Enterprise-grade Backup for SMBs – WD Arkeia DA2300 Backup Appliance Part 2

This is part two of Storage Switzerland’s test drive of WD’s DA2300 Backup Appliance that features the WD Arkeia backup software. In part one we went through the set up and configuration steps, getting backup clients connected to the system and creating Savepacks, the unique method WD Arkeia uses to organize data protection.

In this report we’ll backup and restore data from these clients and look at the reporting and management capabilities of this backup system. We will also explore some of its other advanced features and discuss how it fits into the typical SMB, as well as the mid-size and larger company IT environment. We’ll conclude this test drive with the StorageSwiss Take, an analysis of this product and how well we think it meets the expectations of the small and mid-sized businesses it was designed for.

Operation

Performing a Backup

After setting up clients and creating Savepacks we’re ready to do a backup. We have the choice of either kicking off an “Immediate Backup” or setting up a “Scheduled Backup” (Fig 1 below). In both cases we select the appropriate Savepack and the disk storage we want to use (if we had the tape option with this box we could have chosen the tape device). Then we choose the type of backup (full or incremental) and finally, set the expiration date for the backed up data. There are other parameters as well but the default settings worked fine and made this a very simple operation.

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Fig 1 – Creating a Scheduled Backup

Performance

For this test drive we used a GbE network with multi-core client computers.  All the backups were fulls and mostly the default setting were chosen. We got average backup speeds of between 20 and 40 MB/s, which was good. That said, backup performance is still one of those metrics that can be very difficult to accurately compare between products, without actually installing each solution and running it in the environment.

However, a comparison of the backup appliance’s hardware and software architecture can provide some insight into how fast it will be in real life. The DA2300 has a quad-core processor, expanded memory, a flash cache, WD’s enterprise disk drives and a Linux OS, all designed to maximize performance.

As an enterprise solution, WD Arkeia was designed for environments that can push a backup solution pretty hard. Its unique deduplication technology reduces data handling to lower overhead and it supports streaming of up to 200 simultaneous backup jobs. This means small company users can skip the complex scheduling of multiple clients and should be able to run as many backup jobs as they want to, within the limits of available network bandwidth.

Restoring Data

For restores we first have to select the file or files we need to get back. We can browse the drive letters and folders on each client or search for them by entering the exact filename, if we know it. Or the system will search for files that contain strings that we enter. (Fig 2 below)

The default setting is to restore files to the path they came from, but we can redirect the restore to another location as well. There’s also an optional bare metal restore package available that creates a bootable disk image of the entire computer. For the record, restore speeds were comparable to the backup speeds mentioned above.

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Fig 2 – Restoring Files

Monitoring and Alerts

The WD Arkeia dashboard provides a rich source of information on the status of backup activity, restore activity and disk storage, plus tape and cloud storage if these resources are being used. Admins can monitor backup jobs as they’re running as well as view reports on past backups showing backup times, completion status, backup size and the amount of disk space consumed after compression.

The system reports on how much disk capacity each Savepack is using as well, so backup space can be more effectively managed. There are also reports available that show replication status, if enabled, and a journal of logs from every server activity. Finally, admins can set the system to send out email alerts based on a number of status areas and specific events. These include backup completion, disk free space, file system free space, license status and whether changes have been made to the system that could impair the completion of scheduled backups.

Deduplication

WD Arkeia has advanced data reduction technology that includes compression and “progressive deduplication” that the company claims will outperform the dedupe processes used by other backup appliances. It’s beyond the scope of this report to go into deduplication in any real detail, but at a very high level, progressive dedupe uses different block sizes for different data types and varies the starting point of each block as the input data streams are parsed in the deduplication process. This results in better data reduction ratios for most file types and lower processing overhead for the appliance or client computer. For more information on how progressive deduplication works, please see these previous Storage Switzerland write ups on WD Arkeia’s technology.

The DA2300 also offers the choice of where the deduplication process is run; on the client computer (source-side), on the backup appliance (target-side) or both. Data reduction done at the client reduces network traffic and bandwidth requirements for remote replication. Dedupe done on the appliance takes this processing load off of the client computer and running dedupe in both places maximizes total data reduction. According to WD, the design choice of a quad-core CPU and a flash cache was partly to provide the horsepower to run target-side dedupe effectively and support this option.

Why Better Deduplication Matters

The bottom line is that better data reduction means more backups can be stored in a given amount of space and lower overhead means those jobs will complete faster. These are two key capabilities that should appeal to users of any size. It also means most companies can do just full backups if desired.

Doing fulls for every backup job simplifies the operation for users as well. They don’t have to set up more complex incremental or differential schemes to save storage capacity, since the duplicate (unchanged) data will be removed before the backups are stored.

Backup Expertise not Required

Having the option to run the simplest backup process but still get good performance and efficient capacity utilization creates a strong appeal for SMBs. Users don’t have to be backup experts. WD has baked in powerful features and functionality that were ostensibly designed for bigger environments but can still benefit SMB users.

Software Components

Bundled Licensing

One of the negatives about comprehensive, enterprise-level backup software packages has always been pricing; they’re often expensive and confusing. What WD did when they created this bundled licensing structure was to greatly simplify the way they’re priced, to make the product more competitive than other solutions on the market. (Fig 3 below)

The appliance comes with a base license that includes an unlimited number of client computer agents, plus local replication, deduplication and tape drive support for the current capacity of the appliance. Licensing for additional capacity is sold by the TB and there are options for encryption, remote replication and bare metal restore (BMR).

For those with virtualization environments, there’s a bundle that supports both VMware and Hyper-V. There’s also a Microsoft bundle that supports SQL Server, Exchange, SharePoint and Active Directory. True to WD Arkeia’s enterprise roots, there are two additional software bundles available for enterprises supporting most of the major databases and applications. But for the vast majority of small and mid-sized companies, the base license, with possibly one optional license, is all they will need.

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Fig 3 – WD Arkeia software pricing model

Replication

With the base license, companies can replicate to another appliance in the same data center for redundancy. Or for the price of a second appliance and the remote replication license, they can get real disaster recovery (DR) protection by putting the target system off-site. Managed Service Providers (MSPs) can do this as well by providing a backup appliance for each of their clients and replicating to a larger system in their data center running the WD Arkeia software. And since all WD Arkeia boxes include their progressive deduplication, capacity required on the MSP’s target system is minimized, along with the bandwidth consumed in the replication process.

Virtualization

The Virtualization bundle supports both VMware and Hyper-V, using APIs to provide image-level backups of virtual machines while they’re running, without proxy servers or agents on each VM. It leverages VMware’s VADP (vStorage APIs for Data Protection) and Change Block Tracking to provide traditional and ‘thin’ full backups, maximizing efficiency and minimizing storage consumption. For companies running VMware or Hyper-V, this one agent can eliminate the need for a special virtualization-specific backup product.

Databases and Applications

Like their extensive platform support, WD Arkeia can also back up all of the major databases and applications, and most of the others as well. In addition to the Microsoft bundle described above, two additional bundles provide agents for the following products: MySQL, Oracle, PostgresSQL, GroupWise, and eDirectory.

How this product fits the SMB

First off, appliances are the easiest way to get started with a backup application, making this really a “plug and play” solution for most SMBs. Its strong dedupe performance and multithreaded architecture means faster backups with simpler operation. Users just set up the clients and run them. They don’t need a complex scheduling effort in order to get multiple backups done quickly or to make efficient use of backup capacity. Better dedupe also allows for longer retention and the option to save more data, automatically. Finally, WD’s lower cost and simplified pricing should appeal to SMB users who are typically resource constrained and unfamiliar with complex backup software licensing.

How this product fits mid-sized companies

Companies with multiple platforms, like legacy UNIX variants, older database applications, etc, are the prime candidates for enterprise backup solutions. But these products can be too expensive, especially for companies below the typical “enterprise” category. Many of these organizations need advanced functionality as well, like backing up virtual machines, bare metal restore or remote replication. While they may have bigger company backup needs they’re often bound by smaller company budgets so they should find a simplified pricing model much more appealing. WD Arkeia running on the DA2300 can provide a real enterprise solution that’s easy to get into and powerful enough to keep up with their growth.

StorageSwiss Take

This is a turnkey backup appliance comprised of enterprise-class software running on a business-class server from a leading company in the storage industry. It’s not consumer software running on a throwaway piece of hardware from a startup. WD has done a good job developing a solution that a smaller business can use successfully with pricing that makes it more attractive than many of the alternatives on the market.

Their advanced deduplication and multi-streaming are features that make the product more appealing for users of any size. I also liked some of their innovations like Savepacks, which let you organize data protection based on what the data is, not where it resides in the environment. This is a distinction that’s so logical I’m surprised other backup products don’t offer something similar. It’s also a powerful feature that can simplify the backup operation, again, something that all users will appreciate.

Just because someone is able to run a complex product doesn’t mean they have the time or want to spend that time doing so. For years, Apple has owned this concept, building powerful, simple to use products that techies and novices both enjoy. I think there’s a parallel to the DA2300 here. It’s designed with big company backup features but is easy enough for small companies to use.

Sponsored by Western Digital

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Eric is an Analyst with Storage Switzerland and has over 25 years experience in high-technology industries. He’s held technical, management and marketing positions in the computer storage, instrumentation, digital imaging and test equipment fields. He has spent the past 15 years in the data storage field, with storage hardware manufacturers and as a national storage integrator, designing and implementing open systems storage solutions for companies in the Western United States.  Eric earned degrees in electrical/computer engineering from the University of Colorado and marketing from California State University, Humboldt.  He and his wife live in Colorado and have twins in college.

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