The cloudy nature of cloud and big data – with Gan Sharma at Asigra Summit

Last month, during a week off between jobs, I did what anyone would do on their vacation… I went to Canada for a software vendor’s partner summit.

What, you don’t do that sort of thing on your time off?

Well, the fine folks at Asigra invited me to attend their partner summit (disclosure: travel and accomodations were provided by Asigra) and, having been impressed with their technology and their history in the past, I accepted the invitation and made my first visit to Canada in about ten years.

First, the videos.

Gan Sharma, Asigra’s Director of Business Development, sat down with me before the event to talk about a couple of technological topics of broad interest, that both he and I are “a little bit obsessed with” (in my words). We had our friends at Prime Image Media, also known as the team behind Tech Field Day’s videos, there to record our conversations. I’m pleased to be able to share them with you here.

First, we talked about balancing the budget impact of backup and recovery with the risk factors of not having a backup and recovery strategy.

To be honest, backup and recovery can be a serious investment (some might call it a money pit, especially if it’s not planned and executed properly). But having to recover your data from pre-data-pipeline sources, or not being able to recover it, can be a far more financially draining experience.

Second, we talked about two very cloudy topics–“The Cloud” and “Big Data.”

One of the biggest sources of confusion, fear, uncertainty, and doubt around both The Cloud and Big Data is the lack of a clear and unassailable definition for either. As I mentioned, nobody has come up with one answer to what The Cloud is, or what Big Data is… because there isn’t exactly one complete and true answer.

But wait, there’s more… soon…

Stay tuned for another post or two around the Asigra Partner Summit. I need to write enough about the Partner Summit at least long enough to be able to not spell it “parnter” the first time I type it.

 

Disclosure:

I attended the 2014 Asigra Partner Summit at Asigra’s invitation, as an independent blogger, and the company paid for my travel and lodging to attend. I have not received any compensation for participating, nor have Asigra requested or required any particular coverage or content. Anything related on rsts11.com or in my twitter feed are my own thoughts and of my own motivation.

 

Introducing (and Expanding) the Asigra Cloud Backup Connector Appliance (from the Asigra Partner Summit)

As some of you know, I’m starting a new job soon working with software vendors integrating their products around Cisco platforms. While it’s not my day job yet, I’ve been pondering some less explored options to look into when I do get settled in.

This week I’m at the Asigra Partner Summit in Toronto, with my blogger/technologist hats on. I was a bit surprised to run into a Cisco 2900 ISR (Integrated Services Router) with a UCS E-Series blade module in it, in the hands-on-labs area of the Summit. For me, at least, it’s the unicorn of Cisco UCS; I’ve seen an E-Series system twice now, and once was in the Cisco booth at Cisco Live this year.

What’s this Cisco UCS E-Series all about?

284666[1]The Cisco UCS E-Series blade gives you a single Xeon E5 processor, three DIMM slots, 1-2 2.5″ form factor drives, a PCIe slot, and the manageability of standalone UCS servers without the infrastructure overhead that would be cost- and space-prohibitive in a single or dual node B-Series or C-Series deployment. It does not integrate with UCSM, although you can run multiple blades in an ISR. It’s an intriguing platform for remote office/branch office (ROBO) environments, with the capability to integrate your routing/switching/firewall/network services with your utility server needs, including backup and recovery.

But what’s it doing at the Asigra Partner Summit?

As it turns out, this “Asigra Cloud Backup Connector Appliance” deploys the Asigra Cloud Backup software with the ISR and E-Series platform. It makes sense, and while I wish I’d thought of it sooner, or they’d thought of it later, it is a pretty cool idea.

You can use the appliance as a standalone device, running Asigra DS-Client and DS-System software to collect and store your backups on internal storage. You can also use it as an aggregator or data collector running DS-Client, which would send the data to your DS-System server elsewhere (perhaps a standalone server on-site, or a datacenter or hosted vault).

The one catch is that you’re a bit limited on the internal storage. Cisco has certified 1TB SATA and 900GB 10K SAS drives for the E140DP blade, which means you’re capped at 2TB raw in the server. Asigra has incorporated deduplication in their backup software for over 20 years, so depending on your data you’ll probably see 8-10TB (or more) capacity, but you may still hit some limits.

How do we get around this capacity limit?

If you want to use your Cloud Backup Connector Appliance as a standalone service, I see two possible paths, but each has its drawbacks.

First, since the drive bays are standard 2.5 SATA form factor, you could install your own aftermarket 1.5TB or 2TB drives, doubling your capacity to 3-4TB raw. This means you’re managing your own disks though, and it could complicate Cisco support (although if you’re tearing into the gear you probably already know this and understand the risks).

Second, since you have a PCIe slot in the server, I could imagine either installing a PCIe flash card (such as the 3.2TB  Fusion-io “Atomic” ioMemory SX300 card just announced last week) or a SATA/SAS storage controller connected to some sort of external array.

There are two downsides to this second option. Cisco has not announced certification of anything but a quad-port Gigabit Ethernet or single-port 10-Gigabit Ethernet controller in the PCIe slot (so you’re blazing your own trail if you swap them out–they should work, but…). And if you put storage in that slot, you can no longer expand networking, and will be limited to two internal (chassis) ports and two external (RJ45) ports for Gigabit Ethernet networking. Oh, and a third concern is that you lose the encapsulation factor with your storage hanging off of the server rather than being inside the server.

As I ponder the pitfalls to the PCIe expansion option, I find myself wishing for a dual-Ethernet / SAS card similar to what Sun used to sell for Ethernet and SCSI back in the day. I think HP had a single port combo as well. Alas, both of those are antiquated and are PCI-X instead of PCIe. You could use FCoE from the 10-Gigabit Ethernet card if you have that infrastructure in place, but that might be beyond branch office scale as well.

So what are you saying, Robert?

I may be overengineering this. I’ve done that before. Dual 10-Gigabit in my home lab, for example.

For a branch office with ~20 500GB desktops, a pile of mobile devices, and a server or two, with judicious backup policies, you’re in good shape with the standard configuration. Remember, you’re deduplicating the OS and common files, compressing the backed-up data, and leaving the door open to expanding your Asigra deployment as your branch offices grow.

And if you choose to, you can run a hypervisor on your E-Series server, with Asigra DS-Client/DS-Server VMs as well as your own servers, to the limits of the hardware (6-core CPU, 48GB RAM). The system can boot from SD card, leaving the internal disk entirely for functional storage and VM data stores.

Where do we go from here?

Even with the 2TB raw disk limitation (which will probably be addressed eventually by Cisco), you have a very functional and featureful option for small offices, remote offices, and even distributed campus backup and recovery aggregation.

You get all the benefits of Asigra’s software solution, including agentless backup of servers and desktops, mobile device support, dedupe and compression, FIPS 140-2 certified encryption at rest and in flight, and Asigra’s R2A (Recovery and Restore Assurance) for ongoing validation of your backed-up data.

And you get the benefits of Cisco’s ISR and E-Series platforms for your networking services and server implementation. You can purchase pre-installed systems through an Asigra Service Provider, or if you already own an ISR with an E-Series server, your Service Provider can install and license Asigra software on your existing gear.

Disclosure:

I am attending the Asigra Partner Summit at Asigra’s invitation, as an independent blogger, and the company has paid for my travel and lodging to attend. I have not received any compensation for participating, nor have Asigra requested or required any particular coverage or content. Anything related on rsts11.com or in my twitter feed are my own thoughts and of my own motivation.

Also, while I am a Cisco UCS fanboy and soon to be a Cisco employee, any comments, observations, and opinions on UCS are my own, based on my personal experience as well as publicly available information from Cisco and other vendors. I do not speak for Cisco nor should any of my off-label ideas be taken to imply Cisco approval or even awareness of said musings.

Is Licensing Sexy? Asigra Might Think So, And So Might You

We were pleased to welcome Eran Farajun and Asigra back to Tech Field Day with a presentation at the VMworld US 2013 Tech Field Day Roundtables. I’ve also seen them present a differently-focused talk with live demo at Storage Field Day 2 in November 2012.

Disclosure: As a delegate to the Tech Field Day Roundtables at VMworld US 2013, I received support for my attendance at VMworld US. I received no compensation from sponsors of the Roundtables, nor Tech Field Day/Gestalt IT, nor were they promised any coverage in return for my attendance. All comments and opinions are my own thoughts and of my own motivation.

Asigra Who?

Asigra has exclusively developed backup and recovery technology for over 25 years. Let that sink in for a moment. Most of the companies I’ve worked for haven’t been in business for 25 years, and most companies change horses if not streams along the way.

But Asigra continues to grow, and evolve their products, a quarter of a century into the journey. They introduced agentless backup, deduplication (in 1993), FIPS140-2 certification in a cloud backup platform, and a number of other firsts in the market.

One reason you may never have heard of Asigra is that they don’t sell direct to the end user. They work through their service provider and partner network to aggregate access and expertise close to the end user. Of course the company backs their products and their partners, but you get the value add of the partner’s network of support personnel as well. And you might never know it was Asigra under the hood.

So what’s Asigra’s take on licensing?

In 1992, Asigra moved to a capacity-based licensing model, one that many of us are familiar with today. You pay a license fee one way or another based on the amount of data that is pushed to the backup infrastructure. This has been seen in various flavors, sometimes volume-based, sometimes slot-based or device capped. Restores are effectively free, but it’s likely that you rarely use them.

Think in terms of PTO or Vacation days (backup) and Sick Days (recovery). You probably have a certain amount of each, and while PTO may roll over if you don’t use it, those 19 sick days you didn’t use last year went away. Imagine if you could get something for the recovery days you didn’t have to use. Asigra thought about this (although not with the same analogy) and made it happen.

Introducing Recovery License Model

So in 2013, Asigra changed to what they call RLM, or Recovery License Model. You pay part of your licensing for backups, and part for recoveries. There are safety valves on both extremes, so that if you do one backup and have to restore it all shortly thereafter, you’re not screwed (not by licensing, at least–but have a chat with your server/software vendor). And if you have a perfect environment and never need to restore, Asigra and your reseller/partner can still make a living.

Your licensing costs are initially figured on the past 6 months’ deduped restore capacity. (After the first two 6-month periods, you are apportioned based on the past 12 months.) If you restored 25% of your backups, you pay 50 cents per gigabyte per month (list price). If you restored 5% or less of your backups, you’re paying 17 cents per gigabyte per month.

You don’t get fined for failed backups of any sort. Hardware failure, software failure, or some combination–it doesn’t count against you. You also get a waiver for the largest recovery event–so if your storage infrastructure melts into the ground like a big ol’ glowing gopher, you can focus on recovering to new hardware, not appeasing your finance department.

For those of you testing your backup/restore for disaster recovery purposes (that’s all of you, right?), you can schedule a DR drill at 7 cents per gigabyte per month for that recovery’s usage. Once again, it’s deduped capacity, so backing up 1000 VDI desktops doesn’t mean 1000 times 3GB of Windows binaries/DLLs. And your drill’s data expires at the end of the 6 month window, so don’t count on fire drills as permanent backups.

So where do we go from here?

I know a couple of my fellow delegates were disappointed with the focus on Asigra’s licensing innovations, and that there wasn’t more talk of erasure codes and app-centric backups, but they’re probably not the ones writing the checks for software licensing for enterprises. 

Is this the sexiest thing you’ve seen in tech this quarter? Maybe not. I’d point toward Pernix Data and Infinio for that distinction, in all honesty. But Asigra’s RLM is yet another in a series of innovations in what might be the most innovative DR/BC company you’d never heard of before.

Asigra estimates immediate savings of 40%, and long term savings of over 60% by separating backup and recovery costs.

As an aside, Asigra’s latest software version, 12.2 (released earlier in 2013), backs up Google Apps as well as traditional on-site applications and datastores. Support for Office 365 backups is coming soon.

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