Scared of Tests? MIMIX Has You Covered with ‘Virtual Switch’ Feature
February 1, 2016 Alex Woodie
Nearly one in five high availability users never test their HA setup, while more than 40 percent aren’t sure whether it will work, according to the 2016 State of Resilience report from Vision Solutions. The “set it and forget” mentality has plagued the HA industry for years, but it’s something Vision is now addressing with the new “virtual switch” capability in the latest release of MIMIX Availability.
Vision surveyed more than 2,600 IT professionals in late 2015 regarding the state of their data resilience strategies, and compiled the results into a 60-page report that it released last week (get your copy here). Globally, only 15 percent of the survey respondents said they were 100 percent confidence in their disaster recovery (DR) plans, which include not just software-based logical replication software but also hardware-based replication solutions, cloud recovery, tape backup, and hypervisor-based solutions as well.
When it comes to HA software, the state of disaster preparedness could be better, according to Tim Laplante, director of product strategy for Vision. “Around 44 percent say they don’t know or are not current with upgrades, audits, and role swaps,” the former Double-Take executive said in a webinar last week. “If 44 percent aren’t sure if it’s going to work, that’s pretty scary.”
The poor state of role-swap readiness is an open secret in the HA community. Over the years, many HA software vendors have lamented the lack of discipline demonstrated by their customers. The reality is, it’s not enough to spend tens of thousands of dollars on a backup IBM i server, a license for HA software, and implementation and training services. Because production environments are constantly changing, IBM i shops must regularly test their HA setup to make sure it will work as needed when a disaster actually strikes.
Vision addressed this lack of readiness situation with the latest release of MIMIX, its flagship HA suite for IBM i. One of the big new features in MIMIX 8.1, which it released last week, is a new “virtual switch” capability that allows customers to simulate a failover.
Nobody likes taking tests, but the virtual switch function makes it less scary and painful, says Becky Hjellming, senior manager of product strategy for Vision. “When you do a full switch, and you’re actually failing over from production to backup server, it takes a little bit of downtime,” she told IT Jungle. “Sometimes they don’t want to incur that downtime or they’re afraid because they’ve never tried before.”
“The virtual switch is non-disruptive,” Hjellming continues. “There’s no downtime to the production server. They’re continuing to replicate those changes, but we’re holding onto them while they test on their backup server. And throughout that test, we’re keeping track of what they’re doing, so we can roll it all back and start applying changes as soon as their test is over. It’s a non-disruptive means to do a failover test on their backup server to give them the confidence that they’re going to be able to do that when they need to.”
It’s a capability that’s similar to the ones offered in other HA products, including Vision’s iTera software and competitor Maxava‘s simulated role swap (SRS) functionality, which we wrote about in 2014. (One of Vision’s partners, Florida-based Focal Point Solutions Group, offers a hosted version of it using IBM‘s hardware-based PowerHA replication and FlashCopy technology, which we wrote about 14 months ago.)
Vision already knows that the virtual switch will be a popular feature with its customers, according to Doug Piper, vice president of product strategy for Vision. “We did have a high demand for it because it was something that iTera introduced several years back,” Piper said. “But the MIMIX product wasn’t designed inherently [to support it] so we really needed things built into the product from an audit perspective as underpins for the virtual switch capability.”
However, the virtual switch is not a complete replacement for a full test, which Vision still recommends that customers perform regularly. While a full failover test will incur some downtime as production is switched from the primary server to the backup, it’s necessary because it’s the only way to identify some problems that may crop up, usually in the network. “You do ultimately need to try a full switch, if you want to catch everything that could happen in your network,” Hjellming said. “But the virtual switch is a great way to get the confidence to do a full switch.”
MIMIX 8.1 brings two other major features, including optimizations to the graphical administrative interface and improvements to data and object replication.
On the GUI front, Vision has been actively pushing customers to adopt the Vision Solutions Portal (VSP), which is a standardized Web-based interface it’s using across HA products. But Vision is finding that the items it’s choosing to highlight on the screen are not necessarily the ones that administrators care the most about.
“When we put 8.0 out, we erred on the side of caution,” Piper said. “There are a number of things that would pop up on the screen that would potentially be of interest and that somebody might want to be aware of. But we learned over time that some people cared and some people didn’t care.
“So what we we’ve done is introduce an ability to really fine-tune and configure what you want to see reported versus not be reported and just recorded in a log,” Piper continued. “They can really customize things that they see on a day to day basis. So if this happens I absolutely want to know about it because I’m going to do something about it right now, but if not, I want the dashboard to stay green and I’m going to go back and look at the log for ancillary things I’ll address or clean up later.”
Vision made several changes to improve replication, which is always an issue for its big IBM i customers that are pushing the limits of the product. For starters, Vision tweaked how its database reader works on the target side to apply changes more quickly.
Customers that run with a lot of file constraints will also benefit from moving to MIMIX 8.1. In previous releases, customers running with a lot of constraints had to adhere to a defined sequence. So if a certain file has to be updated before a second file can be touched, that would slow things down. Now, for the first time, Vision is enabling customers to essentially break up those constraints and process all of the files in parallel, thereby taking more advantage of the IBM Power processor’s multi-threading capability.
The final addition impacting replication performance is a new “auto-fix” capability in MIMIMX 8.1. “We added more intelligence in the product about how we handle exceptions that come from replication or audits or monitoring data on the target server,” Hjellming said. “So if we detect any condition, we’re automatically correcting those things as we go along. That prevents any sort of thing from going on hold and keeps performance moving, keeps things flowing.”
Meanwhile, the Irvine, California-based company is forecasting a great start of 2016 for IBM i-related software sales, even though it concentrates most of its marketing budget on the DoubleTake products for Windows and Linux. While MIMIX owns 20 percent of the market for IBM i-based HA software, there’s still room to grow.
“We’re projecting a very strong Q1,” Piper said. “We’re going through that Power8 refresh cycle. Our professional services is doing well and folks looking for assistance with migration related to adopting of the latest Power8 systems and getting them moved over from latest platform onto the new platform and doing upgrades to take advantage of the latest software releases, along with the latest hardware upgrade. We’re obvious benefiting from the adoption of the Power8 hardware.”