When companies are approaching a data protection strategy something dubbed the “3-2-1 rule” often comes up in conversation. In its essence, the 3-2-1 rule is designed as a process to ensure that you always have data availability should you need it. That’s 3 copies of your data, on 2 different media types/sets, with one being located offsite. Now, when looking at taking this rule and applying it to our data protection design the subject of tape is usually discussed as it facilitates that second type of media we need to satisfy the “2” portion. Tape has had a play in data protection for a long time but the mundane tasks of removing a tape and inserting another just doesn’t fit well inside of our modern datacenters. When its time to restore we are then left with the frustration of finding the proper tapes and then the slow performance of moving data off of that tape back into production. That’s why companies like StarWind initially built what is called the Virtual Tape Library (VTL). The StarWind VTL mimics that of a physical tape library, however instead of requiring the manual intervention of removing and loading tapes it simply writes the data to disk.
The StarWind VTL is nothing new – in fact its’ been around since 2009. But just this past month at VeeamON StarWind announced yet another version of their VTL, only this time, instead of just writing the data to local disk they now have the option additionally sync those virtual tapes to the cloud. The software, called StarWind Cloud VTL for AWS and Veeam couldn’t come at a more opportune time as only a week before the announcement “WannaCry” was worming its way through Europe, encrypting both production and backup data – leaving those companies without some sort of offsite air-gapped backup without a whole lot of option.
So how does it work?
The StarWind Cloud VTL for AWS and Veeam is 100% software based – therefore no extra hardware or appliances are need to be racked and stacked in your datacenter at all. In fact, for convenience and cost reasons StarWind Cloud VTL can even be installed directly along side with your Veeam Backup and Replication Backup server. If you have ever installed any other StarWind products then the Cloud VTL setup will look very similar, utilizing a very easy to use wizard type installation.
Once installed, the configuration (as shown below) is really just adding our virtual tape device (drive) and however many number of virtual tapes we want. As we can see, StarWind actually mimics the HPE MSL8096 Tape Library – therefore we may need to pull down any appropriate device drivers in order to support it. Once installed we are left essentially with an iSCSI target that points to our VTL, which in tern maps to local disk.
So by now you might be thinking “Hey, these tapes are mapped to disk not cloud” and you are absolutely correct in that thought. StarWind Cloud VTL implements what they call a Disk to Disk to Cloud process – meaning data is first copied to disk (StarWind) from disk (Production) and then further replicated to Cloud (Amazon S3/Glacier). This scenario allows for the actual Veeam tape job to complete much faster as it’s simply streaming to local disk- after which, the data is replicated to Amazon. To set this up we simply need to click on the ‘Cloud Replication’ option (shown right) within the StarWind management console and provide our access and region information for our S3 bucket.
Above I hinted at yet another feature of the StarWind Cloud VTL with the mention of Glacier. As shown below we can see a few options as it pertains to our retention – the most interesting being the ability to migrate our tape data out of S3 and into the cheaper, more archive suitable Glacier service after a certain period of time. This tiering feature allows us to keep costs down by essentially staging and de-staging our backup data depending on age to a lower tier, lower performance storage while keeping our most recent restore points on a more reliable, higher performance cloud storage service.
We can also see that we have options surrounding when to purge the local on-site tape data as well as how long to wait after the virtual tape has been ejected locally before we start the replication to S3.
That’s really it as far as the StarWind setup is concerned. The only thing left to do now is setup our the VTL as a tape server with VBR. Now before we can do this we will first need to establish a connection to our VTL. This, just as is done through StarWind Virtual SAN is simply just an iSCSI target that is mounted with the standard Windows iSCSI tools. As mentioned previously, the VTL mimics a HPE MSL8096 so be sure those drivers are downloaded and installed to ensure the VTL can be discovered.
For the VBR configuration we simply add our StarWind VTL we have setup into our backup infrastructure as a “Tape Server”. After doing so we should be able to see all of our virtual tapes that we have created and can simply setup our tape jobs or File to Tape jobs just as we always have within Veeam – only this time, our tapes are basically being replicated to S3.
In the end I think StarWind is on to something here! This is their first go at cloud replication and I’m sure there is much more to come. In fact we have already seen the addition of Microsoft Azure blob storage into the StarWind Cloud VTL portfolio so things are moving quickly. The idea of still achieving the ultimate goal of the 3-2-1 rule while not having to physically mess around with tape is appealing – not to mention that by utilizing cloud we can get that offsite scalable storage tier without all the need to manage or update or even procure the hardware. Personally I can see Veeam shops jumping on this. It certainly makes that ideal environment of having some uber fast backup repository for your most recent backups on-stie and leaving StarWind and AWS with the job of migrating and managing the more “cold” archival type data up to the cloud. Remember you don’t want to be “that” IT shop that can’t recover from the next piece of ransomware that comes down the pipe. If you would like to give StarWind Cloud VTL for Amazon and Veeam a shot you can pick yourself up a free 30 day trial here.