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How to deliver rapid virtual database refreshes with Copy Data Management

deliver rapid virtual database refreshes with Copy Data Management

In many of my conversations with DBAs and application developers & owners, this question is probably a top 5 in the list, as it kind of represents a leap in the modus operandi of any DBA. 

For many of them (DBAs), the time it takes to refresh a database using the current methods of the organization are simply and nicely put, painful, long and sometimes excruciating (e.g. traditional backup/restores, manual data loads, storage snapshot refreshes, etc). They know that no matter what, they will be extensively involved in the process. They also understand that current refreshing methods only provide a half-baked solution and, in the end, they have to deliver the last-mile setup and procedures to refresh or create a new database environment. To put it simply, DBAs are overwhelmed and application owners are not getting anything in a timely manner.

Why do application owners and DBAs go through this process if it is such a hassle

Two reasons: 

a) Because the business needs them, for UAT, Pre-Production, Development, Q&A, DR, Analytics, Data-warehousing, etc. No one wants to read from production and/or impact production operations so it is always better to do so from a secondary, non-prod environment. 

b) Because that’s the way it’s been and DBAs have little to no control on the operational and infrastructure architecture that provides such copies. In other words, “it is what it is”.

Can we make a radical change and improve this process?

The short answer, as the reader should expect, is YES. Actifio can improve this process and even make it cost-effective, providing 3 core things to both DBAs and Infrastructure teams alike:

  1. Speed & Agility: Greatly improve a DB refresh process by providing near-instant access to refreshed, virtual full databases and their related environments.
  2. Simplicity: Make this process repeatable, easy to manage and above all, self-service.
  3. Cost-Savings: Provide HW, SW, bandwidth and cloud cost reductions. Use virtual copies, be HW agnostic, Cloud agnostic. Manage through a standardized single pane of glass and optimize IT infrastructure.

Why does it matter?

This is the million dollar question that every leader should ask themselves. What if one could deliver applications faster: in minutes vs hours; every day vs every 2 weeks; accelerate time to market vs hinder on time delivery; improve business efficiency and operations vs scale on multiple legacy platforms and point solutions?

It matters because it means money savings, higher quality applications and increased profitability. All we need is to understand these variables and quantify them properly. Ever heard of an ROI study?

Ok, this sounds wonderful, so how do you do it?

The purpose of this document is to get a bit more technical, so let’s begin with some initial technical aspects of the Actifio platform.

Where and how does Actifio deliver instant refreshes? 

Actifio can recover and refresh multi-TB databases and/or thousands of VMs within minutes. Actifio can do this by leveraging its ability to instantly mount full, virtual, synthesized images of databases in an application consistent fashion, from any configured point-in-time; either on local storage (primary data center), remote locations (DR Site) and/or in multi-cloud (One or multiple cloud locations and providers). 

deliver rapid virtual database refreshes with Copy Data Management

Full, Virtual Copies (Zero-Capacity): For every virtual full database copy presented via Actifio, there’s no initial capacity consumption (zero space) as applications have direct access to use virtual, point-in-time copies without the need for traditional restore operations. These virtual copies have the benefit of looking exactly as any full physical copy as the original taken from a production environment. Actifio acts as an intelligent, fully integrated compute and storage platform that instantly creates these virtual full point-in-time copies and orchestrates its “mounting” as required by the user. 

deliver rapid virtual database refreshes with Copy Data Management

Any Point-in-Time (RPO): Actifio provides any-point-in-time copies of primary data by virtualizing data and consolidating copy services to make a single golden data copy available for multiple business cases. Copies are application-consistent, stored in native format and based on customer defined SLAs, which in turn, are controlled by the desired business RPOs. This can be controlled individually or grouped according to business needs.

deliver rapid virtual database refreshes with Copy Data Management

Actifio’s architecture, as stated earlier, allows the user to select the best storage (HW) to capture and manage its data copies. Actifio appliances control and manage these storage devices as pools and all the data copies within. Actifio appliances see these pools as storage devices presented to it and allow the creation and synthesis of an application, block-level data snapshots.

deliver rapid virtual database refreshes with Copy Data Management

Access to these copies via instant mount (point in time snapshots) are performed either manually via the GUI or automatically via REST API calls.  Access is performed regardless of location and storage utilized.

Application-Consistent: Actifio provides application-consistent copies in native format (database and host APIs), utilizing Changed Block Tracking (CBT) technology and based on customer-defined SLAs. Actifio automates discovery and management of virtual, physical hosts and databases, operating systems, volumes and file systems.

deliver rapid virtual database refreshes with Copy Data Management

Instant Database Mounts: Actifio pioneered the concept of capturing, storing and managing data throughout its lifecycle in application-native format, instead of media-specific format such as tar, zip, proprietary formats, etc., eliminating the time and resources required for format conversion. The result is near-zero recovery time as application-data is instantly mounted directly by the application server. The recovery times are independent of application types, data types, data sizes, OS platforms, physical, virtual or cloud environments. This is truly application-centric data virtualization that is independent of infrastructure or media.

Instant Access from Object Storage: An extra benefit of Actifio is its ability to provide the same instant mount/refresh from object storage. Actifio combines its unique application-native format technology with a protocol converter technology tomake object storage instantly and directly usable by any application or database. DBAs can instantly access databases managed by Actifio in object storage like a read-writeable block storage. All this is done while the data in object storage is still immutable to meet the long-term archive requirement, if desired.

deliver rapid virtual database refreshes with Copy Data Management

What about other actions before/after refreshing a database or even automating the process? This is a common question and Actifio provides a solid answer around a full environment refresh and not only for a single database. Actifio can create workflows that automate access to captured data, and automate the steps of refreshing and re-provisioning Actifio instant mounts. Workflows can run according to a schedule and/or on-demand. 

Steps are defined within a workflow to perform a series of tasks on a schedule or on demand. This includes creating and refreshing database images and then providing executions for data masking, persistent mounts, and non-persistent processing mounts for tasks such as database integrity checks, and ETL loads. Workflows are also used by administrators to provide simplified and secured self-service data access to end users such as database administrators and application developers.

Conclusions

Instant refreshes are at the core of Actifio’s capabilities and their value to the business is not only technical, but operational and financial. The best way to understand this value is probably by comparison to what DBAs and Infrastructure teams are doing today:

deliver rapid virtual database refreshes with Copy Data Management

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