protected and recovered.  The lessons we learn from each disaster elevate our efforts to prevent the loss of business critical data and services.  And when I say business, that includes government and other organizations whose IT services may be critical to responding to disasters of all shapes and sizes.

Harvey is a reminder that disasters can and will happen and your primary data center could be at ground zero despite your best preparations. Are you prepared to recover from such a loss? Do your disaster recovery (DR) plans do enough to ensure recovery from a total loss of a data center? There are plenty of DR solutions and strategies available today to make sure you can recover from even a regional disaster like a hurricane.

Hyperconverged infrastructure solutions that combine servers, storage, virtualization, and backup/DR solutions into a single appliance can help. With traditional infrastructure solutions that have servers, storage, virtualization, and backup/DR as separate solutions, things get very complicated and often very expensive. Hyperconverged infrastructure provides simplicity starting with rapid, easy implementation and ongoing simplicity through unified management, unified support, and seamless scalability.

Scale Computing’s HC3 hyperconverged infrastructure solution is a prime example of simplified infrastructure that includes robust high availability and backup/disaster recovery at no extra cost. HC3 includes incremental backup, replication, failover, restore, failback as native features while Scale Computing also offers disaster recovery as a service (DRaaS) for organizations who want or need a hosted DR site with their HC3 infrastructure. On top of the native features, HC3 supports a wide variety of third party backup/DR solutions including traditional backup/DR players like Unitrends, zero-downtime and real-time replication solutions like DoubleTake Availability from Carbonite, and newer backup/DR appliance solutions like Restoronix, to name just a few.

If you’ve been watching Harvey and wondering how you can implement a better DR plan that is both simpler and more cost effective, you should be looking at an infrastructure solution like HC3 hyperconverged infrastructure. Scale Computing offers DR planning services to make sure your data and critical services are protected while also providing a DR runbook (also provided with DRaaS) that will be your guide should disaster strike.

For more information on how you might better plan for DR, check out this white paper, Disaster Recovery Strategies with Scale Computing.

Backup is No Joke

Today is World Backup Day and a reminder to everyone about how important it is to backup your data. Why today? What better day than before April Fools Day to remember to be prepared for anything. You don’t want to be the fool who didn’t have a solid backup plan.

But what is a backup? Backing up business critical data is more complex than many people realize which may be why backup and disaster recovery plans fall apart in the hour of need. Let’s start with the basic definition: A backup is a second copy of your data you keep in case your primary data is lost or corrupted. Pretty simple. Unfortunately, that basic concept is not nearly enough to implement an effective backup strategy.  You need some additional considerations.

  1. Location – Where is your backup data stored? Is it on the same physical machine as your primary data? Is it in the same building? The closer your backup is to the primary data, the more chance your backup will suffer the same fate as your primary data. The best option is to have your backup offsite, physically removed from localized events that might cause data loss.
  2. Recovery Point Objective – If you needed to recover from your backup, how much recent data would you lose? Was your last backup taken an hour ago, a day ago, or a week ago? How much potential revenue could be lost along with the data you can’t recover? Taking backups as frequently as possible is the best way to prevent data loss.
  3. Recovery Time Objective – How long will it take to recover your data? If you are taking backups every hour but it takes you several hours or longer to recover from a backup, was the hourly backup effective? Recovery time is as important as recovery point. Have a plan for rapid recovery.
  4. System Backup – For a long time, backups only captured user and application data. Recovery was painful because the OS and applications needed to be rebuilt before restoring the data. These days, entire servers are usually what is backed up, increasing recovery speed.
  5. Multiple Points in Time – Early on, many learned the hard way that keeping one backup is not enough. Multiple backups from different points in time were required for a number of reasons. Sometimes backups failed, sometimes data needed to be recovered from further back in time, and for some businesses, backups need to be kept for years for compliance. The more backups, the more points in time that data can be recovered from.
  6. Backup Storage – One of the greatest challenges to backup over the decades has been storage. Keeping multiple copies of your data quickly starts consuming multiples of storage space. It just isn’t economical to require 10x or more of the storage of your primary data for backup. Incremental backups, compression, and deduplication have helped but backups still take lots of space. Calculating the storage requirements for your backup needs is essential.

Are snapshots backups? Sort of, but not really. Snapshots do provide recovery capabilities within a local system, but generally go down with the ship in any kind of real disaster. That being said, many backup solutions are designed around snapshots and use snapshots to create a real backup by copying the snapshot to an offsite location. These replicated snapshots are indeed backups that can be used for recovery just like any other form of backup.

Over the decades, there have been a variety of hardware, software, and service-based solutions to tackle backup and recovery. Within the last decade, there has been an increasing movement to include backup and recovery capabilities within operating systems, virtualization solutions, and storage solutions. This movement of turning backup into a feature rather than a secondary solution has only been gaining momentum.

With the hyperconvergence movement, where virtualization, servers, storage, and management are brought together into a single appliance-based solution, backup and disaster recovery are being included as well. Vendors like Scale Computing are providing all of the backup and disaster recovery capabilities you need. Scale Computing even offers their own cloud-based DRaaS as an option.

So today, on the eve of April Fools Day, let’s remember that backup is no joke. Businesses rely on data and it is our job as IT professionals to protect against the loss of that data with backup. Take some time to review your backup plans and find out if you need to be doing more to prevent the next data loss event lurking around the corner.

Behind the Scenes: Architecting HC3

Like any other solution vendor, at Scale Computing we are often asked what makes our solution unique. In answer to that query, let’s talk about some of the technical foundation and internal architecture of HC3 and our approach to hyperconvergence.

The Whole Enchilada

With HC3, we own the entire software stack which includes storage, virtualization, backup/DR, and management. Owning the stack is important because it means we have no technology barriers based on access to other vendor technologies to develop the solution. This allows us to build the storage system, hypervisor, backup/DR tools, and management tools that work together in the best way possible.

Storage

At the heart of HC3 is our SCRIBE storage management system. This is a complete storage system developed and built in house specifically for use in HC3. Using a storage striping model similar to RAID 10, SCRIBE stripes storage across every disk of every node in a cluster. All storage in the cluster is always part of a single cluster-wide storage pool, requiring no manual configuration. New storage added to the cluster is automatically added to the storage pool. The only aspect of storage that the administrator manages is creation of virtual disks for VMs.

The ease of use of HC3 storage is not even the best part. What is really worth talking about is how the virtual disks for VMs on HC3 are accessing storage blocks from SCRIBE as if it were direct attached storage to be consumed on a physical server–with no layered storage protocols. There is no iSCSI, no NFS, no SMB or CIFS, no VMFS, or any other protocol or file system. There is also no need in SCRIBE for any virtual storage appliance (VSA) VMs that are notorious resource hogs. The file system laid down by the guest OS in the VM is the only file system in the stack because SCRIBE is not a file system; SCRIBE is a block engine. The absence of these storage protocols that would exist between VMs and virtual disks in other virtualization systems means the I/O paths in HC3 are greatly simplified and thus more efficient.

Without our ownership of both the storage and hypervisor by creating our own SCRIBE storage management system there is no storage layer that would have allowed us to achieve this level of efficient integration with the hypervisor.

Hypervisor

Luckily we did not need to completely reinvent virtualization, but were able to base our own HyperCore hypervisor on industry-trusted, open-source KVM. Having complete control over our KVM-based hypervisor not only allowed us to tightly embed the storage with the hypervisor, but also allowed us to implement our own set of hypervisor features to complete the solution.

One of the ways we were able to improve upon existing standard virtualization features was through our thin cloning capability. We were able to take the advantages of linked cloning which was a common feature of virtualization in other hypervisors, but eliminate the disadvantages of the parent/child dependency. Our thin clones are just as efficient as linked clones but are not vulnerable to issues of dependency with parent VMs.

Ownership of the hypervisor allows us to continue to develop new, more advanced virtualization features as well as giving us complete control over management and security of the solution. One of the most beneficial ways hypervisor ownership has benefited our HC3 customers is in our ability to build in backup and disaster recovery features.

Backup/DR

Even more important than our storage efficiency and development ease, our ownership of the hypervisor and storage allows us to implement a variety of backup and replication capabilities to provide a comprehensive disaster recovery solution built into HC3. Efficient, snapshot-based backup and replication is native to all HC3 VMs and allows us to provide our own hosted DRaaS solution for HC3 customers without requiring any additional software.

Our snapshot-based backup/replication comes with a simple, yet very flexible, scheduling mechanism for intervals as small as every 5 minutes. This provides a very low RPO for DR. We were also able to leverage our thin cloning technology to provide quick and easy failover with an equally efficient change-only restore and failback. We are finding more and more of our customers looking to HC3 to replace their legacy third-party backup and DR solutions.

Management

By owning the storage, hypervisor, and backup/DR software, HC3 is able to have a single, unified, web-based management interface for the entire stack. All day-to-day management tasks can be performed from this single interface. The only other interface ever needed is a command line accessed directly on each node for initial cluster configuration during deployment.

The ownership and integration of the entire stack allows for a simple view of both physical and virtual objects within an HC3 system and at-a-glance monitoring. Real-time statistics for disk utilization, CPU utilization, RAM utilization, and IOPS allow administrators to quickly identify resource related issues as they are occurring. Setting up backups and replication and performing failover and failback is also built right into the interface.

Summary

Ownership of the entire software stack from the storage to the hypervisor to the features and management allows Scale Computing to fully focus on efficiency and ease of use. We would not be able to have the same levels of streamlined efficiency, automation, and simplicity by trying to integrate third party solutions.

The simplicity, scalability, and availability of HC3 happen because our talented development team has the freedom to reimagine how infrastructure should be done, avoiding inefficiencies found in other vendor solutions that have been dragged along from pre-virtualization technology.

Disaster Recovery and Backup Strategies for the SMB

When infrastructure (server or storage) fails in a traditional, physical environment, there is typically resulting downtime while a complex and lengthy recovery from backups is reconstituted.  In most cases, this requires time obtaining and setting up identical replacement hardware, then additional time to recover the operating system, applications and data from the backups. Continue reading