ExaGrid Delivers IBM i Support with D2D Backup Solution
October 5, 2010 Alex Woodie
ExaGrid Systems now supports the IBM i server with its disk-to-disk (D2D) and data de-duplication appliances, the company announced last week. The product news gives IBM i customers another path for adopting a modern, platform-independent D2D backup, de-dupe, and data replication infrastructure, and another reason to say goodbye to the hassles, expense, and slowness of tape-based backups.
ExaGrid developed its EX series of appliances to provide mid-sized companies with a scalable disk-based backup and recovery infrastructure. The Linux-driven, Intel-powered appliances are equipped with RAID6-protected SATA drives that attach over standard Gigabit Ethernet links and appear as network attached storage (NAS) for the most popular Windows, Linux, and Unix environments.
The ExaGrid appliances feature byte-level data de-duplication routines that can eliminate redundant data, and make their daily backups anywhere from 20 to 50 times smaller than they would be otherwise. In addition to the post-process de-duping, the devices can replicate data among any number of identical or dissimilar ExaGrid appliances located onsite or at multiple locations around the world. This grid-like capability to scale horizontally gives the company and the product its name.
The vast majority of ExaGrid’s 900 or so customers use popular backup and recovery utilities such as Symantec BackupExec, CA ARCServe, or EMC‘s Networker to protect data stored on servers running Windows, Linux, and Unix operating systems. However, considering ExaGrid’s mid-market customer set, it’s not surprising to hear there’s a smattering of proprietary IBM midrange servers in the mix.
“We have heard fairly consistent rumblings from our target market that they do have an iSeries here and there, an AS/400 here and there,” says Marc Crespi, ExaGrid’s vice president product management. “On average, it’s typically not more than five percent of their data. But it is something where they do have backup and recovery needs.”
ExaGrid’s approach to supporting the IBM i environment is very Unix-like, and involves Qshell and TAR. IBM provides the Qshell environment with all IBM i servers, and allows users to enter Unix commands. One of these Unix commands available in Qshell is TAR, which originally referred to “tape archive” and provides a way to bundle and compress data using the TAR file format.
ExaGrid’s existing customer based was responsive to the Qshell and TAR approach, Crespi says. “Before we made this decision, we interviewed customers that had iSeries environments, and recognizing that we already had the TAR capability [for homegrown Unix connections], we proposed to them that, if we had this ability to ingest TAR files from you, would that meet your backup and recovery requirements?” he says. “The vast majority indicated it would, and therefore we went and release the capability.”
ExaGrid will assist customers with integrating their IBM i and ExaGrid environments using Qshell scripts and the TAR command and file format, Crespi says. “Our support engineers are trained and can help customers architect scripts that make sense for them, and can help improve them over time,” he says. “That’s all part of our support and maintenance. It doesn’t require separate technical services or consulting.”
The Qshell and TAR approach is unique among D2D and virtual tape library (VTL) vendors. The majority of D2D and VTL vendors get at IBM i data by emulating a tape drive, usually LTO. However, ExaGrid is allergic to anything involving tape, so a different approach was required.
Because ExaGrid doesn’t have anything to do with tapes (no, you can’t even save to tape off the backend of the devices, which feature no SCSI or FC ports), IBM i shops that want to keep using their tapes for long-term archives will either need to continue using their existing backup and recovery systems, which are driven by BRMS or third-party products from Help/Systems, RevSoft, or others. They can also back up the TAR files directly to their tape drives.
“We don’t support BRMS directly,” Crespi says. “If a customer is using that today, but has a strong desire to move away from tape and move to disk, they would have to agree to … migrate to that TAR command. Every single customer is not going to do that. Maybe they keep using BRMS or a tape-based infrastructure. We’re simply offering them another option should they want to avail themselves of it.”
ExaGrid advocates the full elimination of tape from customer environments. In fact, any D2D or VTL solution that emulates tape is limiting the mid-market customer’s ability to adopt new disk-based technologies, according to Crespi.
“Everything is swinging over to disk,” he says. “Vendors are putting features in that only work with disk. That means that, if they try to do tape or virtual tape, they’re actually locking their customer into only that which is available in the tape feature set, and kind of holding them out of the disk feature set, such as some of the granular types of restore capabilities that are going in the product. They all expect to be writing to and reading from disk.”
The ExaGrid EX line of devices includes six models, which support 1 TB, 2 TB, 3 TB, 4 TB, 5 TB, and 10 TB of usable storage for daily backups. The actual amount of storage available on these devices is actually much larger, because of room that ExaGrid reserves for longer term storage. The default configuration on these devices provides for 16 weeks of longer term storage, but they can be configured to provide for longer storage terms; some ExaGrid customers are storing up to seven years’ worth of data, Crespi says.
ExaGrid is currently working on several new features, including support for IBM Tivoli Storage Manager, and support for encryption.
The starting price for the 1 TB device, called the EX1000, is $14,900. For more information, see the company’s website at www.exagrid.com.