New Backup and Restore Technology Introduced at COMMON Conference Expo

High Availability / Disaster Recovery
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Crossroads Systems' virtual tape appliance for IBM i promises to dramatically shorten backup times.

The COMMON Directions and Focus educational conferences were held this week, and about 200 users attended the converged Indianapolis events. About 20 vendors also supported the show by sending representatives to explain, and in some cases demonstrate, their products during the one-day exhibition.


MC Press Online had the good fortune to speak with a relative newcomer to the IBM i marketplace, Crossroads Systems, Inc., from the floor of the Indianapolis show. I had met Glenn Haley, senior product marketing manager for Crossroads, last spring at COMMON in Reno when the company sent its sales team to Nevada. Haley, along with sales manager Jim Biernacki and VP of sales, Jim Miller, showed they could negotiate the back hallways of any conference when they showed up at the Key Information Systems reception celebrating the launch of Key's Smart i business intelligence appliance. The guys laid out for me their plans to introduce new products into the IBM i market, a sign that growth and technology innovation are anything but stalled in the i space.


The company didn't disappoint and followed through on its promise when it introduced at this week's show the new SPHiNX for Power Systems dedicated virtual-tape appliance and software solution that can shave tons of time off of most folks' backup window. It uses traditional tape backup methodologies and inexpensive, reliable disk storage to create a nifty data management environment. The appliance stores IBM i data onto RAID 5 protected disks, using preconfigured tape backup sets, just as it would on tape, only it does it a whole lot faster. The SPHiNX (note the catchy lowercase "i" in its name) delivers fast, scalable tape backup and restore. It's just that it puts the data onto disk drives. The device, by the way, supports both Fibre Channel as well as SCSI host bus connectivity so those of you with older systems aren't left out of the plan. You can be running anything from V5R2 forward.


Crossroads knows companies are still committed to tape, however, and Haley told me they're not positioning SPHiNX as a tape replacement but more as a "tape augmentation solution" to improve backup speed (typically a 50 percent to 200 percent improvement), enhance capacity, and lower costs. If you must mount and rewind tapes, you can attach tape drives and even libraries to the rear of SPHiNX and back up the data to physical tape at your leisure without disrupting your users or coming in on nights or weekends to do it. Since the data is much more available than it would be on tape, you can dramatically improve recovery time and recovery point objectives.


The device supports IBM i save commands and the Backup, Recovery, and Media Services (BRMS) utility without disrupting current backup policies and processes. It supports dynamic virtual tape sizes and an unlimited number of cartridges, and it can connect multiple IBM i-based logical partitions and multiple virtual tape drives per partition.


SPHiNX also has a lot of software loaded onto the device, some of which is included in the base price, and other software you can access with optional keys as needed. Management of virtual tape operations is provided via a Web-based GUI, so SPHiNX can be remotely managed with a standard browser. One option is remote replication in which SPHiNX replicates backups remotely by synchronizing data copies over a WAN between a local SPHiNX and one or more remote units. The idea is to reduce offsite storage of tape while making the data available immediately. Data encryption is another option, and SPHiNX employs AES-256 encryption and has its own key management software so no outside solution is required.


So much for what the appliance does, now what doesn't it do. It's designed for the IBM i operating system and does not yet support AIX, though Crossroads is working on that. It doesn't support i on the BladeCenter because of the question about BladeCenter backing up to tape, though the SAS Connectivity Module may have now relieved that conundrum. And the unit doesn't support data de-duplication—yet. With that new technology, the system searches for duplicate instances of a file and when it finds them, places a pointer where the duplicated file was before backing up the data. The idea is to save space, but it imposes limitations on backups and restores as well as writing directly to tape. IBM's System Storage TS7650 ProtecTIER de-duplication appliance is a good example of a device that does this. Crossroads' solution is to just compress the heck out of the data with a 10:1 compression ratio using its "dynamic data reduction" software method or employ delta mode backups and just back up the changed data, which it has the ability to do.


The appliance, which starts with 3 TB for about $21,500, and can expand to 9 TB, is probably not for the little shop with a single AS/400 chugging along. The company that has two or more servers, however, might want to give it a second look. Already a firm in Westminster, Colorado, Computer Research, Inc. (CRI) is singing the praises of SPHiNX. The company supplies securities-processing services for regional brokerage and financial services firms across the country. CRI wanted to have one system to leverage disk speed for backups rather than rely on disparate tape systems and media formats. The main value the company found in SPHiNX is its ability to get backups done nightly from its batch process, and it reduced its backup window by 40 percent. The company also enjoys its newfound ability to keep system images of its many test environments and bring them back at any time.


Though a bit pricey for some companies, the growing firm with an ever-expanding backup window that finds itself immersed in processing physical tapes and concerned about restores will find features in SPHiNX that it has only dreamed about. While administrators are evaluating this new hardware/software solution, we will be looking forward to Crossroads' next ingenious product for the IBM i user community.