Cohesity – Cohesity Cluster Virtual Edition ESXi – A Few Notes

I’ve covered the Cohesity appliance deployment in a howto article previously. I’ve also made use of the VMware-compatible Virtual Edition in our lab to test things like cluster to cluster replication and cloud tiering. The benefits of virtual appliances are numerous. They’re generally easy to deploy, don’t need dedicated hardware, can be re-deployed quickly when you break something, and can be a quick and easy way to validate a particular process or idea. They can also be a problem with regards to performance, and are at the mercy of the platform administrator to a point. But aren’t we all? With 6.1, Cohesity have made available a clustered virtual edition (the snappily titled Cohesity Cluster Virtual Edition ESXi). If you have access to the documentation section of the Cohesity support site, there’s a PDF you can download that explains everything. I won’t go into too much detail but there are a few things to consider before you get started.

 

Specifications

Base Appliance 

Just like the non-clustered virtual edition, there’s a small and large configuration you can choose from. The small configuration supports up to 8TB for the Data disk, while the large configuration supports up to 16TB for the Data disk. The small config supports 4 vCPUs and 16GB of memory, while the large configuration supports 8 vCPUs and 32GB of memory.

Disk Configuration

Once you’ve deployed the appliance, you’ll need to add the Metadata disk and Data disk to each VM. The Metadata disk should be between 512GB and 1TB. For the large configuration, you can also apparently configure 2x 512GB disks, but I haven’t tried this. The Data disk needs to be between 512GB and 8TB for the small configuration and up to 16TB for the large configuration (with support for 2x 8TB disks). Cohesity recommends that these are formatted as Thick Provision Lazy Zeroed and deployed in Independent – Persistent mode. Each disk should be attached to its own SCSI controller as well, so you’ll have the system disk on SCSI 0:0, the Metadata disk on SCSI 1:0, and so on.

I did discover a weird issue when deploying the appliance on a Pure Storage FA-450 array in the lab. In vSphere this particular array’s datastore type is identified by vCenter as “Flash”. For my testing I had a 512GB Metadata disk and 3TB Data disk configured on the same datastore, with the three nodes living on three different datastores on the FlashArray. This caused errors with the cluster configuration, with the configuration wizard complaining that my SSD volumes were too big.

I moved the Data disk (with storage vMotion) to an all flash Nimble array (that for some reason was identified by vSphere as “HDD”) and the problem disappeared. Interestingly I didn’t have this problem with the single node configuration of 6.0.1 deployed with the same configuration. I raised a ticket with Cohesity support and they got back to me stating that this was expected behaviour in 6.1.0a. They tell me, however, that they’ve modified the behaviour of the configuration routine in an upcoming version so fools like me can run virtualised secondary storage on primary storage.

Erasure Coding

You can configure the appliance for increased resiliency at the Storage Domain level as well. If you go to Platform – Cluster – Storage Domains you can modify the DefaultStorageDomain (and other ones that you may have created). Depending on the size of the cluster you’ve deployed, you can choose the number of failures to tolerate and whether or not you want erasure coding enabled.

You can also decide whether you want EC to be a post-process activity or something that happens inline.

 

Process

Once you’ve deployed (a minimum) 3 copies of the Clustered VE, you’ll need to manually add Metadata and Data disks to each VM. The specifications for these are listed above. Fire up the VMs and go to the IP of one of the nodes. You’ll need to log in as the admin user with the appropriate password and you can then start the cluster configuration.

This bit is pretty much the same as any Cohesity cluster deployment, and you’ll need to specify things like a hostname for the cluster partition. As always, it’s a good idea to ensure your DNS records are up to date. You can get away with using IP addresses but, frankly, people will talk about you behind your back if you do.

At this point you can also decide to enable encryption at the cluster level. If you decide not to enable it you can do this on a per Domain basis later.

Click on Create Cluster and you should see something like the following screen.

Once the cluster is created, you can hit the virtual IP you’ve configured, or any one of the attached nodes, to log in to the cluster. Once you log in, you’ll need to agree to the EULA and enter a license key.

 

Thoughts

The availability of virtual appliance versions for storage and data protection solutions isn’t a new idea, but it’s certainly one I’m a big fan of. These things give me an opportunity to test new code releases in a controlled environment before pushing updates into my production environment. It can help with validating different replication topologies quickly, and validating other configuration ideas before putting them into the wild (or in front of customers). Of course, the performance may not be up to scratch for some larger environments, but for smaller deployments and edge or remote office solutions, you’re only limited by the available host resources (which can be substantial in a lot of cases). The addition of a clustered version of the virtual edition for ESXi and Hyper-V is a welcome sight for those of us still deploying on-premises Cohesity solutions (I think the Azure version has been clustered for a few revisions now). It gets around the main issue of resiliency by having multiple copies running, and can also address some of the performance concerns associated with running virtual versions of the appliance. There are a number of reasons why it may not be the right solution for you, and you should work with your Cohesity team to size any solution to fit your environment. But if you’re running Cohesity in your environment already, talk to your account team about how you can leverage the virtual edition. It really is pretty neat. I’ll be looking into the resiliency of the solution in the near future and will hopefully be able to post my findings in the next few weeks.

Rubrik Announces Cloud Data Management 5.0 – Drops In A Shedload Of Enhancements

I recently had the opportunity to hear from Chris Wahl about Rubrik CDM 5.0 (codename Andes) and thought it worthwhile covering here.

 

Announcement Summary

  • Instant recovery for Oracle databases;
  • NAS Direct Archive to protect massive unstructured data sets;
  • Microsoft Office 365 support via Polaris SaaS Platform;
  • SAP-certified protection for SAP HANA;
  • Policy-driven protection for Epic EHR; and
  • Rubrik works with Rubrik Datos IO to protect NoSQL databases.

 

New Features and Enhancements

As you can see from the list above, there’s a bunch of new features and enhancements. I’ll try and break down a few of these in the section below.

Oracle Protection

Rubrik have had some level of capability with Oracle protection for a little while now, but things are starting to hot up with 5.0.

  • Simplified configuration (Oracle Auto Protection and Live Mount, Oracle Granular SLA Policy Assignments, and Oracle Automated Instance and Database Discovery)
  • Orchestration of operational and PiT recoveries
  • Increased control for DBAs

NAS Direct Archive

People have lots of data now. Like, a real lot. I don’t know how many Libraries of Congress exactly, but it can be a lot. Previously, you’d have to buy a bunch of Briks to store this data. Rubrik have recognised that this can be a bit of a problem in terms of footprint. With NAS Direct Archive, you can send the data to an “archive” target of your choice. So now you can protect a big chunk of data that goes through the Rubrik environment to end target such as object storage, public cloud, or NFS. The idea is to reduce the amount of Rubrik devices you need to buy. Which seems a bit weird, but their customers will be pretty happy to spend their money elsewhere.

[image courtesy of Rubrik]

It’s simple to get going, requiring a tick of a box to be configured. The metadata remains protected with the Rubrik cluster, and the good news is that nothing changes from the end user recovery experience.

Elastic App Service (EAS)

Rubrik now provides the ability to ingest DBs across a wider spectrum, allowing you to protect more of the DB-based applications you want, not just SQL and Oracle workloads.

SAP HANA Protection

I’m not really into SAP HANA, but plenty of organisations are. Rubrik now offer a SAP Certified Solution which, if you’ve had the misfortune of trying to protect SAP workloads before, is kind of a neat feature.

[image courtesy of Rubrik]

SQL Server Enhancements

There have been some nice enhancements with SQL Server protection, including:

  • A Change Block Tracking (CBT) filter driver to decrease backup windows; and
  • Support for group Volume Shadow Copy Service (VSS) snapshots.

So what about Group Backups? The nice thing about these is that you can protect many databases on the same SQL Server. Rather than process each VSS Snapshot individually, Rubrik will group the databases that belong to the same SLA Domain and process the snapshots as a batch group. There are a few benefits to this approach:

  • It reduces SQL Server overhead, as well as decreases the amount of time a backup requires to be completed; and
  • In turn, allowing customers to take more frequent backups of their databases delivering a lower RPO to the business.

vSphere Enhancements

Rubrik have done vSphere things since forever, and this release includes a few nice enhancements, including:

  • Live Mount VMDKs from a Snapshot – providing the option to choose to mount specific VMDKs instead of an entire VM; and
  • After selecting the VMDKs, the user can select a specific compatible VM to attach the mounted VMDKs.

Multi-Factor Authentication

The Rubrik Andes 5.0 integration with RSA SecurID will include RSA Authentication Manager 8.2 SP1+ and RSA SecurID Cloud Authentication Service. Note that CDM will not be supporting the older RADIUS protocol. Enabling this is a two-step process:

  • Add the RSA Authentication Manager or RSA Cloud Authentication Service in the Rubrik Dashboard; and
  • Enable RSA and associate a new or existing local Rubrik user or a new or existing LDAP server with the RSA Authentication Manager or RSA Cloud Authentication Service.

You also get the ability to generate API tokens. Note that if you want to interact with the Rubrik CDM CLI (and have MFA enabled) you’ll need these.

Other Bits and Bobs

There are a few other enhancements included, including:

  • Windows Bare Metal Recovery;
  • SLA Policy Advanced Configuration;
  • Additional Reporting and Metrics; and
  • Snapshot Retention Enhancements.

 

Thoughts and Further Reading

Wahl introduced the 5.0 briefing by talking about digital transformation as being, at its core, an automation play. The availability of a bunch of SaaS services can lead to fragmentation in your environment, and legacy technology doesn’t deal with with makes transformation. Rubrik are positioning themselves as a modern company, well-placed to help you with the challenges of protecting what can quickly become a complex and hard to contain infrastructure. It’s easy to sit back and tell people how transformation can change their business for the better, but these kinds of conversations often eschew the high levels of technical debt in the enterprise that the business is doing its best to ignore. I don’t really think that transformation is as simple as some vendors would have us believe, but I do support the idea that Rubrik are working hard to make complex concepts and tasks as simple as possible. They’ve dropped a shedload of features and enhancements in this release, and have managed to do so in a way that you won’t need to install a bunch of new applications to support these features, and you won’t need to do a lot to get up and running either. For me, this is the key advantage that the “next generation” data protection companies have over their more mature competitors. If you haven’t been around for decades, you very likely don’t offer support for every platform and application under the sun. You also likely don’t have customers that have been with you for 20 years that you need to support regardless of the official support status of their applications. This gives the likes of Rubrik the flexibility to deliver features as and when customers require them, while still focussing on keeping the user experience simple.

I particularly like the NAS Direct Archive feature, as it shows that Rubrik aren’t simply in this to push a bunch of tin onto their customers. A big part of transformation is about doing things smarter, not just faster. the folks at Rubrik understand that there are other solutions out there that can deliver large capacity solutions for protecting big chunks of data (i.e. NAS workloads), so they’ve focussed on leveraging other capabilities, rather than trying to force their customers to fill their data centres with Rubrik gear. This is the kind of thinking that potential customers should find comforting. I think it’s also the kind of approach that a few other vendors would do well to adopt.

*Update*

Here’re some links to other articles on Andes from other folks I read that you may find useful:

Random Short Take #8

Here are a few links to some news items and other content that might be useful. Maybe.

Vembu BDR Suite 4.0 Is Coming

Disclaimer

Vembu are a site sponsor of PenguinPunk.net. They’ve asked me to look at their product and write about it. I’m in the early stages of evaluating the BDR Suite in the lab, but thought I’d pass on some information about their upcoming 4.0 release. As always, if you’re interested in these kind of solutions, I’d encourage you to do your own evaluation and get in touch with the vendor, as everyone’s situation and requirements are different. I can say from experience that the Vembu sales and support staff are very helpful and responsive, and should be able to help you with any queries. I recently did a brief article on getting started with BDR Suite 3.9.1 that you can download from here.

 

New Features

So what’s coming in 4.0?

Hyper-V Cluster Backup

Vembu will support backing up VMs in a Hyper-V cluster and, even if VMs configured for backup are moved from one host to another, the incremental backup will continue to happen without any interruption.

Shared VHDx Backup

Vembu now supports backup of the shared VHDx of Hyper-V.

CheckSum-based Incrementals

Vembu uses CBT for incremental backups. And for some CBT failure cases they will be using CheckSum for the incremental to happen without any interruption.

Credential Manager

No need to enter credentials every time, Vembu Credential Manager now allows you to manage the credentials of the host and the VMs running in it. This will be particularly handy if you’re doing a lot of application-aware backup job configuration.

 

Thoughts

I had a chance to speak with Vembu about the product’s functionality. There’s a lot to like in terms of breadth of features. I’m interested in seeing how 4.0 goes when it’s released and hope to do a few more articles on the product then. If you’re looking to evaluate the product, this evaluator’s guide is as good place as any to start. As an aside, Vembu are also offering 10% off their suite this Halloween (until November 2nd) – see here for more details.

For a fuller view of what’s coming in 4.0, you can read Vladan‘s coverage here.

Updated Articles Page

I recently had the opportunity to deploy a Vembu BDR 3.9.1 Update 1 appliance and thought I’d run through the basics of getting started. There’s a new document outlining the process on the articles page.

Cohesity Basics – Excluding VMs Using Tags

I’ve been doing some work with Cohesity in our lab and thought it worth covering some of the basic features that I think are pretty neat. In this edition of Cohesity Basics, I thought I’d quickly cover off how to exclude VMs from protection jobs based on assigned tags. In this example I’m using version 6.0.1b_release-20181014_14074e50 (a “feature release”).

 

Process

The first step is to find the VM in vCenter that you want to exclude from a protection job. Right-click on the VM and select Tags & Custom Attributes. Click on Assign Tag.

In the Assign Tag window, click on the New Tag icon.

Assign a name to the new tag, and add a description if that’s what you’re into.

In this example, I’ve created a tag called “COH-Test”, and put it in the “Backup” category.

Now go to the protection job you’d like to edit.

Click on the Tag icon on the right-hand side. You can then select the tag you created in vCenter. Note that you may need to refresh your vCenter source for this new tag to be reflected.

When you select the tag, you can choose to Auto Protect or Exclude the VM based on the applied tags.

If you drill in to the objects in the protection job, you can see that the VM I wanted to exclude from this job has been excluded based on the assigned tag.

 

Thoughts

I’ve written enthusiastically about Cohesity’s Auto Protect feature previously. Sometimes, though, you need to exclude VMs from protection jobs. Using tags is a quick and easy way to do this, and it’s something that your virtualisation admin team will be happy to use too.

Imanis Data Overview and 4.0 Announcement

I recently had the opportunity to speak with Peter Smails and Jay Desai from Imanis Data. They provided me with an overview of what the company does and a view of their latest product announcement. I thought I’d share some of it here as I found it pretty interesting.

 

Overview

Imanis Data provides enterprise data management for Hadoop and NoSQL running on-premises or in the public cloud.

Data Management

A big part of the Imanis Data story revolves around the “three pillars” of data management, namely:

  • Protection – providing redundancy in case of a disaster;
  • Orchestration – moving data around for different use cases (eg. test and dev, cloud migration, archival); and
  • Automation – using machine learning to automate the data management functions, eg. Detecting anomalies (ThreatSense), SmartPolicies for backups based on RPO/RTO

The software itself is hardware-agnostic, and can run on any virtual, physical, or container-based platform. It can also runs on any cloud, and hence on any storage. You start with 3 nodes, and scale out from there. Imanis Data tell me that everything runs in parallel, and it’s agentless, using native APIs for the platforms. This is a big plus when it comes to protecting these kinds of workloads, as there’s usually a large number of hosts involved, and managing agents everywhere is a real pain.

It also delivers storage optimisation services, and supports erasure coding, compression, and content-aware deduplication. There’s a nice paper on the architecture that you can grab from here.

 

What’s New?

So what’s new with 4.0?

Any Point-in-time Recovery

Imanis Data now provides APITR for Couchbase, MongoDB, & Cassandra

  • APITR can be enabled at bucket level for Couchbase;
  • APITR can be enabled at repository level for Cassandra and MongoDB;
  • Aggressively collects transaction information from primary database; and
  • At time of recovery, user can pick a date & time.

ThreatSense

ThreatSense “learns” from human input and updates the anomaly model. It’s a smart way of doing malware and ransomware detection.

SmartPolicies

What?

  • Autonomous RPO-based backup powered by machine learning;
  • Machine learning model built based on cluster workloads and utilisation;
  • Model determines backup frequency & resource prioritisation;
  • Continuously adapts to meet required RPO; and
  • Provides guidance on required resources to achieve desired RPOs.

 

Thoughts

I do a lot with a number of data protection vendors in various on-premises and cloud incantations, but I’m the first to admit that my experience with protection mechanisms for things like NoSQL is non-existent. It seems like that’s not an uncommon problem, and Imanis Data has spent the last 5 or so years working on fixing that for folks.

I’m intrigued by the idea that policies could be applied to objects based on criteria beyond a standard RPO requirement. In the enterprise I frequently run into situations where the RPO is often at odds with the capabilities of the protection system, or clashing with some critical processing activity that happens at a certain time each night. Getting the balance right can be challenging at the best of times. Like most things related to automation, if the system can do what I need it to do in the time I need it to happen, I’m going to be happy. Particularly if I don’t need to do anything after I’ve set it to run.

Imanis Data seems to be offering up a pretty cool solution that scales well and does a lot of things that are important for protecting critical workloads. Imanis Data tell me they’re not interested in the relational side of things, and are continuing to focus on their core competency for the moment. It looks like pretty neat stuff and I’m looking forward to see what they come up with in the future.

Hyper-Veeam

Disclaimer: I recently attended VeeamON Forum Sydney 2018My flights and accommodation were paid for by Veeam. There is no requirement for me to blog about any of the content presented and I am not compensated in any way for my time at the event.  Some materials presented were discussed under NDA and don’t form part of my blog posts, but could influence future discussions.

I recently had the opportunity to attend VeeamON Forum in Sydney courtesy of Veeam. I was lucky enough to see Dave Russell‘s keynote speech, and also fortunate to spend some time chatting with him in the afternoon. Dave was great to talk to and I thought I’d share some of the key points here.

 

Hyper All of the Things

If you scroll down Veeam’s website you’ll see mention of a number of different “hyper” things, including hyper-availability. Veeam are keen to position themselves as an availability company, with their core focus being on making data you need recoverable, at the time when you need it to be recoverable.

Hyper-critical

Russell mentioned that data has become “hyper-critical” to business, with the likes of:

  • GDPR compliance;
  • PII data retention;
  • PCI compliance requirements;
  • Customer data; and
  • Financial records, etc.

Hyper-growth

Russell also spoke about the hyper-growth of data, with all kinds of data (including structured, unstructured, application, and Internet of things data) is also growing at a rapid clip.

Hyper-sprawl

This explosive growth of data has also lead to the “hyper-sprawl” of data, with your data now potentially living in any or all of the following locations:

  • SaaS-based solutions
  • Private cloud
  • Public cloud

 

Five Stages of Intelligent Data Management

Russell broke down Intelligent Data Management (IDM) into 5 stages.

Backup

A key part of any data management strategy is the ability to backup all workloads and ensure they are always recoverable in the event of outages, attack, loss or theft.

Aggregation

The ability to cope with data sprawl, as well as growth, means you need to ensure protection and access to data across multiple clouds to drive digital services and ensure continuous business operations.

Visibility

It’s not just about protecting vast chunks of data in multiple places though. You also need to look at the requirement to “improve management of data across multi-clouds with clear, unified visibility and control into usage, performance issues and operations”.

Orchestration

Orchestration, ideally, can then be used to “[s]eamlessly move data to the best location across multi-clouds to ensure business continuity, compliance, security and optimal use of resources for business operations”.

Automation

The final piece of the puzzle is automation. According to Veeam, you can get to a point where the “[d]ata becomes self-managing by learning to backup, migrate to ideal locations based on business needs, secure itself during anomalous activity and recover instantaneously”.

 

Thoughts

Data growth is not a new phenomenon by any stretch, and Veeam obviously aren’t the first to notice that protecting all this staff can be hard. Sprawl is also becoming a real problem in all types environments. It’s not just about knowing you have some unstructured data that can impact workflows in a key application. It’s about knowing which cloud platform that data might reside in. If you don’t know where it is, it makes it a lot harder to protect, and your risk profile increases as a result. It’s not just the vendors banging on about data growth through IoT either, it’s a very real phenomena that is creating all kinds of headaches for CxOs and their operations teams. Much like the push in to public cloud by “shadow IT” teams, IoT solutions are popping up in all kinds of unexpected places in the enterprise and making it harder to understand exactly where the important data is being kept and how it’s protected.

Veeam are talking a very good game around intelligent data management. I remember a similar approach being adopted by a three-letter storage company about a decade ago. They lost their way a little under the weight of acquisitions, but the foundation principles seem to still hold water today. Dave Russell obviously saw quite a bit at Gartner in his time there prior to Veeam, so it’s no real surprise that he’s pushing them in this direction.

Backup is just the beginning of the data management problem. There’s a lot else that needs to be done in order to get to the “intelligent” part of the equation. My opinion remains that a lot of enterprises are still some ways away from being there. I also really like Veeam’s focus on moving from policy-based through to a behaviour-based approach to data management.

I’ve been aware of Veeam for a number of years now, and have enjoyed watching them grow as a company. They’re working hard to make their way in the enterprise now, but still have a lot to offer the smaller environments. They tell me they’re committed to remaining a software-only solution, which gives them a certain amount of flexibility in terms of where they focus their R & D efforts. There’s a great cloud story there, and the bread and butter capabilities continue to evolve. I’m looking to see what they have coming over the next 12 months. It’s a relatively crowded market now, and it’s only going to get more competitive. I’ll be doing a few more articles in the next month or two focusing on some of Veeam’s key products so stay tuned.

Cohesity Announces Helios

I recently had the opportunity to hear from Cohesity (via a vExpert briefing – thanks for organising this TechReckoning!) regarding their Helios announcement and thought I’d share what I know here.

 

What Is It?

If we’re not talking about the god and personification of the Sun, what are we talking about? Cohesity tells me that Helios is a “SaaS-based data and application orchestration and management solution”.

[image courtesy of Cohesity]

Here is the high-level architecture of Helios. There are three main features:

  • Multi-cluster management – Control all your Cohesity clusters located on-premises, in the cloud or at the edge from a single dashboard;
  • SmartAssist – Gives critical global operational data to the IT admin; and
  • Machine Learning Engine – Gives IT Admins machine driven intelligence so that they can make an informed decision.

All of this happens when Helios collects, anonymises, aggregates, and analyses globally available metadata and gives actionable recommendations to IT Admins.

 

Multi-cluster Management

Multi-cluster management is just that: the ability to manage more than one cluster through a unified UI. The cool thing is that you can rollout policies or make upgrades across all your locations and clusters with a single click. It also provides you with the ability to monitor your Cohesity infrastructure in real-time, as well as being able to search and generate reports on the global infrastructure. Finally, there’s an aggregated, simple to use dashboard.

 

SmartAssist

SmartAssist is a feature that provides you with the ability to have smart management of SLAs in the environment. The concept is that if you configure two protection jobs in the environment with competing requirements, the job with the higher SLA will get priority. I like this idea as it prevents people doing silly things with protection jobs.

 

Machine Learning

The Machine Learning part of the solution provides a number of things, including insights into capacity consumption. And proactive wellness? It’s not a pitch for some dodgy natural health product, but instead gives you the ability to perform:

  • Configuration validations, preventing you from doing silly things in your environment;
  • Blacklist version control, stopping known problematic software releases spreading too far in the wild; and
  • Hardware health checks, ensuring things are happy with your hardware (important in a software-defined world).\

 

Thoughts and Further Reading

There’s a lot more going on with Helios, but I’d like to have some stick time with it before I have a lot more to say about it. People are perhaps going to be quick compare this with other SaaS offerings, but I think they might be doing some different things, with a bit of a different approach. You can’t go five minutes on the Internet without hearing about how ML is changing the world. If nothing else, this solution delivers a much needed consolidated view of the Cohesity environment. This seems like an obvious thing, but probably hasn’t been necessary until Cohesity landed the type of customers that had multiple clusters installed all over the place.

I also really like the concept of a feature like SmartAssist. There’s only so much guidance you can give people before they have to do some thinking for themselves. Unfortunately, there are still enough environments in the wild where people are making the wrong decision about what priority to place on jobs in their data protection environment. SmartAssist can do a lot to take away the possibility that things will go awry from an SLA perspective.

You can grab a copy of the data sheet here, and read a blog post by Raj Dutt here. El Reg also has some coverage of the announcement here.

Random Short Take #7

Here are a few links to some random things that I think might be useful, to someone. Maybe.