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IP SANs to the rescue: fortifying business continuity.

The escalating demand to protect vital corporate assets has propelled business continuity and disaster preparedness into the mainstream. With initial deadlines for Sarbanes-Oxley looming and the list of regulatory requirements growing across different industries, it's become increasingly important for organizations to deploy a comprehensive backup and restore strategy. Still, many companies are struggling with the prohibitive cost of traditional methods for retaining, managing and disposing of regulatory compliance records.

The impact of new federal regulations adds complexity to a mounting backup and recovery problem for organizations all of sizes. Small-to-medium businesses (SMBs) are particularly vulnerable since the lack of easy-to-use and affordable solutions has forced many of them to perform inadequate, selective backups.

Fortunately, the advent of iSCSI (Internet SCSI) is lowering backup and recovery price and performance barriers while enabling companies to automate vital disk-to-disk backup and recovery procedures. As a result, new IP SANs (Internet Protocol Storage Area Networks) can support a full range of business continuity strategies--from maintaining backup copies of data off site to implementing remote synchronous mirrors with redundant servers that are ready to take over at a moment's notice.

Shrinking Backup Windows

For many organizations, the backup and recovery conundrum is complicated by exponential data growth and shrinking backup windows. Individual backup for each server is difficult to manage and requires multiple backup devices and backup licenses.

Scheduling backups for multiple client servers to a backup server creates an inherent conflict between the time required to back up all clients and the time available for non-disruptive access to the network. Since most backup software applications require client servers to be backed up one at a time, scheduling backups during non-peak hours--typically between 8:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m.--may not provide sufficient time to protect all data on all servers. Moreover, this scenario is not viable for enterprises that operate across multiple or international time zones.


For Shoreline Communications, a provider of next-generation IP voice systems based in Sunnyvale, CA, increasing data volumes made it difficult to back up mission-critical data that is instrumental to supporting the company's product development and customer support initiatives. "We started our backup procedures on Friday at 8:00 p.m. and found we were still backing up files on most Tuesday afternoons," said Steve Winter, Shoreline's manager of information technology. "We got a lot of user complaints, especially from key engineers, since the time-consuming backups had an adverse affect on their productivity."

Impact of Regulations

To add yet another layer of complexity to the backup and recovery challenge, new federal regulations, including the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), Sarbanes-Oxley and SEC 17a-3 and 17a-4 are dramatically impacting data retention and storage requirements.

Retention periods vary from two years to seventeen years to lifetimes, in the case of some classes of HIPAA-compliant healthcare records. One of the biggest impacts of these new regulations is that data must be stored online rather than offline using a method that can't be altered. That means data storage methods must be secure and protected against inadvertent writing over records. In some cases, employing a non-erasable archive technology such as optical WORM (Write Once Read Many) or WORM tape is mandated.

For many data-intensive organizations, the impact of these regulations, compounded by the critical need for effective backups, raises a host of critical questions including: How can they streamline their recovery operations, achieving faster and more reliable backups? Also, how fast can they recover from an inadvertent error to its last known good state? Moreover, how do they handle the increasing avalanche of information that will soon make it physically impossible to back up all data on all servers in a 24-hour period?

Solving the Problem

Three trends are making disk-to-disk backup solutions not only feasible, but also a welcome, viable solution to growing business continuity problems. The first trend is the availability of inexpensive ATA or Serial ATA drives, providing low-cost disks that can be used specifically for backup and restore.


Second, the new iSCSI standard allows companies to develop cost-effective IP SANs for disk-to-disk backup.

Finally, a new generation of backup and restore software supports disk-to-disk backup and restore methods. Additionally, optical storage technologies can be employed instead of tape to meet the new compliance regulations.

Leading IP SAN solutions offer a complete disk-to-disk backup solution that offloads backup and restore operations from the company LAN onto a dedicated Ethernet IP SAN. This approach removes the typical constraints imposed by the LAN for performing the backup process and places the burden of backup traffic onto the IP SAN (Figure 1).

Disk-to-Disk backup using an IP SAN resolves the conflict between data backups and shrinking backup windows. Instead of backing up data one server at a time, users can backup data from multiple servers simultaneously onto a central disk storage repository, slashing backup times.

For Shoreline Communications, deploying an IP SAN-based disk-to-disk backup solution reduced the company's overall backup window by 75% Backups conducted Friday night are now completed by Saturday. In addition, Shoreline uses the IP SAN's logical volume management capability to create a separate volume for each server, which to the server now appears as a locally attached disk.

Using an IP SAN to speed its backup procedures has also eliminated Shoreline's need for intermittent backups to tape. Once disk-to-disk backup is completed, the IT team sends an archival copy to tape as a background activity that has no impact on network performance. The time and cost associated with obtaining backup tapes from off site storage has been reduced by more than 60%.

How Disk-to-Disk Backup Works

In a typical IP SAN configuration, the backup software instructs client servers to send backup data to logical volumes presented by a storage-provisioning appliance over a dedicated Gigabit Ethernet SAN. In this fashion, logical volumes appear as a local disk to each client server. In this way, the operation is a simple disk copy process that is performed at disk-to-disk speeds. The entire operation is as fast and seamless as writing backup data to a local drive that actually resides at the client server (Figure 2).

Backup operations are further enhanced by Ethernet's inherent ability to support concurrent server data transfers on the network. This intrinsic feature enables multiple client servers to backup data to their own logical disks at the same time, without having to wait for other backup jobs to finish. Running multiple backups simultaneously has dramatically reduced the time required to backup data.


Once the client servers complete their data backups, the backup server can fetch the data directly from the appliance's logical volume and place it on tape or an archival media such as WORM or optical drives. This transfer can take place without regard to the backup window since all of the client servers have already completed their respective backups and returned to normal operation.

As an added bonus, the system administrator has complete control over configuring the size and number of logical volumes presented to each client server, thus providing the ultimate flexibility in determining how much and how long backup data resides at disk speeds. For example, a system administrator could choose as little as yesterday's backups, or as much as last month's daily backups accessible via the IP SAN.

How Disk-to-Disk Restore Works

In an IP SAN, client server data is backed up to logical volumes presented by the storage-provisioning appliance. In Figure 3, servers one and two back up data Monday through Friday. In order to facilitate the quick recovery of recently backed-up data, the system administrator has chosen to keep five days of backup data on each of those logical volumes.

In the rare instance a client server needs to restore this data, its backup software is pointed to the correct logical volume on the IP SAN to copy the required data. The entire transaction is conducted over a dedicated Gigabit Ethernet storage network using a simple copy operation. This restores the data at disk-to-disk speeds that are as fast and seamless as accessing data from local drives in the client server. If client backup data older than five days is required, it can be restored from tape or WORM by the backup server and then sent over the LAN to the requesting server.

Ethernet's inherent ability to support concurrent server data transfers on the network enables a client server to restore data from its own logical volume without impacting other restore operations that may be occurring at the same time on other servers. As a company's storage requirements increase, the IP SAN allows client servers and their associated logical volumes to be added, without increasing backup or restore times.

Remote Replication

In some cases, advanced mirroring software is bundled with the IP SAN to support storage-independent, local or remote, synchronous or asynchronous data replication over unlimited distances using iSCSI on an Ethernet network. By incorporating this enterprise-class capability for protecting mission-critical data, an IP SAN provides an affordable solution to keep critical data highly available while leveraging existing investments in hardware and personnel (Figure 4).


Boosting Business Continuity

IP SAN-based backup and recovery provides significant benefits, including lower cost of ownership, ease of use, and significant performance advantages over traditional solutions. In addition to minimizing costs and simplifying operations, IP SANs leverage high-speed, reliable disk-to-disk backup technology. Also, automated storage policies further reduce the cost and complexity of setting up and maintaining the infrastructure and management schema for safeguarding vital data.

IP SANs also help businesses reduce costs significantly by consolidating existing and new disk storage. The ability to use the standard iSCSI protocol ensures seamless integration into standard Ethernet networks while enabling smaller organizations to afford robust backup and recovery solutions. In addition, IP SANs offload LAN-attached backups, creating "LAN-free" backup environments. Finally, affordable IP SANs can be used to augment existing disaster recovery strategies by replicating backups to a remote IP SAN.

With backup operations now performed centrally, businesses can re-deploy IT personnel and eliminate tape drives/libraries on individual servers and at remote locations. In addition, an affordable IP SAN enables them to use readily available IP network security technologies, including firewalls, encryption and authentication tools to prevent unauthorized access to the organization's storage.

For companies like Shoreline Communications, an IP SAN-based solution has boosted business continuity dramatically. "Shoreline now has more critical data readily available to support important product development and customer support efforts," concludes Winter. "We have realized a significant return on investment in terms of greatly improved access to mission-critical resources that drive our business and guarantee topnotch customer support."

Jim Canter is vice president of engineering at StoneFly Networks. Inc. (San Diego, CA)
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Disaster Recovery & Backup/Restore
Author:Canter, Jim
Publication:Computer Technology Review
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2004
Previous Article:Implementing an IP SAN for disaster recovery: using iSCSI as an enabler.
Next Article:Preparing for disaster with an effective business continuity strategy: overcoming potential dangers to your information infrastructure.

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