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Mirror, Mirror In The Data Center.

Remote data copy for disaster recovery

The twin nightmares of lost data and systems outages have pushed disaster recovery and remote backup to the top of IT agendas in the age of e-commerce. For System/390 server environments, continuous system and data availability can be best achieved through redundant design with clustering and failover features. All critical components are duplicated to maintain system and application availability in case of a single component failure.

In a disaster, the most common and trustworthy facility for business resumption is the utilization of remote copy (also referred to as remote data mirroring). The remote copy solution produces an exact copy of production data in real-time at a remote site. The remote site can function as the production site in a seamless failover, should the main production site go down or encounter serious problems.

Several approaches and technologies are available for remote copy for the S/390 platform. The main options are host-based and controller-based remote copy and each has different strengths and limitations. Also, there are many other data copying products in the market, which can provide point-in-time copies of production data, on demand, for testing or concurrent backup.

Host-Based Remote Copy

A host-based, software-assisted data mirroring facility such as IBM's eXtended Remote Copy (XRC) utilizes a program supplied with DFSMS/MVS that monitors all updates to the local primary volumes and asynchronously applies the same updates to the remote secondary volumes. This enables the host application to process the next transaction or I/O immediately after the write to the local primary volume is complete without having to wait for the write to the remote secondary volume to finish. Thus, performance is usually minimally impacted and the distance between the primary and the secondary sites can be almost unlimited.

However, XRC requires host resources such as CPU, main and expanded storage, DASD for control, and journal data sets, as well as controller resources (such as cache for the sidefile to temporarily store the updates). The secondary volume may be out of sync and behind in currency with the primary volume and, therefore, requires special attention in recovery situations.

Fig 1 shows the components of XRC and the asynchronous operation of the remote update process. The System Data Mover (SDM) software is a component of DFSMS/MVS, which can reside and run in the primary site application host, remote recovery host, or in a separate host in a third site. The SDM host is connected to both the primary and remote secondary controllers via ESCON or channel extenders through common carrier facilities. A common system timer is used to time stamp all updates to XRC volumes in order to ensure updates to primary and secondary are in the same time sequence. When the primary controller receives a "Write" update from the primary host, an I/O "Complete" response is immediately returned. The data is put in a sidefile in the controller cache.

The SDM software collects updates from all primary controllers periodically or on requests from controllers as a result of reaching a threshold. The software uses the time stamps on the update records and a special algorithm to form a group of records called a "Consistency Group," which guarantees data and sequential update integrity. This "Consistency Group" of updates is, then, applied to the secondary volumes to ensure that the secondary volumes are updated in exactly the same sequence as the primary volumes. Thus, sequential integrity or time consistency is maintained. Due to the asynchronous remote update implementation, applications do not have to wait for the remote update to be completed. The performance impact due to remote copy is, therefore, normally minimal and extended distances can be supported.

A drawback of this implementation is that data in transit (in the primary controllers or in the SDM not yet formed into a "Consistency Group") will be lost in case of a disaster in the production site. Data recovery efforts are, therefore, required to recover the lost transactions and data. The time and efforts required depend on the customer's environment (i.e., application and configuration complexity, update intensity, and XRC set up). However, applications can be restarted at the remote site quickly after a disaster since XRC can maintain a set of remote volumes that can guarantee data integrity and time consistency.

Controller-Based Remote Copy

There are three different general implementations of controller-based remote copy: synchronous, semi-synchronous, and asynchronous operation.

Synchronous Operation

The benefits of controller-based remote copy via synchronous operation include the ability to synchronize remote volumes with production volumes, to update secondary volumes with the exact same sequence as the primary volumes to guarantee data and sequential update integrity, and to eliminate data loss in case of a disaster in the primary site. Controller-based remote copy enables current, reliable data backup and the ability to restart applications remotely with minimum delay.

The drawback with controller-based remote copy via synchronous operation is that it is necessary to wait for the remote write to complete. System and application performance can, therefore, be impacted. The degree of performance degradation depends on the update rate, record block sizes, and distance between the primary and the secondary sites (assuming that there are no resource or other bottlenecks). The supported distance is generally restricted to the ESCON distance of 43km maximum.

IBM's Peer-to-Peer Remote Copy (PPRC) and products from Amdahl, Hitachi, EMC, and others, provide a synchronous data mirroring capability between the primary and the secondary storage subsystems by the controller firmware without host involvement. Host software such as TSO commands are used to start, monitor, and control the remote copy operations.

Fig 2 shows an example of a PPRC configuration and operation. The local and remote controllers are connected by ESCON links. Primary volume updates are not posted complete to the application host until the data is safely written to the cache of the secondary controller and the primary controller receives confirmation.

PPRC provides users two options to ensure remote data integrity in case of remote copy error conditions. The first option is to present a permanent I/O error to the host, if the write cannot be completed successfully to both the primary and remote volumes. This usually brings down the application, resulting in all primary and secondary volumes fully duplexed with no data loss. This option provides the highest level of data currency and integrity, but at the cost of system and application availability.

The second option for ensuring remote data integrity involves exploitation of a facility provided by MVS called the MVS DASD Error Recovery Procedures (ERP), which creates a timing window allowing the user to react to the error conditions. After the timing window expires, If I/0 will resume on the primary volume with the corresponding secondary volume suspended. This can avoid an application outage, if the primary volume is not the source of errors. However, if the secondary volume is out of sync, data loss will result if a subsequent disaster should follow. The second option is, therefore, much more complex to implement. Users usually integrate this facility with other software such as automation and operation management packages in an optimum disaster recovery solution, maximizing primary site system and application availability while minimizing recovery time in case of primary site disasters.

The IBM Geographically Dispersed Parallel Sysplex (GDPS) is an excellent example of such an integrated disaster recovery solution and it can significantly improve availability by reducing the impact of both planned and unplanned outages. GDPS is a multi-site management facility that combines system code and automation with the capabilities of IBM 5/390 Parallel Sysplex clustering technology, storage subsystem mirroring, and databases to manage storage, processors, and network resources to minimize the impact of system outages. By spreading a Parallel Sysplex cluster over two sites and duplexing all data, workloads and applications can be manually or automatically switched between sites to avoid planned outages and minimize unplanned outage disruptions.

GDPS uses PPRC synchronous remote copy to minimize or eliminate data loss and uses Parallel Sysplex cluster functions along with system automation to minimize the duration of the recovery window. GDPS detects the first indication of a potential disaster and uses Automation, MVS Error Recovery Procedures (ERP) and PPRC facilities to create a set of secondary volumes that guarantee sequential consistency and data integrity. Should a disaster occur, applications could be restarted in the remote site using automation and Sysplex facilities and all data accesses could be automatically switched to the secondary volumes using the PPRC facility. All major S/390 storage vendors such as Amdahl, Hitachi Data Systems, and EMC have announced their support for GDPS.

Semi-Synchronous Operation

Semi-synchronous remote copy operation is an attempt to reduce the performance penalty of synchronous operation and to extend the distance that can be supported. Semisynchronous operation should result in a significant performance improvement over synchronous operation if there are relatively few writes and if they are evenly distributed across different volumes, but normally, I/Os are "peaky" and updates usually come in bunches, resulting in inevitable waits for remote writes to complete.

Also, semi-synchronous operation may create a serious data integrity exposure in a multi-controller environment, since there is no coordination between controllers to ensure that remote updates are applied to the secondary volumes at the exact same time sequence as the primary volumes. If a disaster should occur, a full recovery process must be implemented to recover the records in flight, even if it may be only one record per volume. Users may lose data currency and the integrity assurance that comes with a synchronous remote copy and they may experience little performance benefits in return. This makes semi- synchronous operation more suitable for data migrations than for disaster recovery solutions. IBM's PPRC does not support this mode of operation, but products from some vendors provide it as an option.

In semi-synchronous implementation, an update from the host will receive an "I/O Complete" response immediately from the primary controller after it puts the I/0 in the primary controller queue to be transferred to the remote controller later. If there already is a record in the queue for the volume to be updated, the I/O will be rejected until the previous update has been written to the secondary volume. Thus, the remote volume is never more than one record out of sync with the primary volume (Fig 3).

Asynchronous Operation

Due to the shortcomings of semi-synchronous operation, EMC has implemented a controller-based asynchronous remote copy operation called "Adaptive Copy." Adaptive Copy is an extension to the semi-synchronous operation, allowing the secondary volumes to be more than one update out of sync with the primary. The lack of data integrity with this implementation makes Adaptive Copy unsuitable for disaster recovery solutions, but instead, can be used for data migration applications.

Fig 4 shows an example of Adaptive Copy operation. Updates from the host will receive an "I/O Complete" response immediately after they are received by the primary controller. The updates are, then, queued in the primary controller to be transferred to the secondary controller later. The user can control the amount of data allowed to be out of sync (i.e., the maximum number of updates to be queued).

Hitachi Data Systems recently announced a controller-based Asynchronous Remote Copy implementation, which provides enhanced data consistency and integrity, using similar techniques as XRC. It is, therefore, subject to similar considerations as XRC such as data loss in case of disasters in the production site and if it is not compatible with GDPS implementation.

Data integrity is fundamental to an effective disaster recovery solution. Also of major importance is the ability to handle a rolling disaster, which is a disaster occurring over a period of time (i.e., milliseconds, seconds, or minutes) instead of instantly and, thus, resulting in extensive damage and data loss. To handle rolling disasters effectively, the disaster recovery solution must be able to detect the disaster early and the remote site must be aware of the error conditions and any data inconsistency or out-of-sync condition. This is normally handled effectively with a host-based remote copy implementation such as XRC, since it has connectivity to both the primary and secondary volumes and has overall knowledge of primary and secondary site status.

Data currency, performance, and distance must be carefully weighed in deciding between synchronous and asynchronous remote copy implementations. Synchronous remote copy can provide the highest degree of data integrity and currency, which can reduce recovery time and efforts. Therefore, most customers will choose a synchronous remote copy configuration to implement their disaster recovery solution. Remote sites should, therefore, be chosen within the distance restrictions. If that is not possible, then asynchronous remote copy solutions such as XRC, which can guarantee data integrity, provide the next best choice.

With the maturing of parallel sysplex clustering and remote data mirroring technologies, fast recovery from total site failures and disasters is now a reality. To implement an effective disaster recovery solution, the data mirroring technology must guarantee data integrity and be able to handle rolling disasters effectively. Together with synchronized remote copy solutions, GDPS is the ultimate continuous availability standard, which has evolved to fulfill the promise of total protection against component and site failures with automatic workload and application switching. With the trend towards greater automation and standardization, these technologies help to make disaster recovery a "no brainer" with failover features and less human intervention.

Michael Wong is the manager of enterprise storage marketing at Amdahl Corporation (Toronto, Canada).

The opinions contained in this article are those of the author and not of Amdahl Corporation.
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Author:Wong, Michael
Publication:Computer Technology Review
Date:Jun 1, 2000
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