NetWorker 9.2 – A Focused Release

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Jul 292017
 

NetWorker 9.2 has just been released. Now, normally I pride myself for having kicked the tyres on a new release for weeks before it’s come out via the beta programmes, but unfortunately my June, June and July taught me new definitions of busy (I was busy enough that I did June twice), so instead I’ll be rolling the new release into my lab this weekend, after I’ve done this initial post about it.

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I’ve been working my way through NetWorker 9.2’s new feature set, though, and it’s impressive.

As you’ll recall, NetWorker 9.1 introduced NVP, or vProxy – the replacement to the Virtual Backup Appliance introduced in NetWorker 8. NVP is incredibly efficient for backup and recovery operations, and delivers hyper-fast file level recovery from image level recovery. (Don’t just take my written word for it though – check out this demo where I recovered almost 8,000 files in just over 30 seconds.)

NetWorker 9.2 expands on the virtual machine backup integration by adding the capability to perform Microsoft SQL Server application consistent backup as part of a VMware image level backup. That’s right, application consistent, image level backup. That’s something Avamar has been able to do for a little while now, and it’s now being adopted in NetWorker, too. We’re starting with Microsoft SQL Server – arguably the simplest one to cover, and the most sought after by customers, too – before tackling other databases and applications. In my mind, application consistent image level backup is a pivot point for simplifying data protection – in fact, it’s a topic I covered as an emerging focus for the next several years of data protection in my book, Data Protection: Ensuring Data Availability. I think in particular app-consistent image level backups will be extremely popular in smaller/mid-market customer environments where there’s not guaranteed to be a dedicated DBA team within the IT department.

It’s not just DBAs that get a boost with NetWorker 9.2 – security officers do, too. In prior versions of NetWorker, it was possible to integrate Data Domain Retention Lock via scripting – now in NetWorker 9.2, it’s rolled into the interface itself. This means you’ll be able to establish retention lock controls as part of the backup process. (For organisations not quite able to go down the path of having a full isolated recovery site, this will be a good mid-tier option.)

Beyond DBAs and security officers, those who are interested in backing up to the cloud, or in the cloud, will be getting a boost as well – CloudBoost 2.2 has been introduced with NetWorker 9.2, and this gives Windows 64-bit clients the CloudBoost API as well, allowing a direct to object storage model from both Windows and Linux (which got CloudBoost client direct in a earlier release). What does this mean? Simple: It’s a super-efficient architecture leveraging an absolute minimum footprint, particularly when you’re running IaaS protection in the Cloud itself. Cloud protection gets another option as well – support for DDVE in the Cloud: AWS or Azure.

NMC isn’t left out – as NetWorker continues to scale, there’s more information and data within NMC for an administrator or operator to sort through. If you’ve got a few thousand clients, or hundred of client groups created for policies and workflows, you might not want to scroll through a long list. Hence, there’s now filtering available in a lot of forms. I’m always a fan of speeding up what I have to do within a GUI, and this will be very useful for those in bigger environments, or who prefer to find things by searching rather than visually eye-balling while scrolling.

If you’re using capacity licensing, otherwise known as Front End TB (FETB) licensing, NetWorker now reports license utilisation estimation. You might think this is a synch, but it’s only a synch if you count whitespace everywhere. That’s not something we want done. Still, if you’ve got capacity licensing, NetWorker will now keep track of it for you.

There’s a big commitment within DellEMC for continued development of automation options within the Data Protection products. NetWorker has always enjoyed a robust command line interface, but a CLI can only take you so far. The REST API that was introduced previously continues to be updated. There’s support for the Data Domain Retention Lock integration and the new application consistent image level backup options, just to name a couple of new features.

NetWorker isn’t just about the core functionality as well – there’s also the various modules for databases and applications, and they’ve not been left unattended, either.

SharePoint and Exchange get tighter integration with ItemPoint for granular recovery. Previously it was a two step process to mount the backup and launch ItemPoint – now the NMM recovery interface can automatically start ItemPoint, directing it to the mounted backup copies for processing.

Microsoft SQL Server is still of course supported for traditional backup/recovery operations via the NetWorker Module for Microsoft, and it’s been updated with some handy new features. Backup an recovery operations no longer need Windows administrative privileges in all instances, and you can do database exclusions now via wild-cards – very handy if you’ve got a lot of databases on a server following a particular naming convention and you don’t need to protect them all, or protect them all in a single backup stream. You also get the option during database recovery now to terminate other user access to the database; previously this had to be managed manually by the SQL administrator for the target database – now it can be controlled as part of the recovery process. There’s also a bunch of new options for SQL Always On Availability Groups, and backup promotion.

In addition to the tighter ItemPoint integration mentioned previously for Exchange, you also get the option to do ItemPoint/Granular Exchange recovery from a client that doesn’t have Exchange installed. This is particularly handy when Exchange administrators want to limit what can happen on an Exchange server. Continuing the tight Data Domain Cloud Tier integration, NMM now handles automatic and seamless recall of data from Cloud Tier should it be required as part of a recovery option.

Hyper-V gets some love, too: there’s processes to remove stale checkpoints, or merge checkpoints that exceed a particular size. Hyper-V allows a checkpoint disk (a differencing disk – AVHDX file) to grow to the same size as its original parent disk. However, that can cause performance issues and when it hits 100% it creates other issues. So you can tell NetWorker during NMM Hyper-V backups to inspect the size of Hyper-V differencing disks and automatically merge if they exceed a certain watermark. (E.g., you might force a merge when the differencing disk is 25% of the size of the original.) You also get the option to exclude virtual hard disks (either VHD or VHDX format) from the backup process should you desire – very handy for virtual machines that have large disks containing transient or other forms of data that have no requirement for backup.

Active Directory recovery browsing gets a performance boost too, particularly for large AD trees.

SAP IQ (formerly known as Sybase IQ) gets support in NetWorker 9.2 NMDA. You’ll need to be running v16 SP11 and a simplex architecture, but you’ll get a variety of backup and recovery options. A growing trend within database vendors is to allow designation of some data files within the database as read-only, and you can choose to either backup or skip read-only data files as part of a SAP IQ backup, amongst a variety of other options. If you’ve got a traditional Sybase ASE server, you’ll find that there’s now support for backing up database servers with >200 databases on them – either in sequence, or with a configured level of parallelism.

DB2 gets some loving, too – NMDA 9.1 gave support for PowerLink little-endian DB2 environments, but with 9.2 we also get a Boost plugin to allow client-direct/Boost backups for DB2 little-endian environments.

(As always, there’s also various fixes included in any new release, incorporating fixes that were under development concurrently in earlier releases.)

As always, when you’re planning to upgrade NetWorker, there’s a few things you should do as a matter of course. There’s a new approach to making sure you’re aware of these steps – when you go to support.emc.com and click to download the NetWorker server installer or either Windows or Linux, you’ll initially find yourself redirected to a PDF: the NetWorker 9.2 Recommendations, Training and Downloads for Customers and Partners. Now, I admit – in my lab I have a tendency sometimes to just leap in and start installing new packages, but in reality when you’re using NetWorker in a real environment, you really do want to make sure you read the documentation and recommendations for upgrades before going ahead with updating your environment. The recommendations guide is only three pages, but it’s three very useful pages – links to technical training, references to the documentation portfolio, where to find NetWorker focused videos on the Community NetWorker and YouTube, and details about licensing and compatibility. There’s also very quick differences details between NetWorker versions, and finally the download location links are provided.

Additional key documentation you should – in my mind, you must – review before upgrading include the release notes, the compatibility guide, and of course, the ever handy updating from a prior version guide. That’s in addition to checking standard installation guides.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a geeky data protection weekend ahead of me as I upgrade my lab to NetWorker 9.2.