One certainty in IT is that there will be problems which you need to recover from–fast.
Servers crash. Hard drives die. Users delete files they want back. OS patches don’t work. It’s possible to recover … if you’ve got the right files, the right spare hardware, enough time, and enough knowledge. Sometimes it may be a quick simple fix. But in the extreme case, what’s needed is a full “Bare Metal Restore,” meaning “to a machine with a cherry hard drive that may not even be formatted and partitioned.”
Of course, doing a re-install and rebuild can take time–hours, even days, if you have to start by retrieving full and incremental backup tapes–which may be off-site–and finding and configuring hardware.
Meanwhile, while you’re working to get things back together, there’s a lot of angry yelling and screaming, because in today’s 7x24x365 e-world, even one hour of downtime is a lot. This is being called “Business Systems Continuity.” Hence the need for what’s being called “rapid recovery.”
This narrowing downtime window also means it’s getting harder to schedule the downtime to do full system snapshots, along with the data backup, for every server and desktop and storage device in your organization. Ideally, systems should be able to stay up, even if with slightly lesser performance, rather than go completely unavailable.
There’s no shortage of programs for doing full, incremental, and differential backups, and system images and snapshots. Companies like Acronis, EMC Dantz, Symantec, and Veritas offer software for snapshotting and/or continuous data backup. There are application-specific packages, like Mimosa Nearpoint, for Microsoft Exchange, and email archiving appliances, such as the Sony AIT Intradyn.
But most IT staff in today’s small-to-medium businesses doesn’t have the time to install, configure, and run system snapshotting and data saves for each machine, and deal with a range of platforms, even just several versions of Windows, a Linux or two, plus a few or more Macs.
One company working to address these challenges is Unitrends Software Corp., Rapid Recovery System, introduced in December 2005, to allow small through medium sizes businesses (SMBs), small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs) and regional and division branches of Fortune 500 companies to recover individual files as well as entire systems.
The system consists of one or more Unitrends Rapid Recovery Appliances–Data Protection Units (DPUs) for onsite, and Data Protection Vaults (DPVs) for off-site–plus a lightweight CP client module for server and desktop systems. The DPU appliances are based on Unitrends’ internal Linux distro, based on the 2.6 kernel.
According to Unitrends, their DPUs “provide complete on-site backup and Rapid Recovery capabilities from a single appliance.” A DPU can provide “BareMetal and file-level backups on any number of clients, and for 24+ operating systems.” Supported operating systems include major Linux distros, along with VAX VMS, AS/400, Novell, HP/UX, and several versions of Microsoft Windows. Each company defines how many days worth of data–the “Recovery Window”–it wants a DPU to keep for each protected system.
Earlier this week, Unitrends announced enhancements and new features for its Rapid Recovery System, including Hot BareMetal capabilities for Linux. This lets Linux users (including SUSE/Novell, Red Hat, Debian, Gentoo) to capture an image of the OS without interrupting operations or shutting the server application down.
A “Cold BareMetal’ save, says Mark Phillippi, VP, Product Engineering, Unitrends, “means we can, for any operating system on an x86 platform, bring the box down, capture a snapshot, and then reboot. This typically takes fifteen to twenty minutes.
“Hot BareMetal,” according to Phillippi, “lets you schedule a bare metal capture without having to stop current applications or bring the box down–without having to stop production work.” Unitrends already supported Hot BareMetal saves for Solaris, SCO, and other versions of Unix. With the addition of Linux in this new version, “We can do this for just about every OS except Novell.”
Other enhancements and new feature Unitrends announced for its Rapid Recovery System include:
- The ability to conduct a Windows-based BareMetal recovery to recover key data to heterogeneous hardware.
- Expansion of the Continuous Exchange Protection (CEP) providing message-level recovery capabilities;
- Improvements in SQL Server backup and restore options, providing a simple and non-intrusive testing for Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery purposes;
- Additional support for Windows Active Directory, featuring single file registry backup,
- An upgraded version of the company’s RX9 hardware-based data compression, giving Rapid Recovery appliances the ability to stream information at a sustained rate of more than 12 gigabytes per minute.
The new features are also available as free upgrades to existing customers with current maintenance agreements.
The base price for a Unitrends system starts at around $5,000, for a VCR-sized non-rack-mount appliance with about 500GB of storage; outboard storage, including NAS or SAN, can also be added. “We have customers with up to 100TB of storage,” Phillippi notes. The licensing costs are based on the amount of data being protected, rather than the number of systems or of types of systems.
One or more DPUs are connected to the network, and has network-attached clients (servers and/or desktops) assigned to them, to create what Unitrends calls a Rapid Recovery System.
Unitrends’ software then starts taking snapshots of systems’ OSs, including passwords, permissions and settings, at defined intervals. These snapshots are saved to the DPUs, and, optionally, changes can be sent to an offsite DPV. The DPU also makes backup copies of data, including email, and keeps data live on-line, going back in time as specified by each Recovery Window. (Older data should be archived, of course.)
A web-based GUI lets administrators and authorized users recover data and files that have been saved, which can be individual email messages or files which have been deleted, lost, or overwritten. or a complete system, either the most current save, or a previous version, e.g., before a virus or spyware infestation.
Unitrends also generates bootable Recovery CDs (which can be made in advance for each type of system). This allows the crashed systems to be brought back up on the network even after hard drive failures, and have a saved snapshot and data restored from a DPU (to a working disk, of course). “We can restore at a sector/track level without any preparation, and restore the specified amount of data, as long as the BIOS can see the hard drive,” says Phillippi. An InfoPro study reports that 80% of companies want 45 or more days of data recovered rapidly, according to Phillippi.
According to Unitrends, a crashed server can be recovered from a DPU “in as little as 30 minutes or less.” For comparison, “A 100GB Microsoft Exchange server would typically require 12 to 20 hours to restore from scratch using tape-based backup, our DPU can Restore the same 100GB server in about one hour,” says Phillippi.
In cases where replacement hardware isn’t immediately available, Unitrends can run the system image inside a DPU, as a virtual machine. While the VM may not offer the same performance as the original hardware, this allows IT to restore at least some service quickly.
Currently, Unitrends is not aware of any comparable backup and recovery solutions that are appliances and support a range of OSs and applications. “This is a one-box appliance solution, good for companies with limited IT resources,” says Phillippi.
“Unitrends has done one of the best jobs I know of in covering the range of platforms, operating systems, and environments,” says Arun Taneja, Founder and Consulting Analyst, the Taneja Group. “EMC Dantz is the most closely competitive in terms of style, with SMB orientation and focus on ease of use, and wide territory of platforms and OSs supported.” And, Taneja points out, although Dantz has been a software solution, its recent acquisition by EMC could lead to an appliance version.