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Hands-On Review: CommVault QiNetix

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Excellent interface: CommVault's QiNetix has an easy-to-use GUI with a Windows-like control panel that provides access to major system functions.

Installation
To conduct the tests, we engaged the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA) lab in Colorado Springs, CO. To exercise the product in as broad an environment as possible, we configured a sever farm that included Windows 2000 Server, Windows XP Professional, Sun Solaris 8 and SuSE Linux on an Intel platform. Storage devices included an IBM ESS F20 ("Shark"), a Network Appliance 800-series filer and 70GB of DAS. The tape environment was a Hewlett-Packard ESL9000 automated tape library with two LTO-2 tape drives. We installed the software from scratch; installation of the CommServe console, media agents and data agents went smoothly and took about two hours.

Usability
Understanding the logic of the product is paramount to using it successfully. We started by trying to set up and run jobs without studying the product, but quickly ran into problems. Our pre-release version didn't include a quick start guide, and all of the manuals are on CD. The lack of paper manuals is understandable, but a starter guide of some sort would be helpful as it's unrealistic to expect users to sit down and read the electronic manual before starting. It should be noted that CommVault plans to include such a guide with the product upon general release. However, the documentation is quite good and spending some quality time with it was beneficial.

Storage policies are the building blocks of QiNetix. Policies are created from the CommServe console and simplify the management of backup jobs. When a new system is added, the storage administrator simply "subscribes" the data agent on that system with the appropriate policy. We liked this feature because it ensures a more efficient use of media. Similar data is treated with a single policy and can therefore be scheduled, archived and expired simultaneously. Likewise, after all data is appropriately covered by a policy, the user can be certain the same data on a different system is equally protected. QiNetix generates an event warning if it encounters any problems.

Our only difficulty occurred because our configuration experienced host bus adapter problems. This resulted in stale configuration information residing in the console, which prevented us from running backup jobs. Manual editing was needed to correct the configuration, but an auto-update or discovery process would be preferable. Moreover, CommServe's error messages weren't very helpful, so we needed to contact CommVault support to resolve the issues. The support staff was knowledgeable and helpful. In light of this experience, it's important to note that CommVault recommends a site survey prior to installation, as well as professional-services assistance for new customers. We elected to have neither, and it's likely that our problems would have been resolved more quickly or avoided entirely had we done both.

The storage policy architecture also simplifies data migration and replication. Migrating older, infrequently accessed data to lower-cost storage maximizes utilization of premium disk. Moreover, this translates into reduced exposure from failed backup jobs because a copy of the data resides on a separate disk system until the data archive to tape completes successfully. This operation is essentially a disk-to-disk backup. Data migration and archiving have similar methodologies, thereby reducing the learning curve. The only difference between the two is that archive operations use tape as a target, whereas migration or replication uses SATA disk. Storage policies can be configured to automatically move data (via replication) to lower-cost disk and then archive it to the tape according to an aging policy. Although this may sound complicated, StorageManager makes the process quite simple.

We were impressed with the Java-based user interface. All commands are created and issued from the CommServe GUI. The console has a Windows-like control panel for configuring hardware, systems and other parameters (see Excellent interface). A variety of reports can be run manually or by schedule. Reports include media usage (e.g., element utilized) and backup job success/failure, giving the storage administrator a quick snapshot of both elements (see Quick stats from summary report). Unfortunately, the reports lack some of the graphing and exporting capabilities (to PowerPoint or Excel, for example) of other products. Nevertheless, vital data is available to ensure that media use is maximized and job failures are minimized. One criticism is that the terminology of the product is different from other B/R products and takes some effort to understand. But after assimilating the terminology, we found the product easy to use.

This was first published in January 2005

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