Kill Three Cloud Scenario Birds With One StorSafe Stone
June 1, 2022 Larry Bolhuis
It is a rare event when you can kill two birds with one stone. But thanks to a new partnership between IBM and FalconStor Software, you may have the opportunity to take down three with one stone. And it’s an opportunity I know well since I collaborated with the FalconStor and IBM teams to bring it forward.
Last month, IBM and FalconStor announced a strategic partnership to make the IBM i platform a better player in the hybrid cloud world that I believe will increasingly be a reality for IBM i users who rely on the platform to support their mission critical applications.
The partnership allows for FalconStor’s StorSafe virtual tape library software to be the bridge between on-premises datacenters and server instances running IBM’s Power Systems Virtual Server Cloud, better known as PowerVS Cloud. The collaboration also sets the stage for managed services providers to use StorSafe to link their clouds to the IBM PowerVS cloud and shows that MSPs could likewise do like Big Blue and create their own backup services offerings for IBM i using FalconStor’s technology.
We looked to use the IBM and FalconStor joint development work to serve three different user scenarios:
- Cloud Native Backup: Enterprises running some portion of their environment on IBM’s Power VS Cloud, perhaps test and development or some group of applications, can now utilize FalconStor VTL technology to securely and efficiently backup IBM i data to IBM Cloud Object Storage.
- Cloud Migration: Enterprises looking to migrate a portion of the IBM i application farm or the whole enchilada to PowerVS, we use FalconStor’s VTL software to takes a secure snapshot, replicate, and restore it to the cloud. Doing it this way ensures there is always a backup copy at the ready and eliminates any need for downtime in the process.
- Hybrid Cloud Backup: Enterprises and managed service providers are increasingly looking to use the cloud for a secure, air-gapped, offsite location, so we use FalconStor on-premise and replicate a de-duplicated, encrypted copy to the PowerVS Cloud.
I worked with IBM and FalconStor on this three-part approach because I know the IBM i Community well. All of you will want to configure your workloads the way you want – on premises, in the cloud, or some combination of the two. And you’ll want to test this out, maybe for a test and development workload, maybe for that one app still running Version 4 that needs to move. Or maybe just to serve as your secondary data center so you can close that expensive Colo facility.
One of the most important aspects I see in using StorSafe for data migration to the cloud is that it is able to minimize the impact on production workloads because the data movement is done during backups of the primary system. That means the data migration from the existing system to the new system can take place over a long period of time without disrupting production applications or quiescing the machine during the backup. And importantly, the final cutover from the old to the new machine – and I say machine when it might actually be logical partitions in our vocabulary – can be short because StorSafe does data de-duplication and compression.
This is a lot less difficult than having to use a physical migration server – a box of disks sent by FedEx or delivered in a truck to the cloud datacenter – or trickling data up to the cloud over an Internet connection. In the latter case, it could take what feels like forever (and from a business standpoint, might as well be) to actually get a synchronized copy into any cloud.
Now that StorSafe is available in the PowerVS Cloud, users can do backups to the IBM cloud or use the power of a virtual tape library to migrate applications out to the cloud. But this is not a one-way scenario, a Roach Motel as it were where applications and their data are moved out to the PowerVS cloud and can’t get out. Once the PowerVS instance is the primary, the on-premises datacenter could function as its backup site, and so can another cloud, or the StorSafe bridge could be used to bring applications off the PowerVS cloud and back home to the on-premises datacenter if that was desirable.
As happens with many IT vendor announcements, building this bridge between on-premises datacenters running IBM i applications on Power Systems and the PowerVS Cloud instances created by IBM is a lot harder than just loading some software on the IBM Cloud and going to get a beer.
One of the weird things is that the PowerVS cloud uses the iSCSI protocol for storage devices, but products like StorSafe use the Fibre Channel protocol. Why? That’s a very good question. And it is not worth the time trying to figure out what IBM was thinking because we needed that time to figure out how to solve that particular integration problem.
As it turns out, the process of activating iSCSI on IBM i and creating a network-based install to move your particular IBM i setup from one machine to the PowerVS instance is pretty complicated and there are gaps in the documentation that make it even more error prone than normal things where system administrators are playing with things deep in the guts of an operating system.
That is why we have automated the scripts that make setting up iSCSI transparent to get StorSafe running on the PowerVS cloud. With this, we have one pillar of the bridge anchored on PowerVS using iSCSI and the other pillar is your own IBM i box using Fibre Channel. As far as we know, every one of the other cloud providers use Fibre Channel storage drivers, which makes it easy. The word on the street is that IBM wanted to use iSCSI for PowerVS because it didn’t want to drop any Fibre Channel hardware into the PowerVS cloud.
The funny bit is that iSCSI, which has been around for years, is still not truly native on IBM i – not even on the brand-spanking-new IBM i 7.5 release. While there is an option in the Licensed Internal Code underneath IBM i to restore from iSCSI, it’s not functional yet and IBM doesn’t know when it will be. So you have these options:
- You can pour through the PDFs and do a lot of work to make iSCSI available.
- You can pour through the 165-page Redbook about how to set up a PowerVS instance.
- You can use what I built with FalconStor, which has automated this error prone process with scripts and have it boot up StorSafe so you can replicate you core IBM i operating system to PowerVS, which is the first thing you have to do when you want to move applications out to a cloud. You make a virtual tape backup on premises, and restore on the PowerVS cloud, and you are off and running.
The thing for IBM i shops to remember is that the cloud is not an “all or nothing” scenario. In the past, virtualization and container technologies have been first deployed to support application test and development environments, and for a lot of IBM i shops, this is the best place to start and to get some experience with tools to migrate applications and data and clouds that support them. We also think that IBM i shops will be looking to the cloud to make secure backups of the data on their production systems. No matter what, they will need to a bridge between the systems, and StorSafe can be that bridge and can now be deployed relatively easily. Let us know how we can help.
This content is sponsored by FalconStor Software.