Category Archives: Event

RTO With Cohesity @ vRetreat

How Cohesity’s Approach to VM Backup Affects the Recovery Time Objective

This week I attended another vRetreat online, this time featuring data vendor Cohesity who I saw presenting at the (in-person) event last year. These are great events, and the small panel of delegates works well in the virtual format.

One thing that stood out to me in their presentation was the focus on the Recovery Time Objective (RTO)- in essence how long it takes to recover from an incident. In this post I will briefly discuss how I understand the definition of RTO before looking at how the Cohesity products work to keep this time down when working with Virtual Machines.

Recovery Time Objective

There’s plenty of material out on the interwebs which will explain RTO in great detail, but I’m taking the definition to be:

the expected length of time between an incident occurring and users being able to work normally again

As this diagram shows, the Time can be split into a number of notable sections, I’ve chosen the following three:

RTO

  1. Discovering the Incident. How long is it before we notice something is broken? Do we have to wait for a user to contact the service desk, or do we have responsive monitoring and alerting in place?
  2. Starting the Restore. How long does it take to actually start the restore operation? Is there a clear process to be followed? There might be internal decisions to be made as to whether to kick off a backup restore or attempt an in-place repair. Does somebody need to physically power on some equipment or find and load some tapes before a backup restore can commence?
  3. The Restore Operation. How long does it take between “Go” being pushed on the restore console and the service being usable again?

You’ll notice there’s also a fourth section on the diagram- the “Tidy Up”. This is all those processes that need to happen after the user is working again to get the system back into a normal state. This might include things like tidying up the original (broken) copies of the VM, returning a backup tape to the library, or investigation of the root cause. In any of these cases, I’ve put this step outside of the RTO as by the definition above, the Users are working normally again.

Ransomware Detection

imageRecovery from ransomware attacks seem to be the current favoured feature pushed by backup vendors, and Cohesity are no exception. Their take here is that because the Cohesity Data Platform handles all the backups, it sees all the data and this position in the data flow gives the rest of the Cohesity stack an opportunity to spot both when an unusual number of files have been changed and also when files suddenly can’t be indexed because they’ve been encrypted.

Tied with an alerting mechanism, this helps address our question in point 1 above- “Can we discover the incident quickly?”. The sooner someone in IT is aware that a ransomware infection has happened, the quicker a response can be started.

Additionally, Regular point-in-time snapshot backups make it easier to spot the time the infection started (or if not the point of infection, at least when the malware started acting) and the more granular the timestamps the less data is potentially lost between a backup and the incident. But we’re straying into RPO, not RTO, there.

Starting Restore

Most of the time when responding to a major incident and orchestrating a restore operation the user interface will be key to assessing the situation and bringing services back online. Cohesity offers a clean and tidy web-based UI, complete with the now-obligatory Dark Mode.

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Whilst the platform isn’t going to make those go/no-go decisions on kicking off a restore- it can influence that decision. Because the restores are so quick (as we’ll see shortly) the discussion on whether to repair or restore might favour the latter. It’s also possible to bring up the VMs in a network-disconnected state without touching the production systems so that once any discussions are complete the restore is even quicker (or if the repair option is chosen then that restore can just be cancelled)

Restoring User Service

Once recovery is started in Cohesity Data Protect an NFS datastore is created on the Data Platform- the VMDK is already here so there is no need to spend time at this point moving blocks across the network. The NFS datastore is mounted within vCenter and the VM registered and at this point the VM can be powered on and the users can get working again.

Once service has been restored, the longer process of putting the VM files back where they belong is achieved with the hypervisors own Storage vMotion technology (the fourth step above). Applications are available throughout this, and once the Cohesity datastore has been cleared, it is unmounted from vCenter.

As this slide extract from the Cohesity presentation shows, one of their big selling points is this quick recovery process. Notice how the “Recover data to target storage device” is positioned after the User access is restored.

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Thanks to Patrick Redknap and the Cohesity team for hosting this informative event, and I look forward to the next one. For more information about Cohesity, check out their website: https://www.cohesity.com/

Please read my standard Declaration/Disclaimer and before rushing out to buy anything bear in mind that this article is based on a sales discussion at a sponsored event rather than a POC or production installation. I wasn’t paid to write this article or offered any payment, although Cohesity did sponsor a prize draw for delegates at the event.

Datrium @ vRetreat May 2020

Last week I received an invitation to the latest in the vRetreat series of events. These events bring together IT vendors and a selected group of tech bloggers- usually in venues like football clubs and racetracks, but in the current circumstances we were forced online. The second of the two briefings at the May 2020 event came from Datrium.

To paraphrase their own words, Datrium was founded to take the complicated world of Disaster Recovery and make it simpler and more reliable, they call this DR-as-a-service. The focus of this vRetreat presentation was around their ability to protect an on-premises VMware virtual environment using a VMware Cloud on AWS Software-Defined-Data-Centre as the DR target.

These days the idea of backing up VMs to a cloud storage provider and then being able to quickly restore them is fairly commonplace in the market. Datrium, however, take this a step further and integrate the VMware-on-AWS model to reduce RTO but also ensure reliability by enabling easy, and automated, test restores.

When Disaster Strikes

In the event of a disaster Datrium promises a 1-click failover to the DR site through it’s ControlShift SaaS portal. One of the great benefits here is the DR site2020-05-19 (44)– or at least the compute side of it- doesn’t exist until that failover is initiated. This means the business isn’t paying for hardware to sit idly by just in case there’s a disaster.

The backup data is pushed up to “cheap” AWS storage and at the point the failover runbook is activated a vSphere cluster is spun up and the storage is mounted directly as an NFS datastore. VMs can then start to be powered on as soon as the hosts come online – with Datrium handling any required changes in IP addresses etc.

Whilst the system is running in this DR state, changes are monitored so that when the on-premises environment is restored failback only requires the delta change to be synchronised back from the cloud. And at this point the VMware environment on AWS is removed until the next time one is required.

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Testing – Practice Makes Perfect

This ability to spin-up and decommission the entire DR site on demand enables realistic testing to be performed without risk to the production workloads. Test restores can be run, and workload-specific tests run on the test environment, but the SDDC built on AWS only exists for the duration of the test.

The Datrium platform contains runbooks, and these are not just restricted to disaster events, but can be used to automate testing. The system will, on a schedule, spin up some or all of the VMware environment in a temporary SDDC then run some specified tests and shutdown and destroy the test infrastructure when complete. The results of this testing are compiled into an audit report.

Conclusion

As I’ve alluded to at the top of this post, there are plenty of “Backup” and “DR” products out there servicing Enterprise IT and leveraging the public cloud to do so. Of those, I think Datrium is worth considering particularly if you are focussed on protecting a vSphere environment with a short RTO, and are interested in using VMware on AWS as a DR solution but not that keen on the not-insubstantial costs of running that DR SDDC 24/7.

Please read my standard Declaration/Disclaimer and before rushing out to buy anything bear in mind that this article is based on a sales discussion at a sponsored event rather than a POC or production installation. I wasn’t paid to write this article or offered any payment, aside from being entered in a  prize draw of delegates to win a chair (I was not a winner).

Snapt @ vRetreat May 2020

Last week I received an invitation to the latest in the vRetreat series of events. These events bring together IT vendors and a selected group of tech bloggers- usually in venues like football clubs and racetracks, but in the current circumstances we were forced online. The first of the two briefings at the May 2020 event came from Snapt.

Established in 2012, Snapt is built on a product range they refer to as “Load Balancing Plus” – taking in Load Balancing, Web Acceleration and Firewall. They have a recent flagship release named “Nova” which enables the deployment and scaling of these load balancers across multiple environments.

It’s an interesting approach for anyone working in a multi-cloud environment, for example with workloads in vSphere, AWS, and Azure, who wants a consistent method of deploying, securing, and maintaining their load balancers in all of these clouds from one SaaS platform.

snapt1-crop

Snapt achieve this by separating their control and data planes – The SaaS control plane is managed by a clean web-based dashboard or API calls, and from there the nodes are deployed to the target infrastructures as VMs, containers, or cloud devices depending on the platform.

This separation of the nodes from the control adds potential for scaling, helped by their stateless nature. Logs are streamed directly out of the node and the parameters are pulled down from the control plane. Nodes also expose interfaces to allow direct monitoring from third-party applications as well as that provided by the Nova dashboard.

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Down on the node, the load balancing features are supported by a wide set of security tools. Traditional blacklists and whitelists are supported by more advanced features such as geofencing and anomaly detection. Activity here is reported back up to the dashboard to give admins a clear, global, view of load and threats across their environments.

Whilst there are plenty of other load balancing solutions on the marketplace, based on this briefing I’d say that Snapt are well worth a look and particularly if the requirement is for a multi-cloud type environment.

There is a Community Edition of Nova available which allows up to 5 nodes free of charge- check out https://nova.snapt.net/pricing for details.

Please read my standard Declaration/Disclaimer and before rushing out to buy anything bear in mind that this article is based on a sales discussion at a sponsored event rather than a POC or production installation. I wasn’t paid to write this article or offered any payment, aside from being entered in a  prize draw of delegates to win a chair (I was not a winner).

Virtual vs In-person Conferences

In the current pandemic situation (April 2020) a lot of events, both small and large, have had to close their doors and move from in-person to virtual on-line environments. There’s been a lot of chatter about this on the interwebs, and how some people favour the way of conferencing we have been forced into adopting.

From my perspective I find it hard to see how online meetings can match up to the in-person show. The section of the event where you’re sat quietly listening to a speaker, raising your hand with a question, or asking at the end, is similar between the two. Viewing from home you have a more comfortable chair but, on the flip side you must buy your own drinks and snacks. However, you are just watching an online webinar and the moment the session ends, you step out of that breakout back into your home life.

Distance-learning like this is great, but it’s just one component of what makes the traditional tech conference such a worthwhile experience. It’s that time when you’re not sat down listening to a presentation or trying out a lab that can really make the difference.

Discussions happen with random people on the show floor, in a queue, at the bar in the evenings, or even at the airports. The social component, even for an introvert, should not be underestimated. I’ve now got some great friends, gained unexpected knowledge, and understood things from different viewpoints thanks to tech conferences. It’s also one of the few ways of breaking out of the “bubble” of IT in my organisation and seeing what people do in similar functions in the wider world.

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Even the big events I’ve attended- VMworld, Cisco Live, Microsoft TechEd – I’ve gone into knowing few, or even zero, people at the event but always come away with new contacts, experiences, and friends. I don’t get any of that from the breakout sessions, it’s all from those bits in-between.

Getting out of the office (or these days the home-office) is an important method of separation and difficult to replicate without travelling to a conference (even if it’s just down the road). Without that separation it’s hard to avoid being (as) distracted by the day to day and able to concentrate on learning.

I’d love to be proven wrong. If someone can figure out how to answer this puzzle of doing the bits between and after the sessions well in an online environment I’d be overjoyed, but I’m still waiting for that to happen. Perhaps the London VMUG next week might surprise me.