Published: 12 Mar 2004
If you watch a lot of television, you undoubtedly have seen the many commercials from Computer Associates Inc., (CA) Islandia, NY, illustrating the need for reliable backup. An executive on his way to a board meeting is relying on information that's only stored in the heads of two junior executives. But they both meet their downfall on the way to the meeting, leaving the senior exec looking silly. The subliminal message: The two junior executives are your mirrored disk drives that were unprotected by backup.
CA must be pretty confident that its data protection product offerings can stand the scrutiny of millions of eyes. Over the past month, my eyes have been reviewing CA's BrightStor Enterprise Backup (v. 10.5) software to see if it can indeed stand the test of real use. Can it work within the time of our backup windows and the breadth of our supported operating systems? Does it have the ease of functionality that we need?
Standardization has leveled the field in backup and recovery software. You will undoubtedly notice similarities between BrightStor Enterprise Backup (BEB) and your current package. That's mostly because of standardization. However, superior performance and ease of use are two aspects of a product that can only be achieved through more efficient use of resources and ingenuity in its GUI design, which I paid special attention to.
After some initial discussions with CA's marketing, product management and engineering staffs, I conducted the rest of this review as if I were a typical customer. I went through CA's general support contacts to resolve any issues.
For installation, plan on a server that offers up to four processors (depending on the number of attached storage devices), a gigabyte of RAM, an additional 9GB hard disk for BrightStor's Ingress database and multiple I/O expansion slots for Ethernet cards and host bus adapters (HBAs). That will do the job for most environments, at least initially (see "How we tested").
As with most backup and recovery applications, BrightStor is built around the X/Open Backup Services API (XBSA). This industry standard defines the interface and underlying services between applications or servers which need data storage management for backup and archival purposes. That should provide some level of comfort for users not already familiar with CA as a backup and recovery software provider, as well as lessen the learning curve when porting from other offerings.
CA's backup and recovery offering doesn't architecturally differ all that much from its competitors. Using the optional storage area network (SAN) component, the primary server houses the Ingres database and serves as the traffic light between the distributed media servers and the storage resources on the SAN used to catch the data from its sources. As with most other vendor offerings, this option permits your applications to share storage resources, and allows your administrators to scale the solution to accommodate newly managed backup clients.
Depending on the capacity and availability requirements of the remote client, it can be contacted over IP and its data thrown to a distributed media server on the SAN. Alternatively, you can configure it to be a distributed media server and thus have more direct connectivity to the tape drives on the SAN, yielding greater performance.
One place where CA does break the mold is with BrightStor Portal, a browser-based tool for enhanced monitoring and management. BrightStor Portal can be used to integrate and manage multiple BEB servers. As a result, a complete backup environment can be implemented by a core storage group, and then delegated to departmental staff for day-to-day operations, with the core storage group still having management access to any one of the domains for troubleshooting and other activities.
With BEB, you can create your own domains--logical groups of backup servers that have common security characteristics. For example, the research and development department of your organization can have multiple BrightStor servers belonging to the same domain that are managed separately from the BEB servers supporting your online environment. However, your core storage group can pop into either of the two domains and provide the necessary support. This gives you flexibility when delegating support across application realms and remote locations.
BrightStor can also be used as something of a storage resource management (SRM) tool--you can monitor and get reports on data characteristics such as file types, location and size. And unique to BrightStor Portal is the ability to discover and monitor, but not control, competing backup and recovery offerings, namely packages from IBM Tivoli, Legato Systems Inc. and Veritas Corp. I found this feature worthwhile for organizations porting from, or simply living with, multiple backup products.
|How we tested|
If BEB doesn't break too much ground architecturally, it does excel in its interface, which surpasses every other backup product that I've ever used. This is primarily due to the extra effort CA took to break out functionality normally buried in submenus, and put them on the main canvas of the GUI. The main screen is sprinkled with icons that separate the underlying functionality into easily managed mini-applications. Some components are the Backup and Restore Manager, Device Manager and the Database Manager.
With one click, I was able to delve into the particular areas of interest for management, status and reporting without having an intimate knowledge of the product. Underneath, there are services in place to help facilitate the tasks associated with your mouse clicks. They are the queue, media and database services. Queue services scan the job queue and process backup and restore jobs at their designated times. Media and database services manage your storage devices and populate the Ingres data store respectively.
You may use Backup Manager to establish life cycle management policies, create schedules and filters and select the source and destination locations for each managed client. Thinking left to right, the storage administrator selects the source data volumes, applies the necessary policies and schedules and then selects the destination of the backup data.
As for destination devices, BEB supports the latest tape technologies available and also supports the idea of writing data to disk in tape format. In addition to BEB's native format, you can also choose from a variety of other formats, including posix tar, cpio and dump. That is a nice fallback because you never know what problems you will encounter trying to recover data after a disaster, when your backup application may not be readily available. At least this way, even if BEB was not available or functional, with the proper reporting you still can recover your data.
Using BEB's Restore Manager, I restored files, directories, file systems and entire hosts using each of three methods available: file system, session and media. With the exception of restore by media, BEB looks into the database to find the associated source volume, mounts it and then recovers the selected source to the identified destination. Similar to other products, you can configure the length of time each client's indexes remain in the BEB database. After that, time has expired and before the physical backup volume has been written over, you can recover the data on the volume by scanning the backup media and merging the indexes back into your current database.
Working with the storage devices attached to the BEB server is handled through the Device Manager. Drilling down into Device Manager permits you to see all of the adapters that can connect the server, as well as all of the storage devices attached to those adapters. I liked the idea of being able to see the status of my HBAs from the backup application because it provided a more complete picture of my hardware within one application, which is not the case in other offerings. From there, it was easy to enable and disable drives without further navigation.
BEB also includes the concept of device groups, which allow you to further section off storage resources for selected applications or backup clients. When I first installed the product, it discovered similar tape drives and put them all in the same group. Afterwards, I was able to use Device Manager to configure more specific groups and place the drives in the group that I preferred.
The BEB Ingres database is managed by none other than the Database Manager. Within Database Manager, I could add new clients for backup and apply the desired policies and destination. After the successful completion of that client backup, the usual information was available, namely the destination media's location, the backup sessions, file systems and hosts on the media and their associated retention periods. Like most other services and managers within BEB, the Database Manager has a command line equivalent (ca_dbmgr) to do your bidding from the shell or within a script. This gives you the flexibility to run all sorts of reports against the database to get a more accurate view of the size of your database, or even the number of tape drive errors reported over a period of time. This way, you can be more proactive in your scheduling of preventive maintenance.
|Pricing for BrightStor Enterprise Backup|
As noted in industry performance tests, CA's BEB solution surpassed competing solutions during isolated tests. For example, BEB was the first serverless backup solution to move more than 1TB of data in less than an hour. BEB's performance capability was evident during the recoveries I performed using various types of source data as inputs. Large files over 2GB, 100GB file systems and Oracle and MS Exchange databases were all backed up and recovered at noticeably faster speeds than other major backup offerings I've worked with. For example, a 2GB Oracle file backed up in 65 seconds or 31MB/s, not including the time it took BEB to load and position the media in the drive. And the recovery of that same file took 80 seconds, or 24MB/s.
The only source type that did not perform any better or worse than other packages I have worked with were large file systems with thousands of small files. Those numbers typically came in at roughly 12MB/s to 14MB/s. However, I found this to be more related to the limitation of the access arms of the disk drives seeking to open and close files as well as the repositioning of the tape heads than I did the application itself.
Why is BEB so fast? The only thing I can attribute its performance to is the data stack used by the media server, and quality of code produced by CA's software engineers.
I don't see any glaring lacks in BEB. If you do one-time full backups and subsequent incrementals for the rest of the applications life, BEB doesn't match Tivoli Storage Manager. Otherwise, BEB is a solid product that starts with the functionality found in most other backup and recovery products, and adds high performance and a GUI simple enough for a high school senior to learn. And it is competitively priced. I am impressed with this product and would likely recommend it to some of my clients.