The John Hancock Tower (a.k.a. The Hancock) in Boston is synonymous with architecture disconnected from reality. A 60-story glass skyscraper in Boston, the tower is a tourist attraction and an exemplar of modernist architecture. But it also has a long, embarrassing history. At one point, it was dubbed the “Plywood Palace.” When 500 pound panes of glass fell off the building, engineers temporarily replaced much of the glass with plywood. Then, in high winds, the tenants of the upper floors suffered from motion sickness; to solve the problem, engineers installed a tuned mass damper. Finally, when it was discovered that the building could collapse under very high winds, engineers added thousands of pounds of steel bracings.
A monolithic architecture can look elegant on paper, but real life engineering depends on flexibility and the ability to evolve quickly. The right architecture needs to translate into reality.
Traditional Backup vs. Protection Storage Architecture
A perceptive reader asked: “How is your Protection Storage Architecture different than a traditional backup architecture where backup software (management) triggers backup clients (data sources) that send data to tape (protection storage)? And why should I care?”
Traditional backup architectures are closed and monolithic. The Protection Storage Architecture is open and modular.
- Data Access: Traditional backups store data in a closed, proprietary format; you cannot access your data without the backup app that created it. The Protection Storage Architecture prefers to store backup copies in their open, original format – i.e., backups of database files as database files, VMs as VMs, and files and files – instead of locking the backups into proprietary tar images.
- Metadata Access: Traditional backups limit backup visibility by closing off access to the protection metadata. Non-backup administrators, so they cannot easily understand what the backup application is doing. The Protection Storage Architecture opens backup visibility and control to the data source owners, via their preferred interface (e.g., Oracle RMAN, VMware vSphere).
- Alternate Protection Methods: Traditional backup architectures refuse to manage or monitor backup copies created outside their monolith (backup application driving backup client to write data to backup storage). They also struggle to support new data source layer performance optimizations (e.g. snapshots, replicas, changed block tracking), delivering a sub-par bolt-on module years later. The Protection Storage Architecture’s modularity enables it to treat all protection copies as 1st class citizens. This includes all types of protection (e.g. snapshots, replicas, backups, archives), created by all users (e.g., DBA, VM admin, or any third-party backup software), and all optimization modules.
The difference in architectural approach is stark: closed and monolithic vs. open and modular.
What’s the Value?
The value of the Protection Storage Architecture boils down to two things: performance and visibility.
- Performance: A traditional backup client cannot scale backup and recovery performance with data growth. On backup, it reads through all the data to find what to protect and write into its proprietary format – searching for needles in haystacks. On restore, it must translate all the data from the proprietary format and write it to primary storage. The data can only be accessed once the customer finds primary storage capacity and runs a, potentially, multi-TB recovery.A modular architecture leverages the intelligence in the data sources (e.g. hypervisor, application, primary storage) to optimize protection performance. Instead of searching for needles, the data sources can track exactly what new data to protect because they’re writing the data. One can reduce backup and recovery times from hours to seconds… if your architecture is modular enough to leverage the intelligence in the data sources.The Protection Storage Architecture scales recovery because it leaves data in open formats. Since it stores data on disk in its original format, customers can instantly access their data. In the event of a disaster, an application can be up and running in minutes, instead of days. Or, if multiple users lose files, they can recover their own data, instead of hitting a bottleneck waiting for the backup team and tools to help them.The open, modular architecture optimizes and scales both backup and recovery performance.
- Visibility: With traditional backup architectures, everything must run through the backup team bottleneck. These architectures drive a “my way or the highway” approach from the backup team – my backup app, my schedule, my clients, my data format, my absolute control. It’s no surprise that other groups are choosing the highway and rolling their own solutions.The Protection Storage Architecture wants to increase everybody’s data protection visibility. Regardless of how a protection copy is made, or by whom, the Protection Storage Architecture’s Data Management Services will discover, report on, and catalog it. Furthermore, the Protection Storage Architecture wants to ensure that each key user has a native user-interface into all versions of their protected data – be it their application (e.g., Oracle, SAP), hypervisor (e.g., VMware), storage array (e.g., ViPR), or user protocol (e.g., NFS/CIFS).
How Do I Adopt the Protection Storage Architecture?
One of the virtues of a modular architecture is that you don’t need a “rip and replace” to move to the architecture. The modularity of the Protection Storage Architecture enables companies to set long-term goals, while deriving value today and each step of the way. How you move forward depends on your environment, your business and your objectives. Some choose to adopt whole layers (e.g.,protection storage or data management services) across their legacy environment; others opt to focus on end-to-end use cases (e.g. database backups, VM backups), and still others decide to follow a hybrid approach.
Your organization, like ours, is moving to a services-oriented backup and IT approach. As it does, it’s critical that your foundation is open and modular.
Backup is broken because the traditional architectures are closed and monolithic. Companies will not succeed in deploying rich services on top of a legacy backup architecture. With the Protection Storage Architecture, the engineering team can evolve the environment, quickly solve pressing business challenges, and unify data protection services.
Amazingly, in 1977, just after the plywood debacle, the American Institute for Architects bestowed the Hancock Tower with a National Honor Award. Sometimes, architects forget that the right architecture is not about a beautiful monolith on paper – it’s about putting the engineering team in the best position to solve real-world problems.