Tag Archive for data protection

Long Term Data Retention – What do I do?

One of the more common requirements I come across on a day to day basis working with organisations across a broad spectrum of industries is the question of how to manage long-term data retention.

Frankly, I have massively oversimplified the question as there are many more nuances to it that this! Some of the questions, discussion points and potential solutions I see when trying to scope out and define a long-term data retention strategy are below. We assume in this case that we are talking about backing up application data, but the same can apply to file data, such as from a file server.

Long Term Data Retention – Questions, questions, questions?!

Like beautiful snowflakes, ultimately it always comes back to gathering the requirements for the individual business.

What are the regulatory and compliance requirements for long-term retention of data, and what are the consequences for loss of that data? In the new world, this could be pretty serious, especially with things like GDPR right around the corner. Escalating this up the business hierarchy can get buy in from other parts of the business to provide additional budget outside of IT, for a solution to meet the actual requirements, not just a botch job which will likely fail when put to the test.

How long is the actual data retention required? Looking at most current applications, if we are relying on being able to read back data in 7 years, current or future backup software may still work, but will we have the kit to read the tapes or data? If using spinning rust as a storage media, do we expect to be able to migrate data from one disk system to another easily in future, and if so, how does that impact things like encryption, capacity, deduplication and compression of that data?

What is it that we are trying to protect against? Deliberate or accidental deletion, total destruction of a server, array or DC, or perhaps we just need to be able to prove what your data looked like at a specific date / time.

How granular does the data need to be? For example do we need to be able to pull a file version from a specific week in the past X years? The more granular we need to get, potentially the more expensive. If we have controls in place to protect archive data against accidental / deliberate deletion, then we may not actually need to keep more than a few days or weeks of backups (as an example).

The use of FIM (File Integrity Management) tooling can be very helpful in this regard, especially for flat file structures. They can track all changes to your file system and if something is removed or updated, you could alert your server teams to investigate why and restore it from a recent backup.

Can the application or server prevent deliberate or accidental data deletion? If the application can be treated as, or write to, WORM storage (Write Once Read Many times), then the risk of data loss is further reduced, especially if that storage can be replicated off site. This doesn’t really help much with things like SQL databases, however!

Where is the archive data for the application or solution actually held? Is it within the live system (e.g. the live DB), or can it be exported onto a tertiary archive system where it becomes Read Only to all parties, including administrators? Even better, can the application export the data into a generic format, more likely to be readable in 25+ years time (such as CSV, text etc)? This provides quite a bit more flexibility in terms of future access and recovery options.

Does the application or server provide RBAC, and has it actually been implemented yet? If we minimise the number of people who could update or delete data (maliciously or accidentally), we minimise the risk of data loss.

What is the budget for the solution? All singing, all dancing, physical or software solutions can be great, but you may not be able to afford them.

Are we looking for an appliance-based solution which includes storage, replication, backup plugins, etc, or do you already have the HW and just need some software? This often, but not always, comes down to a time vs budget question. Do you want to spend your team’s time managing clunky backup software, or just buying an appliance which does half the work for you and is policy based?

What are your sovereignty requirements for the data, and would a cloud-based service be appropriate for your business? It can be very cheap to store data in something like S3 or blob storage, if the business accepts this and you don’t need to pull any of the data back very often (if at all).

How quickly is the data required when requested, how large is a typical access request, and how often are they needed? If this can be hours or days, then an offline or cloud solution may be appropriate, but anything where immediate access is required, is a different story.

Similarly, will we want to restore or access this data in the event of a DR, does this solution form part of our DR strategy? Perhaps it’s only required for access to much older data because you are replicating the most recent data to a DR facility!

As we can see, there are many, many, [many!] things to think about when considering long-term retention of data in a backup or archive solution.

What brought this up Alex?…

… I hear you ask!

I recently attended Storage Field Day 13, where we had a presentation from a backup vendor, StorageCraft, who has been in the SMB and mid-market space for many years, and it got me thinking!

The latest iteration of their backup software provides a local cache with cloud integration, and the added ability to spin up a DR environment in the event of an outage to your primary DC. A pretty nifty feature if you are legally able to store your data outside of your local environment (they currently have DCs in the US and EU only).

They can also create backups using their proprietary SPF file format, which has apparently not changed since its inception around 15 years ago. There is also no concept of a media server, as each server manages its own backups (albeit with the ability to use a central scheduler tool). This gets around the issue of backup compatibility, though may limit their ability to provide additional data services for the backup files, such as encryption, dedupe or compression, outside that of the storage targets they reside on.

This is what tickled my mental matrix into deploying my keyboard! 🙂

Want to Know More?

The session was recorded and is now available to stream online:

StorageCraft Presents at Storage Field Day 13

Some of the other SFD13 delegates had their own thoughts on the session and StorageCraft in general. You can find them here:

Dan Frith – StorageCraft Are In Your Data Centre And In The Cloud

Scott Lowe – Backup and Recovery in the Cloud: Simplification is Actually Really Hard

Disclaimer/Disclosure: My flights, accommodation, meals, etc, at Storage Field Day 13 were provided by Tech Field Day / Gestalt IT, but there was no expectation or request for me to write about any of the vendors products or services and I was not compensated in any way for my time at the event.

Secondary can be just as important as Primary

There can be little doubt these days, that the future of the storage industry for primary transactional workloads is All Flash. Finito, that ship has sailed, the door is closed, the game is over, [Insert your preferred analogy here].

Now I can talk about the awesomeness of All Flash until the cows come home, but the truth is that flash is not now, and may never be as inexpensive for bulk storage as spinning rust! I say may as technologies like 3D NAND are changing the economics for flash systems. Either way, I think it will still be a long time before an 8TB flash device is cheaper than 8TB of spindle. This is especially true for storing content which does not easily dedupe or compress, such as the two key types of unstructured data which are exponentially driving global storage capacities through the roof year on year; images and video.

With that in mind, what do we do with all of our secondary data? It is still critical to our businesses from a durability and often availability standpoint, but it doesn’t usually have the same performance characteristics as primary storage. Typically it’s also the data which consumes the vast majority of our capacity!

AFA Backups

Accounting needs to hold onto at leat 7 years of their data, nobody in the world ever really deletes emails these days (whether you realise or not, your sysadmin is probably archiving all of yours in case you do something naughty, tut tut!), and woe betide you if you try to delete any of the old marketing content which has been filling up your arrays for years! A number of my customers are also seeing this data growing at exponential rates, often far exceeding business forecasts.

Looking at the secondary storage market from my personal perspective, I would probably break it down into a few broad groups of requirements:

  • Lower performance “primary” data
  • Dev/test data
  • Backup and archive data

As planning for capacity is becoming harder, and business needs are changing almost by the day, I am definitely leaning more towards scale-out solutions for all three of these use cases nowadays. Upfront costs are reduced and I have the ability to pay as I grow, whilst increasing performance linearly with capacity. To me, this is a key for any secondary storage platform.

One of the vendors we visited at SFD8, Cohesity, actually targets both of these workload types with their solution, and I believe they are a prime example of where the non-AFA part of the storage industry will move in the long term.

The company came out of stealth last summer and was founded by Mohit Aron, a rather clever chap with a background in distributed file systems. Part of the team who wrote the Google File System, he went on to co-found Nutanix as well, so his CV doesn’t read too bad at all!

Their scale-out solution utilises the now ubiquitous 2u, 4-node rack appliance physical model, with 96TB of HDDs and a quite reasonable 6TB of SSD, for which you can expect to pay an all-in price of about $80-100k after discount. It can all be managed via the console, or a REST API.

Cohesity CS2000 Series

2u or not 2u? That is the question…

That stuff is all a bit blah blah blah though of course! What really interested me is that Cohesity aim to make their platform infinitely and incrementally scalable; quite a bold vision and statement indeed! They do some very clever work around distributing data across their system, whilst achieving a shared-nothing architecture with a strongly consistent (as opposed to eventually consistent), 2-phase commit file system. Performance is achieved by first caching data on the SSD tier, then de-staging this sequentially to HDD.

I suspect the solution being infinitely scalable will be difficult to achieve, if only because you will almost certainly end up bottlenecking at the networking tier (cue boos and jeers from my wet string-loving colleagues). In reality most customers don’t need infinite as this just creates one massive fault domain. Perhaps a better aim would be to be able to scale massively, but cluster into large pods (perhaps by layer 2 domain) and be able to intelligently spread or replicate data across these fault domains for customers with extreme durability requirements?

Lastly they have a load of built-in data protection features in the initial release, including instant restore, and file level restore which is achieved by cracking open VMDKs for you and extracting the data you need. Mature features, such as SQL or Exchange object level integration, will come later.

Cohesity Architecture

Cohesity Architecture

As you might have guessed, Cohesity’s initial release appeared to be just that; an early release with a reasonable number of features on day one. Not yet the polished article, but plenty of potential! They have already begun to build on this with the second release of their OASIS software (Open Architecture for Scalable Intelligent Storage), and I am pleased to say that next week we get to go back and visit Cohesity at Storage Field Day 9 to discuss all of the new bells and whistles!

Watch this space! 🙂

To catch the presentations from Cohesity as SFD8, you can find them here:
http://techfieldday.com/companies/cohesity/

Further Reading
I would say that more than any other session at SFD8, the Cohesity session generated quite a bit of debate and interest among the guys. Check out some of their posts here:

Disclaimer/Disclosure: My flights, accommodation, meals, etc, at Storage Field Day 8 were provided by Tech Field Day, but there was no expectation or request for me to write about any of the vendors products or services and I was not compensated in any way for my time at the event.

HOWTO: Process for Upgrading Veeam Backup & Replication 7 to 8

As a VMware vExpert we are kindly provided free licenses for Veeam Backup & Replication and Veeam One. I have been using Veeam B&R for the last year and have successfully used it to protect half a dozen of my key lab machines and do one or two restores over that time.

The licenses we are provided with by Veeam are based on a 365 day evaluation, so my backup server was reaching its expiry date this week. I was running Veeam B&R version 7.x, so as part of the upgrade license I also needed to update the Veeam software from version 7 to 8.

This turned out to be an incredibly easy process with only a couple of minor tweaks at the end to get things up and running. As you can see from the screenshots below the installation and update of Veeam is pretty much a next, next, finish type of installation.

It’s also with mentioning that I have documented the process for upgrading Veeam B&R, but the process for upgrading Veeam One is pretty much the same.

As with any standard upgrade to software running in a virtual machine, I started by taking a snapshot of that machine.

Next step was to mount the ISO file Veeam into a virtual machine operating system and start the install wizard.

Of course I read every single word of the license agreement.

The installer recognised the previous version of the software and offered to upgrade to latest automatically.

I then pointed the install wizard to the evaluation license key provided to me by the folks at Veeam.

A number of basic checks are completed to ensure that the appropriate pre-requisites are in place.

Next you would enter the service account for Veeam. Obviously being a home lab and me being incredibly lazy, this is the local machine administrator in this case. In any production environment this should of course be a dedicated account.

The existing SQL express database instance is selected.

Veeam recognises this has an instance on it which can be upgraded.

The installer is now ready to run.

After about five minutes installation is complete.

After a quick reboot, the server is back up and running and I log back in. When I launch Veeam B&R 8 for the first time, it recognises that some server components still need to be upgraded.

Again this is just a next, next, finish setup.

The only issues I have seen after the upgrade were a couple of VMs which failed their backups. After a reboot of said machines, everything was right as rain and backups are running as normal.

Once I was sure everything was working properly, and had run a couple of successful backups, I committed and deleted the snapshots taken at the start of the process.

Conclusion
Overall the process was very simple and very slick, exactly what you want from a software upgrade. Particularly impressive considering this was a full version upgrade, not just a point release. You can see why their marketing department came up with the tagline “It Just Works”!

Although most organisations I have worked for in the past have generally used more traditional backup vendors, Veeam is definitely enterprise ready and well worth considering. The only drawback, is that if you run a mixed environment of physical and virtual machines, you may require multiple backup platforms. Even then, Veeam Endpoint can do this in some scenarios AFAIK.

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