Breece Hill BizGuardian
Breece Hill BizGuardian
In the busy world of the IT operator, two tasks take precedence over all - backup and restore. Given the amount of data that now resides on servers, desktops and laptops and the increased hours of operation, the backup window is getting ever smaller. Despite increases in tape speed and capacity, many organisations struggle to backup their data without impacting the working day.
One solution that has become popular is Disk to Disk to Tape (D2D2T) appliances. These use a rule based approach to site data on different tiers of storage. The more important the data, the faster it is to access. Eventually, data is migrated off to tape. Not all organisations or departments need several tiers of disk. Simply being able to dump backups to a hard disk which is allied to the tape device is sufficient.
Enter the BizGuardian from Breece Hill.
The BizGuardian comes in a large box with everything already installed into the appliance. There is an accessories box with quick start installation and configuration guides, three power leads, network cables, four LTO 3 tapes capable of storing up to 800GB each, drivers for the various hardware components and the Windows Server 2003 disks and manual. Mounting brackets for installing the BizGuardian into the rack are also supplied although the mounting rails are already attached to the chassis.
Missing from the CD and documentation sets were the EMC manuals and software for Retrospect although there is a section in the Configuration Guide on how to install EMC Retrospect clients. A separate CD included as part of the quick installation guide has a number of general documents and the EMC Retrospect clients but not the Retrospect manuals.
Open the chassis and you find a server with a built in tape system complete with autoloader. An Intel motherboard with a Pentium 4 processor, dual core, 3GHz processor, 2GB RAM which can be extended to 16GB, two built in network ports - 1 x 10/100 and 1 x 10/100/1000, video, keyboard, mouse ports and 3 USB ports. This is a good specification for a server and you could configure it as a Disaster Recovery server to run virtual machines.
Storage is via eight SATA drives and in the model reviewed, these were 250GB. Breece Hill has qualified 500GB drives and is in the process of qualifying even higher capacity drives. The drives are managed by a Broadcom RAIDCORE PCI-X 64-bit card. As the primary purpose of this device is backup, the disk drives are installed at the rear of the chassis.
There is a CD drive for software installation and this is also access from the rear of the BizGuardian.
The tape device is a 10-slot LTO 3 drive with autoloader. This is driven by an Adaptec AIC-7901 SCSI card. While the card is a 64-bit PCI-X card it came installed in a 32-bit slot.
The BizGuardian comes fully assembled with the exception of the tape cartridges. This makes it an extremely cumbersome box to manoeuvre and install. Storage appliances are generally heavy today and this is the first I've seen for some time where everything is already installed. The documentation did not recommend removing the hard disks and power supplies during the installation which would significantly lower the weight of the device.
The mounting rails are affixed to the side of the BizGuardian box when it is shipped. All you need to do is fix a couple of brackets into the rack and then install the appliance. When installing, you will need to take careful note of the need for three power supplies and two network cables. If you are installing into a location where you have limited rear access, this could be a problem. All access to the hard disks and optical drive is via the rear of the enclosure.
Once installed into the rack, setup and configuration is straightforward. You need to remove two shipping screws from inside the tape enclosure, these are easily located and removed. When moving the BizGuardian, these screws need to be reinstalled. Turning on the power at the front was interesting. The documentation says to use a pencil to push the power button. They are not joking. Unless you possess claw like nails, you will need something to poke the power button. An advantage of this is that it removes the risk of the power button being depressed by accident when working on other devices in the rack, however unlikely this is.
The operating system for the BizGuardian is Windows Server 2003 and it ships with a five user licence. This should be adequate as you will be using the appliance to connect to other machines not having users connecting directly to the BizGuardian. The only instance where this might change is if you have to use it as a Disaster Recovery server where you have multiple applications and virtual machines installed.
Breece Hill do offer a pre-installed Windows Server 2003 build, leaving it in a sys-prep mode ready for the user to simply add into the domain, IP details and passwords.
The backup software is EMC Retrospect and this is also preinstalled onto the BizGuardian. This is a basic, five machine licence and does not include the MS Exchange Server, MS SQL Server and User Initiated Restore options. The user needs to purchase all of these separately either through Breece Hill when ordering the BizGuardian or through their own supplier.
The last job is to install the cartridges into the tape drive and the easiest way is to simply open the front of the BizGuardian and insert the LTO cartridges into the empty slots. It will take as many as 10 and Breece Hill supply 20 bar code labels for affixing to your tapes.
Once the BizGuardian has been commissioned the next thing to do is to deploy the EMC Retrospect agents to the servers and configure backup jobs inside Retrospect.
Breece Hill configure the EMC Retrospect install and supply a small number of scripts to ensure that you can get started very quickly. At the very least, this would allow an administrator to do an initial backup of critical servers the first day that they install the BizGuardian.
The front panel of the BizGuardian support two different sets of controls. On the left is a set of lights showing device status and housing the on/off and reset switches. In the centre is an LED display with a control button that allows you to carry out simple management without needing a keyboard, mouse or screen.
This is probably the easiest D2D2T device that I've reviewed. Once installed into the rack, we were backing up data within 30 minutes and if installing multiple BizGuardian appliances, could probably reduce that time even further.
The decision by Breece Hill to base this on their tried and proven iStoRA platform is a good one. Including the EMC Retrospect software and then adding a small number of scripts to get the user started is equally good. Whether you are working in a large organisation or just a small business this is a solid product.
Breece Hill have wisely stayed away from the Windows Storage System program and based BizGuardian on Windows Server 2003 standard edition. This gives administrators the ability to absorb it into their standard management process for patches and upgrades. As Breece Hill are not adding any bespoke software to the BizGuardian, there are no worries about what to do when a rebuild is necessary.
The ability of the appliance to operate as a standard server in an emergency is easy to prove. We installed and configured Microsoft SharePoint Server 2007, SQL Server 2005 and Project Server 2007. This is a very typical server configuration and we used several virtual machines. We also added memory to ensure that things would work perfectly. There was no real difference in performance to a standard alone server with comparable processor and memory. Given that most backup operations will be performed at night, this suggests that for organisations looking to deploy an appliance out to remote offices, BizGuardian, as an all-in-one solution, is a good fit.
If there are any criticisms of the BizGuardian it would be that it only comes with EMC Retrospect. This is a Windows Server 2003 appliance so providing the SQL Server, Exchange Server and UIR options as standard would be a more inclusive option.
In addition, given how complex data centre environments are becoming, I would have like to see EMC RepliStor supplied either as standard or an option. It would allow for a more dynamic gathering of changed data from around the network. This, in turn, would lead to a more efficient backup process as the time taken to gather changed files overnight would be further reduced. The only issue would be network bandwidth but in tests we have done previously with RepliStor this is not a big problem for most networks.
It is not often that I find a device that is clearly a requirement for my own data centre and it's fair to say that the BizGuardian is now on my wish list. If there are any criticisms of the BizGuardian it would be that it only comes with EMC Retrospect. Providing the SQL Server, Exchange Server and UIR options as standard would be a more inclusive option.
Server Motherboard: Intel Network interface: Auto-sensing GigE Memory: 2GB Operating system: Windows 2003 Server 32-bit Standard Disk Native capacity: 2 - 4TB (drive dependent) Number of drives: 8 SATA disk drives Disk size options: 250GB or 500GB Logical disk setup: RAID 5 Tape Drive Type: HP full-height LTO 3 Number of drives: 1 Number of cartridges: 10 Media: LTO 3 or LTO 3 WORM Native storage capacity: 4TB Compressed storage capacity: 8TB Native tape cartridge capacity: 400GB Compressed tape cartridge capacity: 800GB Dimensions Height: 7 in (17.8 cm); 4U, rackmount only Depth: 30 in (76.2 cm) Width: 17.5 in (44.5 cm) Weight: 75 lbs (34 kg)