Cisco's switch-based backup


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Pros and cons of various data copy methods

Cisco's Xcopy implementation
Cisco integrated Xcopy onto its line card--the Storage Services Module (SSM)--that supports 32 FC ports and includes an embedded virtualization engine that provides Xcopy functions and talks to backup applications. The Xcopy implementation is

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highly available, highly integrated and delivers speeds up to 16Gb/sec per line card.

Cisco has cemented partnerships with CommVault Systems Inc. and Computer Associates (CA) International Inc. for their backup products--Galaxy Backup & Recovery and BrightStor Enterprise Backup, respectively--to support the MDS 9000; Veritas Software Corp.'s NetBackup support is in the works. Each line card has eight data mover modules, and each data mover can support 2Gb/sec of serverless backup. Backup applications can load balance across multiple cards for high availability. The storage and backup devices don't have to be directly connected to the SSM line card; they can be connected to any port on the MDS. The card can load balance eight devices and support multiple jobs on each data mover.

The bottom-line value of MDS with Xcopy is that it allows storage managers to use their existing backup software (as long as it's CA, CommVault or Veritas) to manage serverless backups. There are many vendors that offer disk-to-disk backup products, as well as a number of FC switch vendors such as Maxxan Systems Inc. and McData Corp., and storage router vendors such as Crossroads, NeoPath Networks Inc. and Network Executive Software that put intelligence in the switch/router to enable virtualization, replication and snapshots. These products can all provide replication of a volume or create snapshots that have a minimal impact on the application server or availability of data, thereby providing many of the same benefits as serverless backup in general.

Indeed, some of these products may offer greater flexibility than what is currently available with Cisco MDS because snapshots or data mirroring can be used with whatever backup software your company has standardized on. Some of these backup processes, such as remote replication, can run on iSCSI over a standard WAN connection, eliminating the need for costly dark-fibre leases.

Reduce backup overhead
There are many alternatives available to create serverless backups, or to at least offload the overhead of backups from a primary application server. Deciding whether to use Xcopy or some other data copy method will depend on many factors, including the size of the data to be protected, the number of application servers to be protected, available bandwidth, whether the backups need to be at the same site or a different one, and your budget.

With prices starting at more than $100,000, intelligent switches aren't a fit for a single application server. For enterprises with many application servers to protect and limited backup windows, the Cisco MDS 9000 offers high speeds, scalability and wide compatibility. Smaller organizations should look into storage routers and storage virtualization products, which can offer some of the same advantages at a lower cost and speed.

This was first published in September 2005

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