Replication Made Easy

Replication made easy.

Sounds good, but what does it mean? How can something as important as data replication in the data center be easy?

Well, the need to do more with less has led to a demand for solutions that tend to be complex in the technology used, sophisticated in the job they get done, and easy-to-use in what it takes to install and work with them.

This has been going on for some time but seems to be gaining momentum as software management interfaces move from software-specific GUIs to unified management frameworks.

It all makes sense given what I’ve heard from customers who are looking for one-stop provisioning of infrastructure (e.g. storage, network, and compute) resources and end-user services.

A good example of this evolution of an infrastructure solution can be found in the replication suites offered by EMC for its mid-range systems.

The EMC VNX Total Protection Pack for EMC VNX Series arrays has evolved from separate point products to a comprehensive suite and seems poised for something even bigger and more powerful.

Let’s take a look at the course of replication infrastructure software, including what happened, the current state of affairs, and what the future may bring for data center managers—using the VNX Total Protection Pack as an example.

What Happened

Many IT shops went headlong into virtualization as the only salvation to demanding users and limited budgets over the past few years.

But, guess what?

The physical environment hasn’t gone away. Now, IT managers are faced with additional complexities of combined physical and virtual environments, and an increasingly educated and tech-savvy user base.

Oh, and did I mention demanding?

Users want new services quickly and they want these new services to perform consistently.

Not so long ago, data centers acquired storage arrays as data stores for new applications bought for some new project. Replication was a must and most of the major storage players delivered some form of replication that for the most part, all looked the same.  Few offered differentiated solutions like EMC RecoverPoint with point-in-time recovery and WAN de-duplication.

Then, some folks got the notion that storage is a commodity and that storage decisions should be made in the broader context of applications and “solutions”. Well, virtualization drove this notion home.

Virtualization abstracts the application layer delivering services from the underlying storage adding complexities to virtual (and remaining physical) environments. This results in pools of storage being applied to more applications and use cases than ever before.

When this change happened, software products for replication, disaster recovery (DR), and replica management, as well data monitoring and analysis took on greater importance.

Replication became something more than about getting data from one point to another and then back (in the case of disaster recovery). It became about provisioning a storage solution with replication and application recovery tailored for a variety recovery-time and recovery-point objectives for any number of applications and service-level agreements (SLAs).

Add to this the need to prove compliance not only for internal audits but to external regulators as well.

Current State of Affairs

As I already mentioned, while technologies have gotten better and the use more sophisticated, consumption has gotten seemingly simpler…or at least more in tune with a solutions model.

One such technology or family of technologies is the EMC replication offering on VNX Series storage systems. And, like most technologies, the product changes have been evolutionary much like the marketplace it serves.

With the introduction of EMC VNX Series earlier this year, these replication offerings now roll up to a universal management framework that extends beyond packaging to integration with a common GUI.

With replication and disaster recovery being among the top priorities for data storage spending plans, EMC introduced an easy-to-solution with the VNX Total Protection Pack that bundles RecoverPoint/SE, Replication Manager, and Data Protection Advisor for Replication, with snapshot and other related technologies, and integrated them with the mid-range Unisphere unified management framework.

While bundles are not new, a unified management framework is still not always the norm for controlling combined technologies. A recent Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG) Lab report actually highlights how integration into a universal framework can be done.

ESG Lab conducted a hands-on evaluation and testing of the core technologies in the VNX Total Protection Pack.

What are these core technologies and how did they do?

Ease of Management

Unisphere manages EMC mid-range storage.

Right out of the box, replication could be viewed and managed with the same Unisphere interface used for managing VNX storage capacity.

Besides alerts, other information could also be added to the consolidated dashboard by simply dragging icons into place; this means management tasks are customizable in addition to being wizard and menu-driven.

Continuous Replication

RecoverPoint/SE replication software on SAN-attached hardware appliances protects physical and virtual hosts.

The RecoverPoint/SE GUI could be launched from within Unisphere to provide an easily understandable view of local and site-to-site replication, changes in topology from a site failure, and recovery.

As important, if not more so, RecoverPoint/SE could also provide roll-back to any application event or point in time for no-gap, continuous protection.

Application Protection and Recovery

Replication Manager provides a single interface for automating all EMC replication applications, and is tightly integrated with RecoverPoint/SE.

In this test, Replication Manager could be launched from with Unisphere. From there, it took just 4 steps to get Replication Manager operational.

RecoverPoint/SE protects data and to a lesser extent some key apps, while Replication Manager extends protection to fully encompass applications.

Solution and Application Analysis

Data Protection Manager validates configurations and analyzes and reports on replication activities.

Continuous application protection is great.

But, what if you could perform detailed replication analysis and show usage (think charge-back)? Prove compliance?

Also launched from Unisphere, Data Protection Manager provided detailed storage topology, storage-to-server connections, exposure summary, and exclusion details for, what else, total protection.

But, why have me tell you about it when you can read the full ESG lab validation report.

What the Future May Bring

While today, even with a unified management framework, users have to often contend with possibly multiple tabs and data bases as described here with the VNX Total Protection Pack.

Imagine if the data replication, application-level recovery, replica management, and data monitoring and analysis of an integrated suite actually provided a single pane-of-glass and used a single data repository.

Not only does monitoring of the data center topology become simple, it opens up new possibilities for standing up new services on the fly and for data store analysis since all meta data and historical information about the replicated data and applications resides in one place.

A single GUI and database for a unifiedl replication framework may be in the future, but it may not be too distant. Replication made easy indeed!

About the Author: Mark Prahl