Falconstor VTL Drives Efficiency into System i Backups
April 21, 2009 Alex Woodie
If you’re looking to improve your System i backup processes with a virtual tape library (VTL), there’s one vendor that should definitely be on your list: Falconstor. While the company keeps a low profile in the midrange space and relies heavily on OEMs (including storage big wigs IBM and EMC) to sell its product, Falconstor has quietly built a solid roster of support for the System i, and is looking to build on that in the future.
Falconstor calls its VTL a “disk-based tape emulation system,” and that’s an accurate description. Pretending to be a tape library to servers, but storing data on cheaper and more reliable disk instead, is pretty much what all VTLs do.
But not all VTLs are equal, and in the end, that short description fails to do justice to the full range of capabilities and benefits that the Falconstor VTL can provide–especially for the System i server, which is a notoriously difficult platform to support.
A Full Bag of Tricks
No matter what type of server it’s hooked up to, the Falconstor VTL brings a set of base expectations. An IT shop leaning toward a VTL will probably use these points to sell the idea to management.
The first and biggest benefit is speed. Backups with a VTL are completed faster, simply because a spinning disk can write data faster than a tape drive. Restores can be faster, too, if the user hasn’t moved the data to tape yet, and the data is being restored directly from disk. And because the Falconstor VTL works with industry-standard X64 servers, System i shops can save a ton of money on storage.
Another benefit of the Falconstor VTL (available as software or an appliance) is embedded data de-duplication, which brings benefits to storage utilization. Also, support for encryption in the Falconstor VTL eliminates the limitations of hardware-based encryption. This is an especially important consideration for System i shops, as i OS encryption features tend to be complex, and are tied to specific tape drives.
Virtualization of tape drive interfaces also allows for greater flexibility and better utilization of existing investments in tape and media. Again, this is important in System i environments because there are some drives that the platform can’t talk to, but can interface with using the Falconstor VTL.
Thanks to support that Falconstor has built into the product for the System i’s data storage and backup intricacies, the VTL’s integration with the System i server is arguably better than any other VTL, including IBM’s own software-based VTL offering, which utilizes System i DASD and does not connect to tape.
“Often times the iSeries world is kind of separated,” says Peter Aiker, a technical writer with the Melville, New York, company, during a telephone briefing with IT Jungle. “They’ve got their own backup infrastructure; they’ve got their own stuff. Some of it tends to be older and slower. They have issues with offsite data protection, which is the old fashioned put-a-tape-on-a-truck.”
System i Specifics
These are areas where Falconstor looks to provide solutions, Aiker says. “One of the things that Falconstor VTL is really good at is we emulate lots and lots of different tape drives and different tape libraries, including all the various IBM drives and formats that IBM recognizes. So we can look just like the kind of libraries that an iSeries server understands readily. And we work directly with all the various backup tools, BRMS and LXI [a Falconstor partner]. We integrate really nicely from a manager’s point of view, because we just drop right into their iSeries environment.”
According to Falconstor’s whitepaper on System i support, its VTL can emulate the following IBM tape formats: 3584 and 3583 tape libraries and 3580, 3590, 3592, LTO-1, LTO-2, LTO-3, and LTO-4 tape drives. The VTL can also emulate high-end StorageTek (Sun Microsystems or soon, Oracle) products, such as the STK 10000. By hooking the System i into these systems, the Falconstor VTL allows i customers to get better usage out of their tape investments.
Because it’s a virtual tape library running on a storage array, the Falconstor VTL can pretend to have up to 128 libraries and 1,024 drives, which is important in LPAR environments, Aiker says. “If I have 20 virtual LPARs that are backed up, I’ve got to dedicate a tape drive to each one of those. Obviously tape drives are not cheap, at $10,000 to $30,000 per drive,” he says. “But with the VTL, all you got to do is click on the console, say ‘Give me five more drives,’ and boom–zero incremental cost for additional drives. You can really max out the backup network because the ingest speed is so high.”
Falconstor has done its homework on the peculiar IBM platform, and has built support for some of i’s unique futures, such as parallel saves and concurrent saves, into its VTL. “We do support various iSeries backup models,” Aikers says, using the 2004-era term for the i-based Power Systems server.
“Another cool thing you can do with the iSeries is you can actually boot off a backup image,” Aikers continues. “You can boot off a physical tape, but we also support with our virtual tape the ability to boot a system directly from a virtual tape image. That is important, from a convenience factor and a fast recovery factor.”
The Falconstor VTL also provides built-in data replication, enabling System i shops to replicate their DB2/400 data to another Falconstor VTL located at a DR site. Up to eight Falconstor VTLs can be clustered when a customer chooses the software option and builds its own VTLs. Appliance-based Falconstor VTLs are stand-alone and can’t be clustered.
Supporting System i
Aikers has studied the i OS platform, and came away impressed with the platform’s capability. “They do pretty cool stuff,” he says. “The iSeries has a lot of interesting capabilities. It’s a weird bird. It’s not the easiest thing in the world to support, which is why you don’t see a lot of products supporting it. But it’s rock solid. That’s why people like it.”
In the future, Falconstor will be looking to support the System i with more of its offerings, which are all based on the IPStor product platform. The VTL is probably the company’s best-known offering, but it also sells products called Continuous Data Protector (CDP), File-interface Deduplication System (FDS), and Network Storage Server (NDSS).
Recently, the company launched a new option for its VTL called Backup Accelerator, which promises to almost eliminate the need for a dedicated backup window by offloading backups from production environments. The product only supports Linux and Windows environments now, but could be expanded to support the System i, said Fadi Albatal, Falconstor’s director of marketing, in an interview last month.
“To be honest, we were neglecting it [the System i] for a while. We’ve been leaning on our OEMS, versus us doing it ourselves,” Aikers says. “In the last few months we’ve rededicated a lot of effort to this. We want to get it back up to where it should be for us.”
A key element in that new effort is Falconstor’s partnership with Mainline, the big IBM server reseller that is a very influential member of the System i channel. “We’re doing lots of training, putting bundles together. They (Mainline) are going to be very actively targeting this market in the coming months.”
Pricing for the Falconstor VTL is based on capacity. For $18,000, customers can get 3 TB of managed capacity. For more information, visit www.falconstor.com.