Virtualizing Applications Benefit From EMC AppSync For Protection

What if you could take an SLA-driven approach to protecting your virtualized applications?

Well, for starters, you would be able to provide the right level of protection to your applications. Remember, disaster recovery is still about recovery time and business continuity is about ongoing availability. But, one size doesn’t fit all – the needs can vary by application in today’s virtualized data centers.

Wrapping up our coverage of EMC World (the party has to end sometime), I’d like to go deeper into another of our software announcements for IT transformation, EMC AppSync: EMC’s newest product in the data protection management space.   If you missed the news, we essentially took the best parts of EMC Replication Manager and added in monitoring and alerting concepts from EMC Data Protection Advisor to offer a simple, self-service SLA-driven approach for protecting virtualized applications in EMC VNX deployments. 

More of a Good Thing

Application-level protection has taken on new importance because of the dynamic nature of virtual environments. No longer is there an obvious clear connection between the application and where the data is stored. It’s no surprise that application-level protection has been increasingly voiced as a requirement by our top customers.

But, even this priority has evolved to now include the need for support of multiple service-levels and multi-tenancy—characteristics of cloud computing. Let’s look at the evolution of EMC’s application-level protection to see how the good keeps getting better.

Replication Manager utilizes EMC’s best-of-breed replication technology (e.g. EMC RecoverPoint) and adds deep application integration through application-based tools such as Microsoft’s Volume Shadow Copy Service (VSS) framework for capturing application-consistent copies of Microsoft Exchange, SQL, and SharePoint.

EMC AppSync is no different in this regard. But, AppSync has created a simplified interface that focuses support on RecoverPoint continuous replication and the new VNX Snap technologies. In this configuration, AppSync acts as a requester that coordinates between the application (a writer) and the storage device (a provider). Using this VSS framework guarantees a clean, recoverable image of the application (Microsoft Exchange) and ensures Microsoft and EMC support for our customers.

Architectural Changes for Virtualized Data Centers and the Cloud

AppSync is architected for today’s virtualized data centers and cloud computing models. A number of the key features were covered when I posted about transforming IT application protection services with EMC AppSync when it was announced. Key features like SLA-driven service plans (using gold, silver, and bronze classifications), self-service options (allowing application owners to choose their own protection plans), and support for a standard REST API for management extensibility using the new DataBridge enterprise mashup platform.

And, it comes as no surprise that everybody who attended an AppSync breakout session or viewed a demonstration at EMC World got pumped about the feature set. Enthusiasm ran high and not just among legacy Replication Manager users. All VMware and Exchange users were excited about the new possibilities.

Now, let’s look at some of the architectural changes not previously mentioned.

1. Common user experience

AppSync is designed to match the simplicity of the VNX user experience.  Utilizing an EMC Unisphere-like GUI based on EMC standards for a common user interface means customers do not have to learn a new piece of software. AppSync can be opened on its own or launched from Unisphere providing VNX users with a simple, central management console for provisioning storage as well as application protection services.

2. Lightweight deployment and installation

AppSync  has also dropped some weight in terms of the host-based agents, when compared to Replication Manager. The product is not completely agentless yet; when taking a snapshot of an application, you still need some host software in order to coordinate the interaction between the applications, the requestor (in this case, AppSync), and the writer (the Exchange application ).

A small host plug-in gets pushed to each server, but it’s done from a central location and you can push out upgrades centrally as well. This simplified installation and management is something customers consistently request. By reducing the size and deployment complexities of the AppSync agents, setup, installation, and deployment has been shortened by about 80%.

3. Fully-extensible APIs for management flexibility

AppSync is built on top of a set of extensible APIs which provides for additional management flexibility, including the EMC Data Access API (a REST API) for DataBridge.  Additionally, code for the AppSync Virtual Storage Integrator (VSI) plug-in given to VMware will enable organizations to manage their AppSync service plans and protection directly within VMware vCenter without any agents. And, in the future, you can bet that other EMC partners and service providers will also want to create their own interfaces based on the AppSync API.

4. Enhanced monitoring and alerting from Data Protection Advisor

EMC Data Protection Advisor helps customers have more visibility into their backup and replication infrastructure.  AppSync leverages concepts and technology from Data Protection Advisor for its monitoring and alerting system that detects RPO violations and service plan failures.

  • RPO violation alerts: AppSync records the last time a good copy of the application was made.  If your policy specifies a copy every 3 hours and the last good copy was made 4 hours ago, AppSync will monitor the condition in its GUI and send an alert to the administrator to rectify the problem.  The application owner or administrator will have the most interest in this functionality.
  • Service-plan failures: Each protection job (called an AppSync service plan) follows a specific workflow-like process containing various phases (e.g. discover, copy, mount, validate, unmount) and allows considerable room for various custom stages and scripts as part of the plan.  If AppSync identifies a failure during one of the processes, it will display a fault condition in the GUI and also send an email alert that shows this failure.  The storage administrator will want to understand the status of their service plans at a global level.

Addressing the Needs of the Day

Microsoft Exchange has gotten more complex over time with a distributed architecture compounded by dynamic nature of virtual environments. Data protection solutions for applications like Exchange need to evolve to meet the challenges that these complexities bring and to ensure business process availability in the 24×7 data center, as well as extensibility through REST standards and integration with other products (more about the importance of REST in an upcoming post). View the Application Protection As-A-Service demonstration to gain a better understanding of the AppSync possibilities.

About the Author: Mark Prahl

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