Disk to Disk Backup Solution with Windows Server 2012 & Commodity DELL Hardware – Part II

As I blogged in a previous post we’ve been building a Disk2Disk based backup solution with commodity hardware as all the appliances on the market are either to small in capacity for our needs, ridiculously expensive or sometimes just suck or a combination of the above (Virtual Library Systems or Virtual Tape Libraries come to mind, one of my biggest technology mistakes ever, at least the ones I had and in my humble opinion Disappointed smile) .

Here’s a logical drawing of what we’re talking about. We are using just two backup media agent building blocks (server + storage)  in our setup for now so we can scale out.


Now in future post I hope to be discussing storage spaces & Windows deduplication thrown into the mix.

So what do we get?

Not to shabby …  > 1TB/Hour


To great …


In close up you are seeing just 2 Windows 2012 Hyper-V cluster nodes, each being backed up over a native LBFO team of 2*1Gbps NIC ports to one Windows Server 2012 Backup Media Agent with a 10Gbps pipe. Look at the max throughput we got  …


Sure this is under optimal conditions, but guess what? When doing backup from multiple hosts to dual backup media servers or more we’re getting very fast backups at very low cost compared to some other solutions out there. This is our backup beast Smile. More bandwidth needed at the backup media server? It has dual port 10Gbps that can be teamed and/or leverage SMB 3.0 multichannel. High volume hosts can use 10Gbps at the source as well.

Lessons learned

  • The Windows 2012 networking improvements rock. Upgrade and benefit from it! We’re seeing great results thanks to Multichannel leveraging RSS and in box NIC teaming (LBFO).
  • A couple of 1Gbps NICS teamed on Windows Server 2012 work really well. Don’t worry about not having 10Gbps on all your hosts.
  • Having 10Gbps on your backup media hosts (target) is great as you’ll be pushing a lot of data to them from multiple (source) hosts.
  • Make sure your backup software supports enough streams before it keels over under the load you’re pushing through. More streams means more concurrent files (read VHDs/VMs) and thus more throughput and allows multichannel to shine over RSS capable NICs.
  • Find the sweet sport for number of disks per node and total IOPS versus the throughput you can send to the backup media agents. 4 Nodes of 50TB might be better than 2 nodes of a 100TB. If you can, experiment a bit to find your optimal backup block size.
  • Isolate your backup network traffic from data traffic either physically or by other means (QOS) and don’t route it all over the place to end up where it needs to be.
  • We’re doing this using Dell PowerConnect 5424 (end of life) /5524 switches … no need for the real  high end very expensive gear to do this. The 10Gbps switch, well yes that’s always high end at the moment.
  • Use JBODS with SAS/Storage spaces & you’ll be fine. Select them carefully for performance. You can use bays like the MD3X00 if you want to replicates the backups somewhere otherwise MD12x0 will do or any other decent JBOD => even cheaper. You can also mix, some building blocks that can replicate & other on Storage Spaces /JBOS. Mix and match with different backup needs means you have flexibility. Note that at TechEd Europe (June 2012), in a session by DELL, they mentioned the need for a firmware update with the MD1200 to optimize performance with Storage Spaces.

It’s all about the money in a smart way!

As I said before, you will not get fired for:

  • Increasing backup throughput at least 4 fold (without dedupe)
  • Increasing backup capacity 3.5 fold (without deduplication)
  • Doing the above for 20% of systems that are replaced & new offerings with specialized appliances (even at hilarious discount rates). That’s CAPEX reduction.
  • This helps pay for the primary storage, DRC site & extra SAN for data replication in case of disaster
  • Make backups faster, more reliable & reduce OPEX (The difference for us is huge and important)
  • Putting an affordable scale up & scale out Disk2Disk backup solution into place to the business can safely handle future backup loads as very acceptable costs.
  • It’s a modular solution which we like. On top of that it’s about as zero vendor lock in as it gets. You can mix servers, bays, switches. Use what you like best for your needs. Only the bays have to remain the same within an individual “building block”.

Cost reduction is one thing but look at what we get whilst saving money… wow!

What am I missing?  Specialized dedupe. Yes, but we’re  going for the poor mans workaround there. More on that later.  As long as we get enough throughput that doesn’t hurt us. And give the cost we cannot justify it + it’s way to much vendor lock in. If you can’t get backups done without, sure you might need to walk that route. But for now I’m using a different path. Our money is better spend in different places.

Now how to get the same economic improvements from the backup software? Disk capacity licensing sucks. But we need a solution that can handle this throughput & load , is reliable, has great support & product information, get’s support for new release fast after RTM (come on CommVault, get a move on) and is simple to use ==> even more money and time saved.

Spin off huge file server project?

Why is support for new releases in backup software important. Because the lack of it is causing me delays. Delays cost me, time, money & opportunities. I’m really interested to covert our large LUN file servers to Windows Server 2012 Hyper-V virtual machines, which I now can rather smoothly thanks to those big VDHX sizes that are possible now and slash the backup times of those millions of small files to pieces by backing them up per VHDX over this setup. But I’ll have to wait and see when CommVault will support VHDX files and GPT disks in guests because they are not moving as fast as a leading (and high cost) product should. Altaro & Veeam have them beaten solid there and I don’t like to be held back.

Disk to Disk Backup Solution with Windows Server 2012 – Part I

Backing Up 100 Plus Terabyte of Data Cheaply

When dealing with large amounts of data to backup you’re going to start bleeding money. Sure people will try to sell you great solutions with deduplication, but in a lot of scenarios this is not a very cost effective solution. The cost of dedupe in either backup hardware or software is very expensive and in some scenarios the cost cannot be justified. It’s also not very portable by the way unless in certain scenarios in which you stick with certain vendors. Once you get into backing up  > 100TB you need to forget about overly expensive hard & software. Just build your own solutions. Now depending on your needs you might want to buy backup software anyway but forget about dedupe licenses. Some of the more profitable hosting companies & cloud providers are not buying appliances or dedupe software either. They make real good money but they rather spend it on SUVs and swimming pools.

What Can You Do?

You can build your own solution. Really. You can put together some building blocks that scale up and out. You’ll a dual socket server with two 8 core CPUs and 24GB of ram, perhaps 32GB. Plug in some 6Gbps SAS controllers, hook those up to a bunch of 3.5” disk bays with 12 *2TB or 3TB disks each and you’re good to go. You can scale out to about 8 disk bays if you don’t cluster. Plug in a dual port 10Gbps card. You’ll need that as you be hammering that server. If you need more than this system, than scale out, put in a second, a third, etc. 3.5TB –4TB of backup capacity per hour in total should be achievable..


When you buy the components from super micro and some on line retailers you can do this pretty cheap. Spare parts you say? Buy some cold spares. You can have a dozen disk on the shelf, a SAS controller and even a shelf if you want. You could use hardware redundancy (RAID, hot spares) or use storage pools & spaces if you’re going the Windows Server 2012 route and save some extra money. Disk bay failure? Scale out so that even when you loose a node you still have tree others up and running. Spread backups around. Don’t backup the same data only to the same node. I know it’s not perfect for deduplication with Windows 2012 that way but hey, you win some, you lose some. Checks & balances right?  If you need a bit more support get some DELL PowerVaults or the like. It depends on what you’re comfortable with and how deep your pockets are.

You can by more storage than dedupe will ever save you & still come out with money to pay for the electricity. Okay it’s less good for the penguins but trust me, those companies selling those solutions would fry a penguin for breakfast everyday if it would make them money. Now talking about those penguins, the Windows Server 2012 deduplication feature could be providing me with the tools to save them Smile, but that’s for another post. I hope this works. I’d love to see it work. I bet some would hate to see it work. So much perhaps that they might even consider making their backup format non dedupableDevil?

Tip for users: Don’t use really cheap green SATA disks. They’re pretty environment friendly but the performance sucks. My view on “Green IT” is to right size everything, never to over subscribe and let that infrastructure work hard for you. This will minimize the hardware needed  and the performance is way better than all the power saving settings and green hardware. Which will ruin the environment anyway as you’ll end up buying more gear to compensate for lack of performance unless you’ll just suffer the bad performance. Keep the green disks for the home user’s picture, movie & music collection and use 2TB/3TB SAS/NL-SAS. Remember that when you don’t cluster (shared storage) you can make due nicely without the enterprise NL-SAS disks.

Now I’m not saying you should do what I suggest here, but you might find it useful to test this on your own scale for your own purposes. I did it for the money. For the money? Yup for the money. No not for me personally, I don’t have a swimming pool and I don’t even own a car, let alone an SUV. But saving your company a 100.000 or more in cash isn’t going to get you into trouble now is it? Or perhaps this is the only way you’re going to afford to back up that volume of data. People don’t throw away data and they don’t care about budgets you’d better be able to restore their data. Which reminds me, you will also need some backup software solutions that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg. That’s also a challenge as you need one that can handle large amounts of data and has some intelligence when I comes to virtualization, snapshots etc. It also has to be easy to use, as simple as possible as this helps ensure backups are made and are valid.

Are we trying to replace appliances or other solutions? No, we’re trying to provide lots of cheap and “fast enough” storage. Reading the data & providing it to the backup device can be an issue as well. Why fast enough? Pure speed on the target side is not useful if the sources can’t deliver. We need this backup space for when the shits really hits the fan and all else has failed.That doesn’t have to be a SAN crash or a SAN firmware issue ruing all your nice snapshots. It can also be the business detecting a mistake in a large data set a mere 14 months after the facts when all replicas, snapshots etc. have already expired. I’m sure you’ve got quality assurance that is so rock solid that this would never happen to you but hey, welcome to my world Sarcastic smile.