Maxava Gives Deleted Data A Second Chance
February 19, 2018 Alex Woodie
To err is human, as they say. But accidentally deleting the payroll master file – well, that’s a serious problem. Instead of seeking forgiveness, one might check out a new solution from Maxava called Capture Point Restore (CPR), which essentially provides a safety net that shields IBM i shops from suffering the dire consequences of fat-finger mistakes and malicious acts alike.
Users accustomed to Windows know that if they accidentally delete a file, they can easily recover it from the Recycle Bin. There are similar utilities protecting data from permanent deletion in Linux. But there’s no such facility protecting files from being permanently deleted in the IBM i operating system, which may come as a surprise.
“A lot of customers and partners we’ve been talking to don’t realize this isn’t something that comes with the operating system,” says Maxava executive vice president John Dominic. “It’s surprising to them that this is kind of a loophole in the system. Fortunately, we have an easy fix for them.”
CPR is a new product that prevents certain IBM i files and objects from being permanently deleted when a user accidentally (or maliciously) hits the delete button or sends a command to clear a certain file. It also provides a mechanism for restoring the data if needed.
How It Works
Maxava actually offers two versions of the product, including one designed to works with its IBM i high availability software and taps its remote journaling functionality to get to data, and another that works in a standalone mode and uses standard IBM i save commands.
Customers get started with both versions of CPR by identifying the files or objects that they want to protect. Common files would include the payroll master or customer master files, or even application objects composed of compiled RPG source code. Maxava is working with ISVs to identify the areas of customers’ applications that are the most sensitive, and therefore the most susceptible to accidental deletion.
Next, customers identify the types of commands that they want to protect against. “We watch for the regular commands, whether delete file, delete program, clear file member, or remove member – all of the things that could wipe out that data,” says Martin Norman, strategic partner development manager at Maxava.
Once those two configurations have been set, CPR is live on the system. Whenever a user attempts to delete a file that’s been flagged for protection, the CPR software will automatically jump in and execute a standard IBM i save upon the data before the deletion is completed (or create a remote journal of the data, if it’s the HA version of the product).
CPR saves the soon-to-be deleted data to an archive vault, which can either be on the local IFS or an external location (or the remote journal of the target box, if it’s the HA version of the product). Maxava gives users the option of compressing the data, as well as encrypting it, which would be wise for any data moved offsite.
In addition to saving (or journaling) a piece of data just before it’s deleted, CPR can also be used to take regular snapshots of critical data at regular intervals, such as every hour, every four hours, etc. This is a useful feature that can provide a wider safety net, Norman says.
“If you took a snapshot at 10 a.m. in the morning and you know that some data happened at midday, then you’ve got a chance either to roll backward to just before the corruption happened,” Norman says.
CPR makes it easy for users to browse for deleted or corrupted files, either from a 5250 greenscreen or a Web-based GUI. However, the actual restore process isn’t as simple as pressing the restore button.
“So 99 times out of 100, it’s going to require a little bit of manipulation to get the data back in there,” Norman says. “There may be ancillary files that they haven’t archived because they’re not as complicated to fix, or there could be logicals to rebuild.”
Maxava’s plan for CPR calls for ISVs or business partner helping with the final restore. “They will know what to do with the file once you get it back in that last-transaction format,” Norman says. Maxava figures the ISV or business partner is likely going to get a call anyway to help recover the data, so CPR provides a handle mechanism to be alerted of the deletion and providing a streamlined way to recover the data.
Maxava stresses that this is not by any means a replacement for HA software, and neither can it do everything that a full disaster recovery product can do. However, it can provide an extra degree of protection for users of HA and DR. In fact, it can plug some holes in the data protection schemes of HA and DR, the company says.
“One of the big challenges with replication solutions is that it replicates every transaction, whether it’s good or bad,” Dominic says. That means every time a file deleted on the production system, that the corresponding file on the backup is also deleted. Maxava frequently gets asked by prospective HA clients about this, and it didn’t have a great answer.
“It creates all kinds of strange question for people who are looking to move to HA, such as ‘Can we delay replication in case we make a mistake?'” Dominic says. “We took those requests, looked at some Gartner information that points to human error being probably the biggest component in DR and IT. We didn’t really see a product that addressed it the ‘400, so we built one.”
(Actually, Bytware introduced a product called StandGuard Recycle Bin way back in 2004. While HelpSystems still appears to support version 1.1 of that product, it’s important to note that Recycle Bin only protects data in the IBM i’s IFS file system. CPR is designed to protect data in the QSYS file system; support for the IFS may come later, the company says.)
The one characteristic that CPR shares with HA software is its Recovery Point Objective (RPO), which measures how much data or how many transactions a customer is willing to lose. Good HA products that push data offsite in real-time can keep the RPO close to zero, which is what CPR is designed to do, too.
“What this CPR product is especially interested in is capturing critical information at the most important point in time – right before a deletion or corruption,” Dominic says. “It allows you to make a mistake, basically, and keep going.”
Subscriptions for CPR start at $200 per month for a P05 machine. For more info see www.maxava.com.
Logical Replication: Still the Mainstay for IBM i HA