IBM i shops that are struggling to store and manage copies of their production data may be interested in a new solution unveiled this summer by Actifio. With the launch of Actifio version 6, the company added native IBM i support to its eponymous copy data software, which is a storage controller designed to centralize the storage of data, and thereby eliminate the need to copy and replicate data all over the place for various needs.
Many IT organizations today are struggling to cope with ever-increasing storage demands. In many cases, it’s not the production data that’s eating an IT group out of house and home, but the various copies of that production data that are spread out across one or more data centers and the Internet. These copies serve various important uses, including backup and recovery, archiving, development, testing, and data warehousing and analytics.
An IDC study of 600 executives found that organizations had between 13 and 120 copies of their data squirreled away, each living in its own silo, and serving various important needs that are critical to the organization. Supporting all this data is an army of tools and infrastructure to take snapshots of data, replicate the data, deduplicate the data, compress the data, mask the data, and encrypt it.
That’s a lot of time and money being spent copying, storing, replicating, and restoring data all around the Internet. It keeps the IT department busy, and keeps the storage and software vendors fat and happy. And all of it is for naught, if the folks at Actifio have any say in the matter.
Founded a scant four years ago by Ash Ashutosh, the Waltham, Massachusetts, software firm set out to do for data what VMware did for operating systems: virtualize them for the purpose of eliminating waste and sprawl. What it came up with was an object storage system that allows all sorts of applications to get a copy of the data when it wants, thereby eliminating the need for multiple redundant storage devices.
In an interview with IT Jungle, Andrew Gilman, senior director of corporate marketing for Actifio, described how the software works. The first step is determining what the application’s SLA (service level agreement) needs to be.
“We bind that SLA directly to the application data,” he says. “We understand how that application needs to be managed over its lifecycle. So whatever that data is–SAP or Oracle, database data, structured or unstructured–it really doesn’t matter to us. We’re a block-level device. We create an object that understands what application wrote the block of data, when that block of data created, and what is the SLA the application has to live by.
“So you get nearly instantaneous access to that data from any point in time,” Gilman says. “It allows you to basically turn the dial and say ‘OK, I want my Oracle data from six months ago.’ And out of our platform we recreate the view of that application environment at that specific time, then re-hydrate it in to its native application format and allow it to mount that data back into the application.”
This allows users to eliminate one or many of those point tools required for business resiliency. “You can eliminate your backup software, your de-dupe appliances, you can offload all the copy services out of your production environment,” Gilman says. “So you can turn off snapshot, turn off replication. You don’t need designated application testing and development environments for different application developers. You can instantly mount that data to different developers using virtual copies.”
Up until the version 6.0 release, the product supported primarily Windows and Linux applications and file systems. It offered some support for AIX via VIOS, and claimed some support for IBM i servers via that PASE device. With version 6, the company branched out into the enterprise, and offered support for a wider number of platforms, including IBM i, AIX, HP-UX, Solaris, SQL Server, and Exchange.
As a skeptical IBM i professional, you might be thinking that the Actifio appliance sounds like another glorified virtual tape library (VTL) that’s hoping to turn a quick buck by making LTO emulation seem like the greatest thing since sliced bread.
In fact, it appears the company actually did the homework and hard work of supporting the IBM i servers intricacies and oddities, including its EBCDIC character set and the 520-block storage size (as opposed to the industry norm of 512).
According to Actifio senior director of product management Micah Waldman, who formerly worked at EMC, the Actifio storage appliance hooks up to IBM i servers via Fibre Channel, and appears to the server as another LUN. (No VTL-esque LTO emulation here.) “We’re OEMing some technology [from IBM] that provides us storage interoperability and connectivity. Together with the latest OS development [in IBM i version 7.1], that allows us to bridge the 520-to-512 gap, without requiring the VIOS,” he says.
Actifio, which has attracted more than $107 million in venture capital funding and is protecting more than 4 PB of data for more than 300 customers in 23 countries, did the IBM i support work at the request of existing customers.
“We think this will be a very attractive solution for iSeries shops,” Waldman says. “It’s a special animal. It still occupies an important place in the enterprise IT environment. When an enterprise that might have 5 to 10 TB on iSeries, we can provide them a solution. There are very few solutions [like this] out there in the market.”