Virtual Tape Library

Virtual Tape Library

Nothing is more important than preserving your data.

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IBM Power Systems and Virtual Tape Libraries

As an administrator working with IBM Power System Servers, you’re familiar with the limitations of working with tape drives and libraries. Backups tend to run slow. Restores aren’t quite as fast as management and the users would like. The tape hardware isn’t redundant. Managing and handling the tapes and their off-site rotation can be cumbersome. The cost of refreshing the tape libraries and extending annual maintenance can become expensive. It’s no wonder people are looking for better alternatives.

Virtual tape libraries, a disk based version of tape, addresses all of these concerns and more. Your backups and restores will be many times faster. The headaches associated with disaster recovery management with tapes will be removed. Protecting your data daily becomes automated and completely hands-free.
However, if you’ve priced a virtual tape library in the past, you may have experienced sticker shock. The outlandish cost of many disk based solutions are hard to justify. Many are forced to keep using tape. Other options may have deterred you due to their complexity, cost and amount of bandwidth required for replication. Worse yet, some solutions require 3rd party software loaded onto the IBM i operating system or use Windows storage, which can open your IBM backups to ransomware attack.

Cybernetics – A Better Option

Cybernetics, founded in 1978, is an engineering firm located in Yorktown, VA dedicated to storage and data protection. They have helped many tens of thousands of companies streamline their data centers to improve their tier1 storage and remedy problems associated with backups, disaster recovery and archiving. Among Cybernetics’ list of accomplishments include: first to manufacture a tape drive compression board (installed on Exabyte tape drives), first to manufacture a 9 track to SCSI converter for tape, first to manufacture an encryption board for tape, first to create a RAID controller for tape – and many more. Cybernetics started shipping virtual tape libraries in 1992 and pioneered using disk as a backup medium.

What is a Virtual Tape Library?

A VTL is a RAID based disk appliance that appears exactly like one or more IBM tape libraries. It greatly improves backup and recovery speeds and enables easy-to-use site- to-site replication. With RAID protection, hot-swappable disk drives, fans and multiple power supplies, it provides equipment redundancy and scalability tape libraries lack. In addition to data protection, you can implement encryption to keep your backups secure.

Faster Backups and Faster Restores

Disk is faster than tape, much faster. Cybernetics’ VTL storage is even faster than DAS/NAS because it doesn’t use a file system and doesn’t require defragmenting, virus protection or file/block permission updating. In addition to the speed of multiple disks in a RAID, Cybernetics’ virtual tape libraries take advantage of an advanced intelligent caching layer, increasing the efficiency and speed of handling multiple backup and restore threads. Backups are cached first and then stored to the array. This is a common performance feature used to enhance the speed of Enterprise-class SANs.

With a virtual tape library, it’s easy to configure one or more tape drives for simultaneous operations. In fact, the more, the merrier.

Multiple backups and LPARs can be sent to one virtual tape library at the same time, reducing the time it takes to do each backup. It’s not uncommon to see backup windows of 20 hours with tape reduced down to a single hour.

Restoring individual files appears instantaneous, as there is no latency loading a tape and locating the file to restore. What takes many hours with tape can take seconds or minutes with a virtual tape library.

Install in Minutes – No Operational Learning Curve
A Cybernetics’ virtual tape library appears as a standard TAP or TAPMLB device to your IBM hardware resource manager. No changes need to be performed to your current method of using tape. Enjoy 100% compatibility with SAVE commands (including Option 21), IPL, BRMS and even third party applications like Help Systems’ Robot/SAVE. LPARs running AIX or Linux can utilize built-in commands such as TAR, DUMP, DD and any other third party backup software like NetBackup, NetVault, Spectrum Protect and many others. Anything that works with a physical tape library will work with a virtual tape library – without changing the way you currently protect your data.

Connectivity – Support Protocols Past, Present and Future
Since Cybernetics has been supporting IBM since the days of the AS/400, a wide variety of connection protocols are supported. These include legacy SCSI (LVD/HVD), iSCSI (1, 10 and 40GbE), FC (4, 8, 16, and 32G), SAS and HD SAS. One virtual tape library can be configured to handle multiple connection types simultaneously. A legacy AS/400 (SCSI), an iSeries (FC) and Power System server (SAS/FC) could be attached to one virtual tape library. Connection types can easily be changed as your network is upgraded.

Each connection type is bi-directional. Either a host can be connected or a tape drive/library can be attached (for off-line archiving; see more below). Many customers have used their VTL to upgrade from an older Power System server to a newer one for an incredibly fast and easy transition to the more powerful IBM platform.

Cybernetics also manufacturers SCSI to iSCSI and SAS to iSCSI converters. For customers who want to deploy their virtual tape library off-campus, these converters can solve cable distance limitations with SCSI and SAS, converting the signals to TCP/IP and iSCSI.

Scalability and Future Proofing
For many years, the most popular upgrade path capacity-wise for a Cybernetics’ virtual tape library has been disk drive replacement. It’s the most cost-effective way to increase capacity (disk is cheap). In addition, JBOD expansion cabinets can be directly connected, up to seven of them (your choice of 8, 12, 16, 24, and 60 bays). For even more capacity, iSCSI and FC storage can be attached for additional virtual tape space.

If you need more backup performance, the Cybernetics v3000 series uses a cold-swappable controller design that allows you to double, triple, or quadruple the transfer rate by merely upgrading the controller as needed – while keeping all of your existing backups in-place.

It’s the simplest, easiest, and most cost-effective way to increase performance without the need for data migration.

Replication – Easy and Automated

Replication is a built-in feature and automatically comes with WAN acceleration and encryption, which can potentially double the speed and provide security between multiple units – all at no additional charge. With just a few clicks of your mouse, you can enable site-to-site replication and enjoy the benefits of data geographic redundancy.

Many modes of replication are supported (one way, cross-replication, many-to-one and one-to-many). For even better replication performance, deduplication is available (see below). Replication can be setup to automatically sync your backups to multiple destinations. Say goodbye to physical delivery of your tape backups to an off-site vault.

Deduplication – Industry’s Highest VTL Ratios, Fastest Backup and Restore Rates

Deduplication is a process designed to reduce redundant data to minimize storage size. Many virtual tape libraries featuring “dedupe” have a bad reputation for slow restores and losing backup performance the longer you use them. This is due to their “in-line” approach to performing deduplication. They write the backup and reduce the capacity at the same time; balancing ingest speed and data compaction while getting the best of neither. Cybernetics uses a “post-process” approach to deduplication. Your backup speeds are not impacted by capacity reducing algorithms that take away performance. Backups are done at full speed. Afterwards, deduplication is performed off-line to attain the highest possible deduplication ratio (SSD hybrid units allow deduplication and backups to occur at the same time without performance penalty). Post-process takes more disk space, as there must be a temporary “landing zone” to hold the backup before it’s deduped. However, in today’s market, disk space is ex- tremely inexpensive, especially from Cybernetics.

The end result: Cybernetics has the highest deduplication ratio of any virtual tape library; often being in the hundreds and even thousands-to-one ratio with IBM Power System servers. It’s not uncommon for them to hear of 2000+:1 ratios with real-world data. Of course, every site is different but you can expect Cybernetics to deliver ratios much higher than their competitors. With x86 environments, they see an average of 50:1.

Backups and restores are faster with Cybernetics’ approach to deduplication. Restores done from last year’s backup are just as incredibly fast as a restore done from last night’s backup. Backups done two years from now will be just as fast as tonight’s. The hidden “in-line deduplication penalty” of other manufacturers simply do not exist with Cybernetics.

For companies who prefer in-line deduplication, it is available from Cybernetics as well but isn’t as efficient as post-process, for the reasons outlined above.

To Tape Or Not To Tape
While many companies use Cybernetics’ VTLs to eliminate the need for tape backups, Cybernetics is engineered to work in conjunction with tape as well. Tape drives and libraries can be connected to the virtual tape library via SCSI, SAS, iSCSI and FC. Any virtual tapes stored on the VTL can be off-line archived to tape while retaining the original format and file tracking of the backup software used.

If your existing tape drive is internal to your IBM, you can use DUPTAP to copy virtual tapes to physical. For best performance, they recommend using their off-line archiving feature. It’s easier, faster and doesn’t take resources away from your IBM or the network.

Encryption – Your Data is Need to Know
More and more companies are becoming concerned with the security of their backups, especially when moved off-site. Cybernetics employs powerful AES 256 bit encryption and an extremely simple, yet powerful key management system. Encryption can be applied in the following ways:

Encryption-at-flight (included): All replication between virtual tape libraries is automatically encrypted by default.

Encryption-at-rest (optional): Protect your backups at the virtual tape hardware level on disk. If your virtual tape library is stolen or the individual disks taken, your backup data will not be compromised. This is more efficient than enabling encryption within BRMS or any backup software (removes the encryption process/overhead from your servers).

Hardware SED drives are used so there is no performance penalty with encryption enabled. Many other VTL providers use software and it negatively impacts their performance, most notably during restores.

Tape/Removable disk encryption (optional): When utilizing off-line archiving to tape/removable disk, encryption can be enabled protecting the removable media from unauthorized access.

Cost-effective – Attainable Change.
Sometimes best of breed products can be too expensive and hard to justify, no matter the benefits. Because Cybernetics has been manufacturing virtual tape libraries for over twenty years, they are among the most cost-effective, offering a value almost impossible to beat when compared against others. Not only is the acquisition cost lower, expansion and extended maintenance is also much less.

Digital Air Gap
Ransomware attacks are on the rise and are specifically targeting disk backups; mapped or unmapped. The perpetrators know, if they can infiltrate your disk backups, they have a higher probability of extracting payment. 

Even Veeam backups, one of the most popular Windows protection packages, is at risk if disk-only.

The recommended solution? Use tape as an “air gap” in conjunction with disk. For many customers though, moving to disk backups was done to eliminate the need for tape drives/media and for the speed and redundancy benefits.

Cybernetics VTLs provide a “digital air gap” for backups. Because Cybernetics does not allow any type of file sharing and only emulates physical tape, ransomware cannot attack the backups stored on disk as they cannot be mounted by conventional file sharing means.

Most other VTL products incorporate NFS/CIFS/SMB protocols which provides an opening to attack vectors from today’s more aggressive infections. This gives the destructive program access to encrypt or corrupt any backups stored on that system, eliminating your ability to recover using previous restore points.

Immutable GUI

Optional GUI immutability prevents unauthorized access (local or remote) to the management console, eliminating the ability to change/delete any VTL settings, unless a physical security token is used and granted privileges are assigned.

Immutable Backups/Write-Protect Retention

Guard virtual tapes from accidental or malicious deletion for a specified window (days, weeks, months, years or forever). Automatically move, reclaim storage, or do nothing once the time has expired. Works seamlessly with BRMS and protects from host intrusion/BRMS hacking.

Support – The Expertise Behind the Product

Cybernetics’ technicians are located in strategic areas covering the lower 48 States with representation extending into Canada. In most areas, on-site service is available as Next Business Day or 7×24 four hour response.

Telephone technical support is located in historic Yorktown, VA. All phone support engineers are SysAdmin quality and aren’t script readers. They are very well versed with everything related to AS/400, iSeries and Power System servers, including being knowledgeable on SAVE commands and BRMS. In addition, they can assist with other operating systems such as Windows, all Unix versions, Mac, VMware and Hyper-V. Having a “one throat to choke” approach to support means assisting with backup software questions as well. Packages include, but aren’t limited to, BackupExec, Arcserve, CommVault, NovaStor, Veeam, Spectrum Protect and many more.

As an added benefit, Cybernetics offers lifetime technical phone support to the original purchaser of the virtual tape library, regardless of the warranty or annual service contract status.