Dedicated backup appliances have become a very popular method for deploying data protection software. They significantly reduce implementation time and greatly streamline ongoing support. But backup appliances face a challenge; everything around them is getting bigger and faster. Making sure these turnkey systems can keep pace is going to require more than just faster hardware, they will need more intelligent designs. Unitrend’s 2015 Recovery-Series is a prime example of this design concept in action.
The Roadblock to Faster Backup Appliances
The first step in keeping pace with a bigger, faster data center is creating a more capable backup appliance. The modern backup appliance has to be able to ingest more data in a shorter period of time and respond to recovery requests more quickly, but do so from a much larger data vault.
Part of the solution is to upgrade the appliance by taking advantage of more powerful processors and more RAM. Vendors can also add more or faster network interface cards. But these upgrades often don’t reach their full potential. There are two operations that get in the way of full performance, the management of the backup index and the deduplication metadata.
The Metadata Challenge
The backup process creates and handles more metadata than potentially any other task in the data center. First, as data is ingested it’s often deduplicated. This involves segmenting inbound data blocks and comparing them against those already residing on the appliance. Deduplication processing is a very read heavy operation, especially involving backup data where the potential for redundancy is so high.
The second metadata challenge is the backup database itself which needs to be read continuously to verify which blocks have been protected and of course, to service search and recovery requests.
Unitrends is the first company that we know of to use a solid state disk drive in their appliances to cache these metadata operations. This has a twofold impact. Metadata operations move much more quickly, and other data operations like actually writing backup data to disk, have a clear path to storage, instead of waiting for reads to be serviced.
We’ve been suggesting that backup appliance vendors start using flash based storage for over a year now. The first implementation of this technology should be to accelerate metadata, as Unitrends has done. The results of using flash in the backup appliance speak for themselves. Unitrends claims 300% faster backup and 125% faster restores, all on an appliance that already was one of the best in the industry.
The second integration of flash in backup appliances will be as a recovery zone. Now that these systems can launch a virtual machine’s data store on the appliance, it makes sense to have it served from SSD for maximum performance, even in the recovered state.