As is typically the case, EMC and my timing has been a little out of whack. They announced their “backup to the future” event around the time that I suddenly had to move, and a few days after the event, I still haven’t been able to watch any of the coverage due to the dubious honour of having to subsist on mobile internet for a couple of weeks while I wait for ADSL to be installed.
Sigh. Clearly this is a serious problem … maybe EMC will have to employ me before NetWorker 8.2 comes out so we have a better chance of keeping our calendars in sync on big events. That way they won’t accidentally schedule a major backup release when I have to move again … 🙂
While I haven’t been able to see the “Backup to the Future” material, I had spent a chunk of time working with NetWorker 8.1 through the beta testing phase, so I can have a bit of a chat about that. So, grab whatever your favourite beverage is, pull up a chair, and let me spin you a yarn or two. (In a couple of weeks I’ll likely have a few things to say about Backup to the Future … a lot of the material out of EMC lately about accidental architecture aligns very closely to my attitudes of where companies go wrong with data protection.)
It’s not surprising that EMC’s main staff backup blog is called thebackupwindow. Windows are terms that pretty much everyone who works in backup eats, lives and breathes. (Not just backup windows of course, but recovery windows too.) You might say that Moore’s law has been a governing factor in computing. But there’s another law that, to be perfectly honest, is a pain in the proverbial for every person who is involved in backup and recovery, and for want of a better term, I’m going to call it Newton’s Third Law of Data Protection – i.e., to every action there is always an equal and opposite reaction.
The net result? Data keeps on getting bigger, and in turn backup windows for that data keeps on shrinking.
So, EMC’s primary blog being called the backup window makes perfect sense.
As does the feature set of NetWorker 8.1.
(See, I was getting to the point, even if I was walking around it a few times.)
While some of the features of NetWorker 8.1 are geared around interface changes, and others around security, the vast bulk of them are focused on meeting the demands of a shrinking backup window. Let’s take a quick look at some of those new features…
Parallel Saveset Streams (Unix)
The bane of every backup administrator is dense filesystems, and the PSS feature is designed to help get around this. Got a Unix filesystem with tens of millions of files? Likely it’s got a good disk structure underneath it, but filesystems suck for full sequential walks. Turning on the Parallel Saveset Streams features for key Unix/Linux clients with dense filesystems will start to make a difference here – NetWorker will spawn multiple save processes to separately walk, and save data from the filesystem.
Block Level Backups (Windows)
That dense filesystem problem isn’t just limited to Unix servers, of course. Backup administrators with large Windows servers in their environments equally feel the pain, and enabling BLB functionality on Windows servers for key, large filesystems, will allow the bypass of the filesystems entirely, achieving high speed backup with file level recovery capabilities.
Storage Node Load Balancing
Sure to be a boon for big datazones, storage node load balancing will allow businesses to deploy multiple storage nodes in relatively small but dense network segments and have clients spread their backups automatically between the storage nodes, rather than having to juggle which clients should backup to where.
Optimised Deduplication Filesystem Backups for Windows
Windows 2012 Server introduced deduplication for the filesystem. NetWorker 8.1 introduces the ability to backup the deduplicated blocks. Net result? If you’ve got a 2TB filesystem which represents 800GB of deduplicated data, NetWorker gives you the option of just backing up 800GB of data rather than 2TB of data. I’m hoping, of course, that this isn’t just going to be limited to Windows deduplication filesystems … there’s a lot of ZFS users out there for instance who’ll be thinking “Um? We got there first…”
Virtual Synthetic Fulls on Data Domains
Synthetic fulls, introduced in NetWorker 8, can work wonders at reducing the required backup windows within an environment, but, creating a new synthetic full when the target was a Data Domain would result in a full rehydration of the data. Under NetWorker 8.1 though, that fabulous Boost integration continues apace, and the generation of a synthetic full is handed over to the Data Domain when it’s the operation source and target. Net result? Synthetic fulls with a Data Domain involved don’t need to rehydrate the data to generate the new full.
Boost over Fibre Channel
A long time ago in a source tree a long time ago, advanced file type devices showed a lot of promise but had some disappointments. Those disappointments were removed in NetWorker 8 with the complete re-engineering of AFTDs, but in the meantime, a lot of businesses that had deployed Data Domain systems had gone down the VTL route to try to ameliorate those backup-to-disk headaches. Unfortunately, when true backup to disk was fixed with NetWorker 8, that left those businesses in an undesirable situation: the advantages of Boost were clear, but it could only be implemented over IP, and since fibre-channel infrastructure isn’t cheap, not everyone was keen to just switch their investments across to IP. NetWorker 8.1 helps that transition. Of course, it’s not the same as making a Data Domain system fully addressable on an IP network, but it does allow the creation of Boost backup to disk devices over Fibre Channel, which means that technology transition can be phased and handled more smoothly. I suspect this will see a noticeable reduction in the number of NetWorker installs using VTLs.
Efficiency Improvements to nsrclone
Smaller than the other changes mentioned above, the nsrclone process has been improved in terms of media database fetch processes, which means it starts cloning sooner. That’s a good thing, of course.
Faster Space Reclamation on AFTD/Data Domain Systems
Unfortunately you don’t always get to control the filesystem you write to for backups. When I’m backing up to traditional disk on Linux, I pretty much always deploy AFTDs on XFS. That way, when I decide to delete 4TB of backups they delete quickly. If I was using say, ext3, I’d issue the delete command, go off, have a coffee, come back, curse at the server, go away again, have lunch, come back… well, you get the picture.
While some of the delete process is bound up in how long it takes for the OS/Filesystem to respond to a file delete command (particularly for a large file), some of that space reclamation process is bound in NetWorker’s media database operations. That part has been improved in NetWorker 8.1.
The Other Bits
I mentioned NetWorker 8.1 wasn’t all about shrinking the backup window, and there are some other features. Quickly running through them…
VMware Backup Appliance (VBA)
Virtual Machines … they really are the bane of everyone’s lives. Of course, operationally they’re great, but sometimes backing them up leaves you wishing they were all physical, still. Well, maybe not wishing, but you get the drift.
NetWorker 8.0 introduced full VADP support. NetWorker 8.1 goes one step further in working with the Virtual Backup Appliance option introduced in newer versions of ESX. This isn’t something I’ve had a chance to play with – my lab is all Parallels due to Fusion not liking my Mac Pro’s CPUs, but I imagine it’s something I’ll see deployed soon enough.
NetWorker Snapshot Management
NSM replaces the old and somewhat crotchety PowerSnap functionality. For long-term PowerSnap users who have been looking for a solid update, this will undoubtedly be a big bonus.
Recovery Comes Home
8.1 introduces a Recovery interface within NMC, where it’s belonged since NMC was first created. This seems the immediate termination of the old, legacy nwrecover interface from the Unix install of NetWorker, and it’s undoubtedly going to see the Windows recovery GUI killed off over time as well. In fact, if you want to recover from Windows block level backups, you better get used to the new recovery interface.
What I really like about this interface is that you can create a recovery session and then save it to re-run it later. A lot of administrators and operators are going to love this new interface.
…I’m annoyed with Block Level Backups. It’s completely understandable that it has to be done to disk backup (i.e., AFTD or Data Domain), and that it requires client direct. Again, that’s understandable. However, if want to do block level backups to AFTDs presented from Unix/Linux servers, you’re out of luck. AFTDs must be presented from Windows servers.
I know this is a relatively small limitation, but I have to be honest – I just don’t like it. I want to see it fixed in NetWorker 8.2. I’ll settle for some sort of proxy mechanism if necessary, but I really do think it should be fixed.
Then again, I do come from a long-term Unix background. So take my complaint with whatever bias you want to attribute to it.
So there you have it – NetWorker 8.1 is out on the starting line, revving, and ready to make your backups run faster. It’s going to be a welcome upgrade for a lot of environments, and gives us a tantalising taste of improvements that are coming to our backup windows.