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Pat Shuff's Blog

making backup better

Yesterday we looked at backing up our production databases to cloud storage. One of the main motivations behind doing this was cost. We were able to reduce the cost of storage from $3K/TB capex plus $300/TB/year opex to $400/TB/year opex. This is a great solution but some customers complain that it is not generic enough and latency to cloud storage is not that great. Today we are going to address both of these issues with the cloud storage appliance. First, let's address both of the typical customer complaints.

The database backup cloud service is just that. It backs up a database. It does it really well and it does it efficiently. You replace one of the backup library modules that translates writes of backup data to the cloud REST api rather than a tape driver. The software works well with commercial products like Symantec or Legato and integrates well into that solution. Unfortunately, the critics are right. The database backup cloud service does that and only that. It backs up Oracle databases. It does not backup MySQL, SQL Server, DB2, or other databases. It is a single use tool. A very useful single use tool but a single use tool. We need to figure out how to make it more generic and backup more than just databases. It would be nice if we could have it backup home directories, email servers, virtual machines, and other stuff that is used in the data center.

The second complaint is latency. If we are writing to an SSD or spinning disk attached to a server via high speed SCSI, iSCSI, or SAS, we should expect 10ms access time or less. If we are writing to a server half way across the country we might experience 80ms latency. This means that a typical read or write takes eight times longer when we read and write cloud storage. For some applications this is not an issue. For others this latency makes the system unusable. We need to figure out how to read adn write at 10ms latency but leverage the expandability of the cloud storage and lower cost.

Enter stage left the Oracle Cloud Storage Appliance. The appliance is a software component that listens on the data center internet using the NFS protocol and talks to the cloud services using the storage REST api. Local disks are used as a cache front end to store data that is written to and read from the network shares exposed by the appliance. These directories map directly to containers in the Oracle Storage Cloud Service and can be clear text or encrypted when stored. Data written from network servers is accepted and released quickly as it is written to local disk and slow tricked to the cloud storage. As the cache fills up, data is aged and migrated from the cache storage into cloud storage. The metadata representing the directory structure and storage location is updated to show that the data is no longer stored locally but stored in the cloud. If a read occurs from the file system, the meta data helps the appliance locate where the data is stored and it is presented to the network client from the cache or pulled from the cloud storage and temporarily stored in the local cache as long as there is space. A block diagram of this architecture is shown below

The concept of how to use this device is simple. We create a container in our cloud storage and we attach to it with the cloud storage appliance. This attachment is exposed via an nfs mount to clients on our corporate network and anyone on the client can read or write files in the cloud storage. Operations happen at local disk speed using the network security of the local network and group/owner rights in the directory structure. It looks, smells, and feels just like nfs storage that we would spend thousands of dollars per TB to own and operate.

For the rest of this blog we are going to go through the installation steps on how to configure the appliance. The minimum requirements for the appliance are

  • Linux 7 (3.10 kernel or later)
  • Docker 1.6.1 or later
  • two dual core x86 CPUs
  • 4 GB of RAM

We will be installing our configuration on a Windows desktop running VirtualBox. We will not go through the installation of Oracle Enterprise Linux 7 because we covered this a long time ago. We do need to configure the OS to have 4 GB of RAM and at least 2 virtual cores as shown in the images below.




We also need to configure a network. We configure two networks. One is for the local desktop console and the other is for the public internet. We could configure a third interface to represent our storage network but for simplicity we only configure two.


We can boot our Linux 7 system and will need to select the 3.10 kernel. By default it will want to boot to the 3.8 kernel which will cause problems in how the appliance works.

What we would like to do is remove the 3.8 kernel from our installation. This is done by removing the packages with the rpm -e command. We then update the grub.cfg file to list only the 3.10 kernels.


Once we have removed the kernels, we update the grub loader and enable additional options for the yum update.



The next step that we need to take is to install docker. This is done with the yum install command.


Once we have the docker package installed, we need to make sure that we have the nfs-client and nfs-server installed and started.



It is important to note that the tar bundle is not generally available. It does require product manager approval to get a copy of the software for installation. The file that I got was labeled oscsa-1.0.5.tar.gz. I had to unzup and untar this file after loading it on my Linux VirtualBox instance. I did not do a screen capture of the download but did go through the installation process.





We start the service with the oscsa command. When we start it it brings up a management web page so that we can make the connection to the cloud storage service. To see this page we need to start firefox and connect to the page.


One of the things that we need to know is the end point of our storage. We can find this by looking at the management console for our cloud services. If we click on the storage cloud service details link we can find it.


Once we have the end point we will need to enter this into the management console of the appliance as well as the cloud credentials.


We can add encryption and a container name for our network share and start reading and writing.


We can verify that everything is working from our desktop by mounting the nfs share or by using cloudberry to examine our cloud storage containers. In this example we use cloudberry just like we did when we looked at the generic Oracle Storage Cloud Services.



We can examine the properties of the container and network share from the management console. We can look at activity and resources available for the caching.

In summary, we looked at a solution to two problems offered by our database backup solution. The first was single purpose and the second was latency. By providing a network share to the data center we can not only backup or Oracle database but all of the databases by having the backup software write to the network share. We can backup other files like virtual machines, email boxes, and home directories. Disk latency operates at the speed of the local disk rather than the speed of the cloud storage. This software does not cost anything additional and can be installed on any virtual platform that supports Linux 7 with kernel 3.10 or greater. When we compare this to the Amazon Storage Gateway which requires 2x the processing power and $125/month to operate it looks significantly better. We did not compare it to the Azure solution because it is an iSCSI hardware solution and not easy to get a copy of for testing.

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