So, I put a few miles on over the past couple of months covering cities like Minneapolis and Des Moines - not a big stretch if you're based in Chicago - but throw a swing through Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne and you can put an ass whooping on your circadian rhythms. (And as a Irish/Polish kid who did most of his growing up in Kentucky, I can tell you I pretty much have no rhythm). Anyway, I had a chance to see a ton of customers and partners. It wasn't uncommon to meet with 20 customers in the span of only a few days. Let me tell you, the top 3 topics of interest in this order were: 1) Flash - particularly flash on host. More on that later in the week. 2) Big Data - mammoth opportunity for e-Series and upcoming ONTAP functionality and, wait for it... 3) Backup. Really?! Backup?! Yes, backup. Virtualization got bumped. Primarily because I think all the kids are doing it now. It's in all the Sharper Image catalogs and in-flight magazines. You're basically in the dark ages if you haven't virtualized something and called it a Cloud.
The not-so-dirty little secret: after 40 or so years, we're still struggling with how to efficiently back up all of the data we accumulate. It's not that we haven't been able to get it right after all these years. We're just saving a ton of data and it's outstripping our backup processes. I have good fun with the backup architects when I'm out on the road. It's one of the most critical jobs in the data center and yet when you ask the question, "who wants to be the backup guy?" it's funny to look out into the audience and see how many grown professionals who hate to make eye contact. There's no hands rocketing in the air - oh, oh! Pick me! Pick me! Heck no. Think about it, every time your phone rings the person on the other end is already pissed off. Nobody ever calls you to congratulate on another day of successful backups. No, they've lost something and they want it back NOW! This is usually accompanied by some explanation that sounds a lot like a storage gremlin: "It was here yesterday. I don't know what happened but I came back to my desk and it was just gone!" Well, at least they gave you an approximate time and rough description of the data abduction. The flip side of this is when Exchange goes down and you get the call from a ViP who not only knows when it went down but who was standing next to them at the time; they live on their Blackberry/iPhone; they're on the road and when can they expect to have their mail access restore? (Would that be the right time to let the ViP know that the recovery SLO for Exchange is two hours and they'll have to wait like everyone else?) Out of all the war stories you can tell, I bet some of the best are around backup and recovery. With the volume, richness and "everything is Tier 1" aspects of data, the backup challenge continues to expand disproportionately.
Enter the age of snapshots and replication. I think it was last year when there was this absolutely insane discussion in the blogosphere on whether a snapshot constituted a backup. I didn't pay too close attention to it. It mainly sounded like one group of vendors with crappy snapshots telling another group of vendors with useful snapshots that they couldn't count snapshots as a backup. Huh?! The customers I talked to thought the whole discussion was goofy. In general: if you could restore from it, it was a backup. The rest of the discussion would focus on a complete data protection plan: how often to take a snapshot? Should you vault or replicate the snapshots to a separate site? When and where can I roll to tape? How can you factor in a disaster recovery plan? What's the restore process look like? (File that under backups are worthless; restores are priceless). 90% of your time is spent revising and refining the existing backup/restore process.
With that as context for backup, I'd say the vast majority of the feedback I've heard from customers is, "NetApp - love your snapshots. Love your replication. Please don't make me jump to another tool." The backup team has enough headaches managing the ever changing data landscape. However slick you think your homegrown backup/replication tool is, at the end of the day it's yet another vendor tool, another set of instruction manuals, leather bound best practices, and requirements for a separate server (or VM). Best case: this is seen as a necessary evil. I know that's not part of any marketing campaign anywhere: "Come check out our solution. It sucks less than what you're doing now." But, I think we've made some significant progress on flipping this around and turning it into a true positive. The strategy is to simply melt into the background and let you use the tools you already have on the floor. You've seen the work we've done with Syncsort and CommVault (SnapProtect)? Allow me to introduce Symantec's Replication Director in NetBackup 7.5! This is a great next step in trying to keep the backup/recovery/DR process as simple as possible. Under the covers, NetApp and Symantec worked together so that Replication Director can leverage our storage service APIs. What this means to customers is you will be able to schedule NetApp Snapshots, create SnapMirror and SnapVault relationships, integrate a tape backup schedule, have NetBackup index and catalog all of these backup images and never leave NetBackup! You want to create a Storage Lifecycle Policy (SLP) that includes NetApp Snapshots, SnapVault and SnapMirror? Go ahead! Figure out how you many snapshots you want to retain, when you want to vault them, how to replicate for disaster recovery and assemble it all using Replication Director in NetBackup 7.5. Our technology is still in there. You just don't need to jump back and forth between screens to manually coordinate anything. You can still take advantage of all of the the ONTAP efficiencies e.g. deduplication, compression. (We've seen customer savings ranging from 20:1 to 50:1 to 70:1 on full backups). You can still take advantage of Flexclones for test and development work, reporting, disaster recovery testing, off-site tape backup operations, etc.
I know, "melting into the background" is not a headline grabber. It's not as sexy as talking about virtualizing 5000 desktops and storing them all on the head of a pin. I get that. But, at the end of the day, everyone has to talk to the backup guy. Everything has to have a backup plan and the easier we can make it on the backup team to pull together that plan, the better off we all are. That's why I do think that backup is still part of nearly every customer conversation I have. That's why I do find myself getting some excitement going talking about this solution. I'd actually like to see the backup team go home at 5:00 o'clock and not have to come in on weekends. A man can dream.