Homebuilder Repels the Tape Monkey with Crossroads VTL
November 4, 2014 Alex Woodie
A new virtual tape library (VTL) from Crosssroads Systems is helping to keep the tape monkey at bay for Meritage Homes, a $1.8 billion homebuilder headquartered in Arizona. While the company hasn’t totally eliminated tape from its data protection scheme, the introduction of a 20 TB SPHiNX appliance has reduced the incidence of failed backups, increased data retention, and shortened backup times.
Meritage Homes is a growing company that has built more than 84,000 upscale homes since it was founded in 1985, mainly across the southern swath of the country. The publicly traded company relies on the JD Edwards EnterpriseOne ERP system running in a hybrid configuration that uses the IBM i server as the database layer and Oracle‘s WebLogic as the application layer.
Like many IBM i shops, Meritage maintains a lean IT staff, particularly for its IBM i investments, which includes a pair of beefy Power Systems model 750 servers replicated via Vision Solutions‘ iTera HA. Senior systems engineer Stephen Thompson is pretty much the only IBM i professional in residence for Meritage.
Thompson works out of Meritage’s office in Austin, Texas, while the production IBM i server is at Meritage’s headquarters in Scottsdale, Arizona. That separation complicated things a bit for Thompson, who had to rely on IT personnel in Scottsdale to correctly rotate the tapes in the IBM 3573 autoloader every two weeks. The autoloader was used to perform nightly incremental saves as well as weekly full-system saves.
“I did my best to use the BRMS output to determine what tapes to put in,” Thompson tells IT Jungle. “But the operator could very easily put in tapes that hadn’t reached the retention level yet, and it would flag errors on the backup. So there would be the occasional failed backup.”
Thompson grew tired of the failed backups and the lack of control, so he began exploring whether disk-based backups would give him more control. He decided that moving to 21st century technology would not only cut down on manual tape handling, but it would also improve its data retention beyond the mandated 30 days, and reduce the backup window, which was consuming two hours every night.
With the support of the company’s senior IT leadership, Thompson pursued this backup trifecta. Crossroads, which is headquartered just two miles down the road from Thompson in Austin, was a natural place to look. The proximity of Crossroads, as well as its relationship with Meritage’s VAR, were cited as key reasons why the company went with Crossroads and its SPHiNX VTL.
Meritage took delivery of the 20 TB SPHiNX earlier this year and hooked it up, via Fibre Channel, to the 10-way Power 750. Things went smoothly–as least as far as Crossroads was concerned. But limitations in the BRMS backup facility caused Thompson to abort his original backup design.
Thompson originally wanted to use the SPHiNX to perform incremental backups on a nightly basis, while leaving the dual-drive, 10-slot IBM 3573 autoloader to handle the full system saves. It turns out that BRMS would not let him take full advantage of the SPHiNX VTL while keeping the IBM 3573 in the mix.
“In order to fully utilize the SPHiNX, you need to define it as a media library (i.e. a tape library or autoloader),” Thompson explains. “If you define a backup policy within BRMS where on one day it’s a full and on other days it’s an incremental, it can only use a single media library. You can’t define it to say that full saves go to a tape drive device and incrementals go to media libraries. BRMS will restrict you from doing that.”
Instead of using SPHiNX to perform incremental saves as part of a single backup policy, Thompson configured the VTL to perform a SAVLIB under a separate backup policy. These SAVLIB backups target the libraries that are the most important to Meritage. The full weekly backup is defined as a *NONSYS backup and runs through the IBM 3573 autoloader.
Thompson says he was disappointed that he had to take this approach. “BRMS forced me down that path, not Crossroads,” he says. “There’s no way to get around it, and I tried. You boil it down to this: If you use a media library with a backup policy, that is the only thing you can use in that media library. Multiple backup polices are not aware of each other. I couldn’t tell an incremental on one backup policy to honor the full backup of another policy.”
Despite the setback, Thompson is happy with the setup. The SPHiNX is able to hold about 90 days’ worth of data, which is triple what it was holding before. And whereas the LTO library previously took upwards of two hours to perform a backup, the SPHiNX is able to back up nearly 400 GB in about 20 minutes. A big part of that speed is due to the 7.5-to-1 compression ratio that Thompson is achieving. That number is higher than he expected (although the fact that indexes are excluded has a lot to do with that speed).
With the SPHiNX handling nightly backup duties, the IBM 3573 and its 11 tape cartridges are sufficient for handling weekly backups, without a constant need to shuffle tapes. That gives Thompson peace of mind.
“It’s much easier to manage backups and not have to rely on other resources 800 or 900 miles away to make sure the tapes are lined up properly in a drive,” he says. “I’m not worried that tape monkey is going to mess me up on the backup. I’m really happy with it.”