Tag: backup strategy

No ZFS Support for EMC Replication Manager

As I originally blogged, I was hoping to use EMC snapshots to perform server-less/network-less backups. EMC provides two main tools for managing snapshots in this type of situation:

  • EMC Replication Manager
  • EMC PowerSnap Networker Module

The PowerSnap Module supposedly automates taking snapshots for the purpose of backups, while Replication Manager supposedly provides a much more robust package.

With Replication Manager you might create a policy to take a snapshot every five minutes, keep the last 10, and use those for backups whenever necessary.

To make a long story short, Replication Manager is useless for LUNs with ZFS. According to EMC, this won’t change in the near future. PowerSnap also has no support for taking snapshots of LUNs with ZFS on them so basically EMC has no server-less backup offerings for Solaris with ZFS.

As an IT guy in general, ZFS is the best thing that has happened to file systems in the last 10 years and it is only getting better. ZFS is already standard in FreeBSD and NetBSD. Linux supports ZFS over FUSE due to license issues but I’m confident those will be solved. The file system is platform independent, meaning you can move the data transparently between Intel and Sparc architectures. Deduplication has just been added to the feature set and disk encryption is on it’s way.

As a Solaris admin, I really can’t figure out why EMC would decide to cut off their own foot like this. It is clear that UFS will remain for legacy and backwards compatibility but ZFS is the future. Not planning to support ZFS is like not planning to support Solaris.

The only possibility that I can see is that EMC sees Sun, Solaris, and ZFS as enough of a threat, that they are strategically trying to limit options? For operations local to a server, ZFS has largely replaced the need for heavy hardware like EMC on the SAN. Some would argue that ZFS RAID + JBOD is better than ZFS + RAID on EMC. You can do the snapshots without the EMC. On a simple level, you can send snapshots asynchronously to another system, similar to MirrorView, without the EMC. You can do deduplication without the EMC. Now with Sun’s Flash Cache technology which integrates with ZFS, you can get the performance without the EMC. Along the same lines, you see Sun changing the rules of the storage/database game with solutions like Exadata V2. The integration of Zones with ZFS may be challenging Vmware on the virtualization front, especially with the serious advantage Sun’s Coolthreads servers have in terms of consolidation.

That said, I still prefer to offload this work to dedicated storage hardware for the time being and probably in the future. If EMC chooses not to support ZFS, they will only force us not to buy EMC arrays. We will stop buying disks, stop buying tools, etc.

Instead, they should be providing better support for ZFS, integrating with ZFS to get better performance, providing tools which make EMC the preferred disk array behind a ZFS filesystem.

Caveats on Using Snapshots for Server-less Backups

Whether you are dealing with disk I/O in reading the data from the disks, or CPU for compressing or encrypting the data (or both- remember to compress and then encrypt!), or network for transferring the data to a backup server, the added load of a backup on your production servers is unwelcome. For this reason, the period of time during which backups can be made, aka. backup window, may be limited- even severely.

You may say, “It only takes me X hours to do a full backup of everything”, but over time backup windows are notorious for becoming too small. Backups are split over multiple days, technologies upgraded, etc. When planning a backup strategy, my approach is to eliminate the backup window altogether- that is do whatever you can to take the backup off the production hardware altogether.

Storage Snapshots are one method for taking the production servers out of the backup equation. By creating a consistent, point in time snapshot on your storage, and mounting it on your backup server, you can backup your data using your backup server’s resources while your production servers continue as usual.

Caveats of this method in general are:

  1. Most snapshot technologies are some form of “Copy On Write”. This means that after you take a snapshot, the data from any area written to on the disks will first be copied somewhere else for safe keeping and then be overwritten.
    • This may cause a performance hit on your production system as you are generating extra IO on every write.
    • As long as the data being used in production has not changed significantly from the snapshot, your backups will still be sending the majority of their read operations to the same physical disks being used by production so this doesn’t relieve the backup load on the storage as much as it relieves the load on the servers.
  2. Key word is “consistent”.
    • You do not want to be where KDE developers were when ext4 was released. Depending on the applications or systems you are trying to backup, you may need to “quiet” them (FLUSH TABLES WITH READ LOCK,  ALTER TABLESPACE <tablespacename> BEGIN BACKUP, etc.)
    • If your application, ie. Oracle Database uses Datafiles or ASM spread over several LUNs, then all your storage level snapshots probably need to be taken together in order for the DB itself to remain consistent. For more, look at “Consistency Groups.”
  3. Once you have the snapshot, your backup server needs to see the snapshot LUN, and be able to mount the filesystem on the LUN. If your backup server doesn’t run the same operating system as your production servers this may be an issue. Ie. Try convincing a Windows server to mount a ZFS Pool (I dare you).

Anyway- these are just some things to look out for when you want to use storage level snapshots to backup servers without loading the production systems themselves. In another post I’ll touch on some EMC infrastructure specifics to look out for.