Richie Palma

Reimagining Your IBM i Backup Strategy With External Storage

Reimagining Your IBM i Backup Strategy With External Storage

These days I spend a fair amount of my time working with IBM i clients of all sizes to enhance their backup strategy.  Or in some cases just crafting a solid backup strategy that they could actually recover from. Recoverability remains the most important driver for point in time backups. Unfortunately, due to a lack of knowledge, demands for uptime, outdated hardware, or just simply a lack of care for business resiliency, some organizations fall into a reality where they have little faith in their recoverability.

I cannot stress how important your backup strategy is and will be, as we operate in a world of ransomware and cyber-attacks.

We have noticed a major uptick in IBM i shops that have business operations taken down due to cyber-attacks. I am going to try not to get on my Security soap box here and stick with point in time backup strategy. So I will keep the security talk brief. One of the best things you can do to protect your organization from a security threat, is have a solid backup. Sure, there are many things we can do to position ourselves well for preventing an attack. Having a solid backup gives you the piece of mind, that you can get back up on your feet if you ever get knocked down.

Great news is we can greatly enhance the quality and drastically reduce the impact point in time backups have on the business and its users with IBM’s FlashSystem external storage portfolio. Many IBM i shops continue to shy away from external storage due to their perception of cost and the fear of additional complexity. While I can’t argue that external storage becomes another thing to manage when you are used to internal disk and IBM i just being a rockstar at managing it, I think you would be doing yourself a disservice if you didn’t at least look at the value it can serve up to the business before dismissing it.

One of the biggest reasons IBM i shops shortchange their backups is due to demands for uptime.

Backing up to LTO tape or even a VTL requires downtime and for shops running 24×7 operations, this becomes a major problem.  With IBM FlashSystem external SAN storage and a tool called FlashCopy, which is built into the software stack called Spectrum Virtualize, you are able to get a full system save with …

Understanding Storage Options for IBM i

In the past when it came to data center infrastructure and specifically servers, most of the hyped up innovation was focused around the CPU, peripherals, and higher memory ceilings.  For many years disk wasn’t really that sexy.  For most IBM i shops all that mattered was having enough total storage, enough arms to support I/O needs, and a solid raid configuration for resiliency.  Most customers had spinning 15k hard drives up until SSD drives (Solid State Disk) became more readily available and financially palatable.

SSD and more specifically the underlying flash technology they are built on, paved the way for big innovation and massive performance gains at the storage level.  These innovations were so impactful for overall compute performance due to storage becoming a major bottleneck as a result of CPU and interconnect speeds increasing over the years, while storage tech stayed fairly stagnant.

Today Flash technology is driving big I/O and drastically increasing the density of storage in the data center.  In this article we are going to look at these drive options, what makes them unique, how they perform, and where they are available.

Below is a diagram we will reference throughout the rest of the article.

SAS HDD’s

These drives have much higher latency, longer read/write times, and as a result, are much slower than the other drive options we will talk about here.  These drives use the SCSI protocol to communicate, which we will touch on later. The biggest reason for the speed is that these drives have a motor-driven spindle that holds flat circular disks (called platters).  They are coated with a thin layer of magnetic material. Read-and-write heads are positioned on top of each plater that moves back and forth as they read and write to disk.  While these platters spin extremely fast at 15,000 RPM (Revolutions per minute) and the heads moving rapidly across them, it’s still subject to physical movement and has limitations.

Suggestion: If you get a chance google “slow motion video of hard drive seeking”. It’s incredible to watch them in action.

SAS SSD’s

This is our entry point into Flash storage.  As you can see represented in the red outlined gray box in the above image, all the remaining drive options are built with Flash storage. SAS based SSD’s have no moving parts and are essentially a memory chip or interconnected integrated circuit.  As a result of not having …

Understanding IBM External Storage Data Reduction Technology

There are a few high-valued benefits external storage can serve up to the IBM i infrastructure stack.  The one we are going to focus on today is something IBM calls “Data Reduction”.  Data reduction technology is known in the IBM Storage world as DRP or Data Reduction Pools and is the backbone for delivering three high-value tools for reducing your overall storage footprint on disk.  That means you have to buy less physical storage to support your workload, saving you some real cash money.

Let’s look at the three pieces of tech that are available with DRP to optimize your storage on disk.

  • Thin Provisioning – Allows you to define a certain amount of storage to an individual IBM i partition but only allocate the actual storage at the SAN as the partition needs it. For example, you have an IBM i partition that you want to allocate 4TB of storage to, which will be 60% utilized.  Instead of allocating all 4TB to that partition, thin provisioning tricks IBM i into thinking it has a full 4TB of storage but the SAN only physically allocates 2.4TB-ish of storage and allocates additional storage as needed.  This is highly valuable when you have many partitions.  If you had 10x of these partitions. Instead of needing 40TB+ of storage you would need 24TB’s plus, say another 10TB’s for growth.  That is a pretty big reduction in physical storage.
  • Compression – If you are in this industry and don’t know what compression is from a high level, Google it. IBM Spectrum Virtualize allows you to turn on compression, which compresses and decompresses data as it gets written/read.
  • Deduplication – reduces the overall footprint by taking duplicate blocks of data and removing them. This is great tech but due to the nature of IBM i and it mostly being used for database type workloads, this does not provide a ton of value for IBM i workloads.

DRP technology enables you to create five types of volumes for supporting your workloads.

  • Fully allocated – This type provides no storage efficiency, but the best performance, and is available for migration.
  • Thin – This type provides storage efficiency, but no compression or deduplication.
  • Thin and Compressed – This type provides storage efficiency with compression, and this combination provides the best performance numbers.
  • Thin and Deduplication – This type provides storage efficiency, but without compression.
  • Thin, Compressed, and Deduplication

The Difference Between IBM Power Systems S922, S914, and S924

For IBM i shops, IBM’s POWER9 scale-out family consists of three main server models.  To say these servers can “scale-out” is a massive understatement. At the end of the day we could talk about the enterprise POWER9 family all day but the large majority of IBM i clients are rocking the POWER9 Scale-Out servers. So, I am going to focus my attention in this article on the beautiful, scalable, and rock-solid servers in the POWER9 Scale-out family.

The first thing you need to know is what the model names themselves can tell you.  Let’s use S914 as an example.  The “S” stands for scale-out, the “9” stands for Power9, the “1” represents the number of sockets (In this case, a single socket), and the “4” which represents the number of rack U’s of physical space the server will take up.…

Costs of IBM i Storage Beyond the CEC: Expansion Drawers vs. V5030E SAN

IBM i Storage by the Numbers: Internal vs External SSD

I wrote an article on LinkedIn called “Shocking… IBM i Cost of Storage beyond the CEC: EXP-24S or V3700 SAN?” back in 2016 that sparked many conversations on what place external storage has in the IBM i hardware stack.  As a result of the popularity of my previous article, big innovation in the storage market, changes in storage costs, and a much more open IBM i infrastructure stack, it seemed like a really good time to go through the exercise again.

I don’t think it’s my place to sell you on whether internal or external storage is better.  Honestly, I believe there is a strong case to be made for both, depending on the customer situation.  With that being said I think it’s important I share my experience and knowledge, so you have what you need to make an informed decision for the businesses you serve.

For IBM i clients, typically there are a few reasons why they start to ponder a move to external storage:…

End of life for IBM POWER6 and POWER7

If you run IBM i on IBM Power Systems, this will hopefully come as a friendly reminder. IBM has discontinued hardware support on POWER6 machines, followed by end of support for POWER7 at end of Q3 2019.  You can find details on servers affected by the service discontinuation in the below announcement.

Services withdrawal: Declaration of a plan to discontinue lease, rental, and maintenance services for selected machines IBM United States Withdrawal Announcement 917-163 – September 19, 2017.