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EqualLogic adds host-based snapshot backup tool

The iSCSI SAN player is adding a new feature called SmartCopy, which allows users to manage snapshot backup, cloning and data replication from Windows servers.

EqualLogic Corp. announced it has added a new feature to its array software that it's calling SmartCopy, consisting of an instance of its Automated Snapshot Manager that can be run on a Windows host and lets users manage snapshot backup and data replication at the host level.

It's a feature very similar to Network Appliance Inc.'s (NetApp) SnapManager and EMC Corp.'s Replication Manager software, which allows users to set up snapshot backups from the application host and in that host's idiom, i.e., telling the underlying storage area network (SAN) to take snapshots of "this database" rather than "this set of LUNs or volumes."

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According to Eric Schott, director of product management for EqualLogic, the feature is intended to circumvent the common snapshot data backup pitfall of forgetting to include new LUNs or volumes in snapshot and data replication schedules.

"It determines what storage volumes your SQL database, for example, is using and the SAN does the rest," he said. "It allows the admin to 'drive' it from the server, which is easier for most IT staff to understand."

The product uses Microsoft's Volume Shadow Copy Service (VSS) to access write capabilities from the server, but the EqualLogic software remains a separate interface, Schott said. The integration with VSS also takes Microsoft's capabilities a step further, he said, because VSS does not natively include cloning and data replication. So far the feature is Windows only.

One EqualLogic user, Jason Skeffington, manager of network services for GHS Data Management in Augusta, Maine, said he's testing the feature and plans to roll it out at his company over the next month or so.

"It's sparked my imagination for different use cases," Skeffington said. One place he said he'd use the feature is to give SQL DBAs at his company their own access to snapshot backups and snapshot schedules for creating test and development images.

Of course, points out Forrester Research Inc. senior analyst Stephanie Balaouras, not everyone will have quite such a cozy relationship between server and storage administrators in their environment. "DBAs also often like to use their own tools that are tightly integrated with the database, like Oracle FlashPoint and Oracle RMAN," she said.

Skeffington, however, had an answer for that. "The best thing about it is they added this GUI, but they left command-line interface access in there, as well," Skeffington said, which means he will be able to create custom views of the SmartCopy application through Web portals using scripts.

Another area of possibility Skeffington said he's seeing for this feature is the ability to improve service levels for his customers by running remote scripts to the SmartCopy feature in order to perform automatic or scheduled restores of servers.

The new SmartCopy feature is currently in beta, and will be generally available later this quarter free of charge to EqualLogic users.

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