Random Short take #74

Welcome to Random Short Take #74. Let’s get random.

StorCentric Announces Nexsan Unity NV10000

Nexsan (a StorCentric company) recently announced the Nexsan Unity NV10000. I thought I’d share a few of my thoughts here.

What Is It? 
In the immortal words of Silicon Valley: “It’s a box“. But the Nexsan Unity NV10000 is a box with some fairly decent specifications packed in a small form-factor, including support for various 1DWPD NVMe SSDs and the latest Intel Xeon processors.
Protocol Support
Protocol support, as would be expected with the Unity, is broad, with support for File (NFS, SMB), Block (iSCSI, FC), and Object (S3) data storage protocols within the one unified platform.
Performance Enhancements
These were hinted at with the release of Unity 7.0, but the Nexsan Unity NV10000 boosts performance by increasing bandwidths of up to 25GB/s, enabling you to scale performance up as your application needs evolve.

Other Useful Features

As you’d expect from this kind of storage array, the Nexsan Unity NV10000 also delivers features such as:

  • High availability (HA);
  • Snapshots;
  • ESXi integration;
  • In-line compression;
  • FASTier™ caching;
  • Asynchronous replication;
  • Data at rest encryption; and
  • Storage pool scrubbing to protect against bit rot, avoiding silent data corruption.

Backup Target?

Unity supports a comprehensive Host OS matrix and is certified as a Veeam Ready Repository for backups. Interestingly, the Nexsan Unity NV10000 also provides data security, regulations compliance, and ransomware recoverability. The platform also supports immutable block and file and S3 object locking, for data backup that is unchangeable and cannot be encrypted, even by internal bad actors.

Thoughts

I’m not as much of a diskslinger as I used to be, but I’m always interested to hear about what StorCentric / Nexsan has been up to with its storage array releases. It strikes me that the company does well by focussing on those features that customers are looking for (fast storage, peace of mind, multiple protocols) and also by being able to put it in a form-factor that appeals in terms of storage density. While the ecosystem around StorCentric is extensive, it makes sense for the most part, with the various components coming together well to form a decent story. I like that the company has really focussed on ensuring that Unity isn’t just a cool product name, but also a key part of the operating environment that powers the solution.

Retrospect Announces Retrospect Backup 18.5

Retrospect recently announced an update to its Backup (18.5) product. I had the opportunity to speak to JG Heithcock (GM, Retrospect) about the announcement and thought I’d briefly share some thoughts here.

 

What’s New?

Anomaly Detection

You can now detect anomalies in systems based on customisable filters and thresholds tailored to individual environments. It still relies on someone doing something about it, but it’s definitely a positive step forward. You can also configure the anomaly detection to work with Retrospect’s scripting / orchestration engine, kicking off various processes when something has gone wrong.

Retrospect Management Console Integration

This capability has been integrated wth the Management Console, and you can now view anomalies across a business or partner’s entire client base in a single pane of glass.

[image courtesy of Retrospect]

Improved Microsoft Azure Blob Integration

You can now set individual immutable retention policies for different backup sets within the same Azure Storage Container. This capability was already available with Retrospect’s AWS S3 integration.

Streamlined Immutable Backup User Experience

Automatically create cloud buckets with immutable backups supported by default. There’s also support for StorCentric’s Unity S3 capability out of the box.

LTO-9 Support

Is tape dead? Maybe. But there are still people using it, and this release includes support for LTO-9, with capacities up to 18TB (45TB compressed).

 

Thoughts

Retrospect Backup 18.5 is a free upgrade to Retrospect Backup 18. While it doesn’t set the world on fire in terms of a broad range of features, there’s some stuff in here that should get existing users excited, and give those considering the product a little more to mull over. Retrospect has been chipping away slowly but surely over the years, and I think it provides the traditional SME market with something that’s been difficult to get until recently: a solid data protection solution, with modern capabilities such as ransomware detection and object storage support, for a price that won’t send customers in that segment packing. I think that’s pretty good, and I look forward to see how things progress over the next 6 – 12 months.

StorCentric Announces Nexsan Unity 7.0

Nexsan (a StorCentric company) recently announced version 7.0 of its Unity software platform. I had the opportunity to speak to StorCentric CTO Surya Varanasi about the announcement and thought I’d share a few of my thoughts here.

 

What’s New?

In short, there’s a fair bit that’s gone into this release, and I’ll cover these below.

Protocol Enhancements

The Unity platform already supported FC, iSCSI, NFS, and SMB. It now supports S3 as well, making interoperability with data protection software that supports S3 as a target even simpler. It also means you can do stuff with Object Locking, and I’ll cover that below.

.

[image courtesy of Nexsan]

There have also been some enhancements to the speeds supported on the Unity hardware interfaces, and FC now supports up to 32Gbps, and support for 1/10/25/40/100GbE over Ethernet.

Security, Compliance and Ransomware Protection

Unity now supports immutable volume and file system snapshots for data protection. This provides secure point-in-time copies of data for business continuity.  As I mentioned before, there’s also support for object locking, enabling bucket or object-level protection for a specified retention period to create immutable copies of data. This allows enterprises to address compliance, regulatory and other data protection requirements. Finally, there’s now support for pool-scrubbing to detect and remediate bit rot to avoid data corruption.

Performance Improvements

There have been increases in total throughput capability, with Varanasi telling me that Total Throughput has increased up to 13GB/s on existing platforms. There’s also been a significant improvement in the Unity to Assureon ingestion rate. I’ve written a little about the Unbreakable Backup solution before, and there’s a lot to like about the architecture.

[image courtesy of Nexsan]

 

Thoughts

This is the first time that Nexsan has announced enhancements to its Unity platform without incorporating some kind of hardware refresh, so the company is testing the waters in some respects. I think it’s great when storage companies are able to upgrade their existing hardware platforms with software and offering improved performance and functionality. There’s a lot to like in this release, particularly when it comes to the improved security and data integrity capabilities. Sure, not everyone wants object storage available on their midrange storage array, but it makes it a lot more accessible, particularly if you only need a few 100TB of object. The object lock capability, along with the immutable snapshotting for SMB and NFS users, really helps improve the overall integrity and resiliency of the platform as well.

StorCentric now has a pretty broad portfolio of storage and data protection products available, and you can see the integrations between the different lines are only going to increase as time goes on. The company has been positioning itself as a data-centric company for some time, and working hard to ensure that improved security is a big part of that solution. I think there’s a great story here for customers looking to leverage one vendor to deliver storage, data protection, and data security capabilities into the enterprise. The bad guys in hoodies are always looking for ways to make your day unpleasant, so when vendors are working to tighten up their integrations across a variety of products, it can only be a good thing in terms of improving the resilience and availability of your critical information assets. I’m looking forward to hearing what’s next with Nexsan and StorCentric.

Retrospect Announces Retrospect Backup 18 and Retrospect Virtual 2021

Retrospect recently announced new versions of its Backup (18) and Virtual (2021) products. I had the opportunity to speak to JG Heithcock (GM, Retrospect) about the announcement and thought I’d share some thoughts here.

 

What’s New?

New Management Console & Workflow 

  • Simplified workflows
  • Comprehensive reporting through an updated management console

The Retrospect Management Console now supports geo tracking with a worldwide map of all users, Retrospect Backup servers, and remote clients, down to the city.

[image courtesy of Retrospect]

Cloud Native

  • Deploy directly in the cloud
  • Protect application data

Note that cloud native means that you can deploy agents on cloud-based hypervisor workloads and protect them. It doesn’t mean support for things like Kubernetes.

Anti-Ransomware Protection

Enables users to set immutable retention periods and policies within Amazon S3, Wasabi and Backblaze B2 and supports bucket-level object lock in Google Cloud Storage and Microsoft Azure.

Pricing

There’s a variety of pricing options available. When you buy a perpetual license, you have access to any new minor or major version upgrades for 12 months. With the monthly subscription model you have access to the latest version of the product for as long as you keep the subscription active.

[image courtesy of Retrospect]

 

Thoughts And Further Reading

I’ve mentioned in my previous coverage of Retrospect that I’m fan of the product, if only for the fact that the consumer and SME space is screaming out for simple to use data protection solutions. Any solution that can help users develop some kind of immunity to ransomware has to be a good thing, and it’s nice to see Retrospect getting there in terms of cloud support. This isn’t as fully featured a product as some of the enterprise solutions out there, but for the price it doesn’t need to be.

Ultimately, the success of software like this is a balance between usability, cost, and reliability. The Retrospect folks seem cognisant of this, and have gone some way to fill the gaps where they could, and are working on others. I’ll be taking this version for a spin in the lab in the very near future, and hope to report back with how it all went.

Random Short Take #51

Welcome to Random Short Take #51. A few players have worn 51 in the NBA including Lawrence Funderburke (I remember the Ohio State team wearing grey Nikes on TV and thinking that was a really cool sneaker colour – something I haven’t been able to shake over 25 years later). My pick is Boban Marjanović though. Let’s get random.

  • Folks don’t seem to spend much time making sure the fundamentals are sound, particularly when it comes to security. This article from Jess provides a handy list of things you should be thinking about, and doing, when it comes to securing your information systems. As she points out, it’s just a starting point, but I think it should be seen as a bare minimum / entry level set of requirements that you could wrap around most environments out in the wild.
  • Could there be a new version of AIX on the horizon? Do I care? Not really. But I do sometimes yearn for the “simpler” times I spent working on a myriad of proprietary open systems, particularly when it came to storage array support.
  • StorCentric recently announced Nexsan Assureon Cloud Edition. You can read the press release here.
  • Speaking of press releases, Zerto continues to grow its portfolio of cloud protection technology. You can read more on that here.
  • Spectro Cloud has been busy recently, and announced supporting for management of existing Kubernetes deployments. The news on that can be found here.
  • Are you a data hoarder? I am. This article won’t help you quit data, but it will help you understand some of the things you can do to protect your data.
  • So you’ve found yourself with a publicly facing vCenter? Check out this VMware security advisory, and get patching ASAP. vCenter is the only thing you need to be patching either, but hopefully you knew that already.
  • John Birmingham is one of my favourite writers. Not just for his novels with lots of things going bang, but also for his blog posts about food. And things of that nature.

StorCentric Announces Data Mobility Suite

StorCentric recently announced its Data Mobility Suite (DMS). I had the opportunity to talk to Surya Varanasi (StorCentric CTO) about the news, and thought I’d share some of my notes here.

 

What Is It?

DMS is being positioned as a suite of “data cloud services” by StorCentric, with a focus on:

  • Data migration;
  • Data consistency; and
  • Data operation.

It has the ability to operate across heterogeneous storage, clouds, and protocols. It’s a software solution based on subscription licensing and uses a policy-driven engine to manage data in the enterprise. It can run on bare-metal or as a VM appliance. Object storage platform / cloud support if fairly robust, with AWS, Backblaze B2, and Wasabi, amongst others, all being supported.

[image courtesy of StorCentric]

Use Cases

There are a number of scenarios where a solution like DMS makes sense. You might have a bunch of NFS storage on-premises, for example, and want to move it to a cloud storage target using S3. Another use case cited involved collaboration across multiple sites, with the example being a media company creating content in three places, and working in different time zones, and wanting to move the data back to a centralised location.

Big Ideas

Speaking to StorCentric about the announcement, it was clear that there’s a lot more on the DMS roadmap. Block storage is something the team wants to tackle, and they’re also looking to deliver analytics and ransomware alerting. There’s also a strong desire to provide governance as well. For example, if I want to copy some data somewhere and keep it for 10 years, I’ll configure DMS to take care of that for me.

 

Thoughts and Further Reading

Data management means a lot of things to a lot of people. Storage companies often focus on moving blocks and files from one spot to another, but don’t always do a solid job of capturing data needs to be stored where it does. Or how, for that matter. There’s a lot more to data management than keeping ones and zeroes in a safe place. But it’s not just about being able to move data from one spot to another. It’s about understanding the value of your data, and understanding where it needs to be to deliver the most value to your organisation. Whilst it seems like DMS is focused primarily on moving data from one spot to another, there’s plenty of potential here to develop a broader story in terms of data governance and mobility. There’s built-in security, and the ability to apply levels of data governance to data in various locations. The greater appeal here is also the ability to automate the movement of data to different places based on policy. This policy-driven approach becomes really interesting when you start to look at complicated collaboration scenarios, or need to do something smart with replication or data migration.

Ultimately, there are a bunch of different ways to get data from one point to another, and a bunch of different reasons why you might need to do that. The value in something like DMS is the support for heterogeneous storage platforms, as well as the simple to use GUI support. Plenty of data migration tools come with extremely versatile command line interfaces and API support, but the trick is delivering an interface that is both intuitive and simple to navigate. It’s also nice to have a few different use cases met with one tool, rather than having to reach into the bag a few different times to solve very similar problems. StorCentric has a lot of plans for DMS moving forward, and if those plans come to fruition it’s going to form a very compelling part of the typical enterprise’s data management toolkit. You can read the press release here.

StorCentric Announces Nexsan Unity 3300 And 7900

StorCentric recently announced new Nexsan Unity storage arrays. I had the opportunity to speak to Surya Varanasi, CTO of StorCentric, about the announcement, and thought I’d share some thoughts here.

 

Speeds And Feeds

[image courtesy of Nexsan]

The new Unity models announced are the 3300 and 7900. Both models use two controllers and vary in capacity between 1.6PB and 6.7PB. They both use the Intel Xeon E5 v4 Family processors, and have between 256GB and 448GB of system RAM. There are hybrid storage options available, and both systems support RAID 5, 6, and 10. You can access the spec sheet here.

 

Use Cases

Unbreakable

One of the more interesting use cases we discussed was what StorCentric refer to as “Unbreakable Backup”. The idea behind Nexsan Unbreakable Backup is that you can use your preferred data protection vendor to send backup data to a Unity array. This data can then be replicated to Nexsan’s Assureon platform. The cool thing about the Assureon is that it’s a locked down solution. So even if you’re hit with a ransomware attack, it’s going to be mighty hard for the bad guys to crack the Assureon platform as well, as StorCentric uses a Key Management System hosted inside StorCentric, and provides minimal privileges to end users.

Data Migration

There’s also a Data Mobility Suite coming at the end of Q3, including:

  • Cloud Connector, giving you the ability to replicate data from Unity to 18 Public clouds including Amazon and Google (for unstructured data, cloud-based backup); and
  • Flexible Data Migrations – streamline Unity implementations, migrate data from heterogeneous systems.

 

Thoughts and Further Reading

I’ve written enthusiastically about Assureon in the past, so it was nice to revisit the platform via this announcement. Ransomware is a scary prospect for many organisations, so a system that can integrate nicely to help with protecting protection data seems like a pretty good idea. Sure, having to replicate the data to a second system might seem like an unnecessary expense, but organisations should be assessing the value of that investment against the cost of having corporate data potentially irretrievably corrupted. Insurance against ransomware attacks probably seems like something that you shouldn’t need to spend money on, until you need to spend money recovering, or sending bitcoin to some clown because you need your data back. It’s not appealing by any stretch, but it’s also important to take precautions wherever possible.

Midrange storage is by no means a sexy topic to talk about. In my opinion it’s a well understood architecture that most tier 1 companies do pretty well nowadays. But that’s the beauty of the midrange system in a lot of ways – it’s a well understood architecture. So you generally know what you’re getting with hybrid (or all-flash) dual controller systems. The Unity range from Nexsan is no different, and that’s not a bad thing. There are a tonne of workloads in the enterprise today that aren’t necessarily well suited to cloud (for the moment), and just need some block or file storage and a bit of resiliency for good measure. The Unity series of arrays from Nexsan offer a bunch of useful features, including tiering and a variety of connectivity options. It strikes me that these arrays are a good fit for a whole lot of workloads that live in the data centre, from enterprise application hosting through to data protection workloads. If you’re after a reliable workhorse, it’s worth looking into the Unity range.

Retrospect Announces Backup 17 And Virtual 2020

Retrospect recently announced new versions of its Backup (17) and Virtual (2020) products. I had the opportunity to speak to JG Heithcock (GM, Retrospect) about the announcement and thought I’d share some thoughts here.

 

What’s New?

Retrospect Backup 17 has the following new features:

  • Automatic Onboarding: Simplified and automated deployment and discovery;
  • Nexsan E-Series / Unity Certification;
  • 10x Faster ProactiveAI; and
  • Restore Preflight for restores from cold storage.

Retrospect Virtual 2020 has the following enhancements:

  • Automatic Onboarding: Physical and Virtual monitoring from a single website;
  • 50% Faster;
  • Wasabi Cloud Support;
  • Backblaze B2 Cloud Support; and
  • Flexible licensing between VMware and Hyper-V.

Automatic Onboarding?

So what exactly is automatic onboarding? You can onboard new servers and endpoints for faster deployment and automatic discovery.

  • Share one link with your team. No agent password required.
  • Retrospect Backup finds and protects new clients with ProactiveAI.
  • Add servers, desktops, and laptops to Retrospect Backup.
  • Single pane of glass for entire backup infrastructure with Retrospect Management Console.
  • Available for Windows, Mac, and Linux.

You can also onboard a new Retrospect Backup server for faster, simplified deployment.

  • Protect group or site.
  • Customised installer with license built-in.
  • Seamless Management Console integration.
  • Available for Windows and Mac.

Onboard new Retrospect Virtual server for complete physical and virtual monitoring.

  • Customised installer
  • Seamless Management Console integration.
  • Monitor Physical + Virtual

Pricing

There’s a variety of pricing available. When you buy a perpetual license, you have access to any new minor or major version upgrades for 12 months. With the monthly subscription model you have access to the latest version of the product for as long as you keep the subscription active.

[image courtesy of Retrospect]

 

Thoughts And Further Reading

Retrospect was acquired by StorCentric in June 2019 after bouncing around a few different owners over the years. It’s been around for a long time, and has a rich history of delivering data protection solutions for small business and “prosumer” markets. I have reasonably fond memories of Retrospect from the time when it was shipped with Maxtor OneTouch external hard drives. Platform support is robust, with protection options available across Windows, macOS and some Linux, and the pricing is competitive. Retrospect is also benefitting from joining the StorCentric family, and I’m looking forward to hearing about more product integrations as time goes on.

Why would I cover a data protection product that isn’t squarely targeted at the enterprise or cloud market? Because I’m interested in data protection solutions across all areas of IT. I think the small business and home market is particularly under-represented when it comes to easy to deploy and run solutions. There is a growing market for cloud-based solutions, but simple local protection options still seem to be pretty rare. The number of people I talk to who are just manually copying data from one spot to another is pretty crazy. Why is it so hard to get good backup and recovery happening on endpoints? It shouldn’t be. You could argue that, with the advent of SaaS services and cloud-based storage solutions, the requirement to protect endpoints the way we used to has changed. But local protection options still makes it a whole lot quicker and easier to recover.

If you’re in the market for a solution that is relatively simple to operate, has solid support for endpoint operating systems and workloads, and is competitively priced, then I think Retrospect is worth evaluating. You can read the announcement here.

StorCentric Announces QLC E-Series 18F

Nexsan recently announced the release of its new E-Series 18F (E18F) storage platform. I had the chance to chat with Surya Varanasi, CTO of StorCentric, about the announcement and thought I’d share some thoughts here.

 

Less Disk, More Flash

[image courtesy of Nexsan]

The E18F is designed and optimised for quad-level cell (QLC) NAND technology. If you’re familiar with the Nexsan E-Series range, you’d be aware of the E18P that preceded this model. This is the QLC Flash version of that.

Use Cases

We spoke about a couple of use cases for the E18F. The first of these was with data lake environments. These are the sort of storage environents with 20 to 30PB installations that are subjected to random workload pressures. The idea of using QLC is to increase the performance without significantly increasing the cost. That doesn’t mean that you can do a like for like swap of HDDs for QLC Flash. Varanasi did, however, suggest that Nexsan had observed a 15x improvement over hard drive installation for around 3-4 times the cost, and he’s expecting that to go down to 2-3 times in the future. There is also the option to use just a bit of QLC Flash with a lot of HDDs to get some performance improvement.

The other use case discussed was the use of QLC in test and dev environments. Users are quite keen, obviously, on getting Flash in their environments at the price of HDDs. This isn’t yet a realistic goal, but it’s more achievable with QLC than it is with something like TLC.

 

QLC And The Future

We spoke briefly about more widespread adoption of QLC across the range of StorCentric storage products. Varanasi said the use “will eventually expand across the portfolio”, and they were looking at how it might be adopted with the larger E-Series models, as well as with the Assureon and Vexata range. They were treating Unity more cautiously, as the workloads traditionally hosted on that platform were a little more demanding.

 

Thoughts and Further Reading

The kind of workloads we’re throwing at what were once viewed as “cheap and deep” platforms is slowly changing. Where once it was perhaps acceptable to wait a few days for reporting runs to finish, there’s no room for that kind of performance gap now. So it makes sense that we look to Flash as a way of increasing the performance of the tools we’re using. The problem, however, is that when you work on data sets in the petabyte range, you need a lot of capacity to accommodate that. Flash is getting cheaper, but it’s still not there when compared to traditional spinning disks. QLC is a nice compromise between performance and capacity. There’s a definite performance boost to be had, and the increase in cost isn’t eye watering. StorCentric Announces QLC E-Series 18F

I’m interested to see how this solution performs in the real world, and whether QLC has the expected durability to cope with the workloads that enterprise will throw at it. I’m also looking forward to seeing where else Nexsan decide to use QLC in its portfolio. There’s good story here in terms of density, performance, and energy consumption – one that I’m sure other vendors will also be keen to leverage. For another take on this, check out Mellor’s article here.