Monday, January 22, 2007

Sun, Intel - friends?

OK, so Sun and Intel made a big fuss about some deal or other (one which doesn't really set the pulse racing, mind). What I found ironic was the ticker underneath the main feature on the Sun home page, where they put the knife into Itanium.

I remember Sun recently selling a number of Intel powered systems. The LX50 was a nice box - even if it was pushed with SunLinux. The V60x was OK, but I quite liked the V65x, and that sort of system (6 internal drives) is something that would be quite valuable. And the B200x blade was quite a marvel - twin hyperthreaded Xeons and a decent memory configuration in a tiny package.

I expect closer collaboration will improve driver support for Solaris, but I'm also hoping for a wider range of systems designed for Solaris to give us a breadth and variety of system configurations that Sun themselves seem disinclined to supply.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Backup Blues

Taking system backups is an essential part of any IT operation, but seems to involve an awful lot of pain.

Over the years I've generally been happy with Legato (now EMC) NetWorker, sometimes known as Sun StorEdge Backup or something similar. What I really like about it is that it's very low maintenance - easy to set up and configure, and gets on with its job quietly in the background without any fuss.

I was a little concerned that the latest version has dropped the old nwadmin X-windows based GUI in favour of some Java client-server thingummy. I still don't really like the java interface, but as I previously mentioned it's pretty low maintenance so you don't need to spend much time using it, and it's generally easy enough to use. The one downside to it is that the licensing is a bit more complicated, and the license registration instructions explicitly refer to the old GUI.

I'm currently using NetWorker for one half of my backups. I put in a new server and tape library and moved the NetWorker license across. The transition has been very successful, although the primary win is that I replaced an L20 with 2 DLT-7000 drives with a C4 with 2 LTO3 drives. The old system simply didn't have the capacity or the performance - backups would take days, and some backup runs came in at over twice the capacity of the library. Now they take hours and fit onto a couple of tapes.

The other half of my backup story is more appropriate for the tile of this post. There, we're using an alternative product. OK, specifically, NetBackup. And it's much more trouble than NetWorker has ever been.

I'm trying hard to give a balanced view here. After all, NetBackup is widely used and must have some good points, right? Maybe...

The first thing is that NetBackup is very high maintenance, at least compared to NetWorker. It needs constant attention paid to it, seeming to go off and hide in a corner if you don't give it constant encouragement. I'm not surprised that large organizations have dedicated NetBackup administrators, or even teams thereof.

The second thing is that I (and I know I'm not the only one) have trouble with the way you actually define backup schedules. In NetWorker it's trivially easy - you define what you want backed up, what level of backups you want, and when to do it. In NetBackup you mess around with backup windows, frequencies, policies, and schedules. Again, this is much higher maintenance - I usually need to manually configure half a dozen screens in NetBackup as opposed to simply selecting one option under NetWorker.

The third thing is reliability. The only time I have known NetWorker fail to do a backup is if I've run out of tape. NetBackup seems to throw fits all over the place. We see regular timeouts, errors when it's outside the backup window, and occasional (once or twice a month) where the whole thing freezes up and needs a forceful restart. I've just upgraded the NetBackup server itself, and after tuning got acceptable performance (the default performance was dreadful), but the catalog backup takes over a day for something that ought to take 20 minutes, and renders the machine completely unresponsive while it's at it.

I'm tempted to replace the NetBackup installation with NetWorker, which raises a number of issues. I'm happy that it will be fairly painless on the Unix side, but I'm less sure about the Windows side which also needs backing up. While I have run NetWorker on Windows, it became apparent fairly quickly that it was basically a Unix product and looked to be in alien territory. And my experience of NetWorker's application modules (as needed for the likes of databases, exchange and the like) hasn't been entirely positive. So I'm thinking of a completely separate system for the Winddows backups.

I've tested a number of other backup products, but under Unix. And there it was obvious that most of the Windows products looked completely lost under Unix. I haven't really come across a truly cross-platform backup solution, and it's not obvious to me that such a thing actually exists.

Given how conceptually simple backups are, is it asking too much to have solutions that just work?