Archive for the ‘Nikunj Verma’ Category

Introducing ZCB 4.5: We continue to make it better!

Sunday, March 24th, 2013

We’re excited to inform you that our latest release of Zmanda Cloud Backup – ZCB 4.5 – is now available. With many great new features and usability and performance improvements, below are some of the highlights for our customers:

Hello Hyper-V servers!

Now, you can use ZCB to protect your guest virtual machines running on a Hyper-V 2008 Server and Hyper-V 2012 Server. You can backup specific VMs or back all up in a single backup set.

Hyper V

Both “Saved State” and “Child VM Snapshot” backup mechanisms are supported. Since the latter method doesn’t cause any downtime for the guest VM, it is the preferred method of ZCB. Disabling “Saved State” Method can also be achieved by simply checking the “Backup a running VM only if its hot backup can be performed” checkbox.

In the event of a disaster, restoring your guest VM(s) is easy. You can restore a VM to the same Hyper-V server or a different one. All you need to do is open ZCB on the target Hyper-V server, select the backup you want to restore and click “Restore.” ZCB will take care of the rest.

To get started, login to your Zmanda account and download the latest 4.5 version from the Download tab!

Introducing Near-Continuous Data Protection (CDP) of SQL Server

With version 4.5, ZCB now supports incremental (log-based) backups of SQL Server. This helps a great deal since log backups contain a list of all the individual changes to the database, and hence, provide an ability to restore the database to any historic timestamp, regardless of the actual backup time.

Why do we call this near-CDP and not CDP? Note that the log backups are not fired automatically upon each change event and are still “schedule based.” While this minimizes the backup overhead on your CPU/memory/bandwidth resources, it also means that you can only restore to a timestamp before a log backup has successfully taken place. That said, note that you can always choose a higher frequency for log backups (for example, “every 15 minutes”) to keep this as close to a true CDP system as you want.

Here is how one can specify any point in time for restore:

point in time for restore

While we’re discussing SQL Server backups, there is some more good news:  ZCB now performs Virtual Device Interface (VDI) based differential backups that can be significantly more compact and efficient than our earlier VSS based differential backups!

To see these improvements in action, login to your Zmanda account and download the latest 4.5 version from the Download tab!

Better performance and usability

Performance and usability are always top of mind for us when it comes to development and in ZCB 4.5, you’ll see some great enhancements, including:

Better network fault tolerance: The era of dial-up connections may be over, but the some of our customers often report temporary network outages. We have been following a “learn-fix-test-learn” approach to counter such network issues users may face, and have already added several defence mechanisms in past ZCB releases. Taking that approach further, we have now added another fail-safe mechanism to auto-detect and resume tasks that may still fail despite all these mechanisms.

Proactive validation of backup sets: New ZCB users looking to backup Exchange or SQL Server will benefit from a proactive validation mechanism in ZCB 4.5. When you create this type of backup set and go to save it, ZCB will now pop up a message if it detects a problem with your backup environment. Here is an example:

Proactive validation of backup sets

ZCB Global Dashboard improvements: Our dashboard team has been busy rolling out new features at a fast pace. Two of the most recent and powerful features are:

Delete backups from cloud

For our customers backing up to Google Cloud Storage (we’ll update customers using Amazon S3 in the nearfuture on this feature), you can now delete backups from the cloud. Whether you want to make some room in the cloud or simply want to clear old or unnecessary backups from cloud, you can quickly delete the backup runs using the dashboard from anywhere (screenshot below).

Track backup retention periods

The ability to specify the exact retention duration of cloud backups is one of the most valued features of ZCB. From a compliance or backup strategy standpoint, this control is absolutely necessary.

With ZCB 4.5, you now can monitor the retention period of all cloud backups on the dashboard. If a backup is going to be removed by ZCB in next 7 days (per your retention policy for example), it is also highlighted to get your attention.

dashboard

How are we doing?

As we continue to focus on making ZCB more useful for our customers, we really need to know how you’re using our service and how we can further improve to meet your needs. Please continue to send your comments and feature requests to zcb@zmanda.com.

Also, if you are a ZCB customer and would like to be kept up-to-date on product enhancements, please consider subscribing to this blog.

Looking forward to hearing from you soon!

-Nik

ZCB 4.4 out for download. How to say “cloud backup” in Australian?

Wednesday, November 28th, 2012

We kicked off the holiday season this year with our latest release - ZCB 4.4. Here is a quick overview of what’s new.

Hello Windows Server 2012 and Windows 8!

This release of ZCB fully supports Windows Server 2012 and Windows 8. All applications and system state backup are supported. So go ahead and protect your investment in your latest Windows systems!

Super-fast local backups

While ZCB’s network performance has been quite trendsetting (some of our customers have reported uploads at more than 130+ Mbps in their environments!), recently we set our sights on the performance of our local backups. This is an important area for ZCB since it supports unlimited local backups to local/external/network drives, unlike many other backup services.

I’m happy to share that our engineering team has been able to significantly improve the performance of local backups in ZCB 4.4. Here is a chart to show a comparison:

Note that to reap the full benefits of this improvement, you will need to turn off compression or the load on CPU may become the bottleneck.

User-friendly restore of AES 256 bit encrypted backups

In case you lost your encryption key after using it to backup your data, ZCB 4.4 allows you to recreate decryption keys for restore. All you need is the passphrase you used earlier. Of course, you need to at least remember that passphrase to take advantage of this feature!

Here is this option to create the decryption key on the Restore page of the ZCB user interface:

A new Amazon region - Asia Pacific (Sydney)

If you are in or near to the Australian region and would like to backup to a local data-center for compliance and performance reasons there is a good news: ZCB now supports the brand new Amazon S3 region in Sydney.

And as a welcome gesture, like always, we have made usage to this new region absolutely free until December 31, 2012! So purchase ZCB today and give it a spin!

We are excited to hear about our customers’ experience with this new version. As always, please let us know your comments and feature requests at zcb@zmanda.com.

If you are a ZCB customer and would like to see our product updates, please consider subscribing to this blog and our tweets.

Thank you!
-Nik

ZCB 4.3 now available; ever easier cloud backup!

Wednesday, September 5th, 2012

Past few months have been really busy around here. After releasing Zmanda Cloud Backup (ZCB) 4.2, which had a brand new purchasing option with a new cloud storage provider (Google), we had our task clearly cut out: make ZCB even easier to understand and use. So we got back to our laundry list and picked up a few items our users were requesting the most. The result is our latest release 4.3, available for download to all current and new ZCB customers.

So what’s new? Well, quite a lot:

A brand new help portal

Before we deep dive into the product improvements, let me introduce you to our new help portal:

This portal is available at http://help.zmanda.com and has all the documentation available in an easily searchable format. So whether you need any help in configuring ZCB or getting through a technical issue, please search this portal to see if your question has already been answered. We plan to constantly add to the knowledgebase, so please leave us your comments on the pages there!

Encryption made easier

We added a new, user friendly encryption method: Passphrase based AES 256 bit encryption. As compared to our current PFX based encryption method, this method is easy to get started with. Just create your encryption key using a strong password:

AES encryption

and begin using it with your backup sets:

AES encryption use

As with our PFX encryption method, you own your encryption key completely. It is never transferred to Zmanda servers or to cloud storage. What’s great is that you can change the encryption key whenever your security policies want you to (just make sure you save a copy for future restores!).


Interruption-free data protection for laptops

If you are using ZCB to backup laptops, you will get two significant benefits by using ZCB 4.3:

  • When you lose network connection (say when you step out of a WiFi zone), you don’t have to worry about your ongoing upload tasks. These tasks will resume as soon as you get a network connection (on Windows Vista, Windows 7 and Windows 2008 Server) or at the next hour(on Windows XP or Windows 2003 Server).
  • While adding backup schedules, you will see a new option to wake up your computer (if it happens to be sleeping or hibernating at the scheduled backup time) to run the backup job:

wake up computer

Feeling unlucky? Verify your backups!

Moved your external or network drives around? Or simply need reassurance that your cloud data is safe and sound? ZCB 4.3 includes a new “Verify Backup Data” operation which can check the health status of your backups. To run this operation, go to the Report page, right click on a backup run and select the Verify Backup Data option:

verify backup data

If all is well, you will get this reassuring message:

verify backup data result

And if ZCB finds something out of order (we hope not!), you will see this message:

verify backup data result fail

If you see the above message, check the Details column of the backup runs to know the exact error.

Manage your cloud data better

Many ZCB customers value the flexible retention policy provided by ZCB for your data. To keep your costs low, it is important to configure desired retention policy before you start backing up. This will ensure that as your data grows older and stops being valuable to you, it is automatically removed by ZCB from the cloud. But what if you forget to set retention policies before backing up? In that case, your data will keep getting accumulated on the cloud forever, taking up valuable cloud storage space.

Also there may be cases when your backup policies change (for example your old Excel reports prove to be more valuable than you earlier thought and now want to retain them for 1 year instead of 6 months) and hence you need to change the retention policy of backups you have already made.

To support such cases, ZCB 4.3 now has a new operation which you can use to change the retention policy of already run backups. Just go to the Report page, select your backup runs (you can even select multiple runs), right click on them and click on the Change Retention Period option, as shown below:
change retention

This will bring up a window where you can change the retention policy as you desire:

change retention 2

Note that ZCB allows you to set independent retention policies for local backups and cloud backups.


Delete your old, unnecessary backup data easily

Sometimes you just want to delete backups older than a particular date. This may happen when you didn’t set retention policies or you just wish to free up some cloud storage space.

With ZCB 4.3, now you can delete such backups in a single shot by using a new handy option in the File menu:

purge all backup runs before

This will bring up this window with self explanatory options:


purge all backup runs before window

Just provide your preferences above and all older data belonging to your computer will be deleted from cloud. Like other deletions from cloud - this process is irreversible, so take caution!


Locate a backed up file and restore it quickly

If you are looking for a specific file (say a meeting document from 1 year ago), it is super easy in ZCB 4.3. Just select your backup set, go to Restore tab and click on the “Locate a Backup File” button:

locate a backed up file

In the next window, just type in what you remember from the desired file name (such as “team_meeting”) and hit the Find button. ZCB will then show you all the matching file names along with the most recent time of their backup. You can select the desired file from the list and restore it in a couple of mouse clicks.


Backup one computer, upload to cloud from another

If some of your computers (such as an old Desktop at your home) don’t have necessary internet bandwidth to finish cloud backups, now you don’t have to leave them unprotected.Using ZCB 4.3, you can upload the backup data of such computers from a different computer that does have a better internet connection (such as a server in your office).

The steps to do this are described here and can be particularly valuable to finish the upload of large backups (such as the first full backup).


Other important improvements

In addition to many bug fixes and usability improvements, ZCB 4.3 also features:

More robust backups to your network drives

While storage clouds provide unparalleled reliability, network drives are an excellent way to store your backups locally for faster restores. But unfortunately due to fluctuating network conditions and changing user demands, network drives are prone to read/write errors.

ZCB 4.3 has a retransmission mechanism to handle such cases better and hence should result in more reliable backups to your network drives.

Mixing of Differential and Incremental backups is now possible

Before 4.3, you had to select either of the two backup levels - incremental and differential for a backup set. But in 4.3 you can combine these together in the same backup set.

The benefit? For starters you can implement hierarchical backup strategies such Grandfather-Father-Son scheme which provide strong redundancy and quicker restores. The combination allows you to reduce your cost of cloud storage while keeping your backup windows to a minimum.

As always, please let us know your comments and feature requests at zcb@zmanda.com.

Also, to receive product related news from us, please subscribe to this blog and our tweets. We look forward to your feedback!

-Nik

Zmanda “googles” cloud backup!

Friday, May 11th, 2012

Today, we are thrilled to announce a new version of Zmanda Cloud  Backup (ZCB) that backs up to Google Cloud Storage. It feels great to support perhaps the first mainstream cloud storage service we were introduced to (via the breakthrough Gmail and other Google services) and considering the huge promise shown by Google’s cloud services, we are sure that this version will be very useful to many of our customers.

However, a new cloud storage partner explains only part of the excitement. :) What makes this version more significant to us is its new packaging. As you may be aware, until now ZCB came only in a Pay-As-You-Go format and while this option has been great for our customers who value the flexibility offered by this model, we realized that there are our other customers (such as government agencies) who need a fixed amount to put down in their proposals and budget provisions. To put it differently - these customers would rather trade-off some of the flexibility for certainty.

So with these customers in mind, we chose to offer this ZCB version in the following prepaid usage quota based plans:

  • $75/year for 50 GB
  • $100/year for 100 GB
  • $1,000/year for 1000 GB
  • $10,000/year for 10000 GB

Note that the above GB values are the maximum size of data users can store on the cloud at any point in time. The prices above are inclusive of all costs of cloud storage and remain unaffected even if you wish to protect multiple (unlimited!) systems.

    So what are the benefits of this new pricing option? Here are some:

  • Budget friendly: Whether you are an IT manager submitting your annual IT budget for approval or a service provider vying for a client’s business, the all-inclusive yearly plans are a great option, one you can confidently put down in writing.
  • Cost effective: If you know your requirements well, this option turns out to be dramatically cost effective. Here is a rough comparison of our pricing with some other well-known providers:

    Note:
    Zmanda Cloud Backup: The annual plan pricing for Google Cloud Storage version was used.
    MozyPro: Based on http://mozy.com/pro/pricing/ “Server Pass” option was chosen since ZCB protects Server applications at no extra cost.
    JungleDisk: Based on: https://www.jungledisk.com/business/server/pricing/ Rackspace storage option was used since this was the only “all-inclusive” price option

  • More payment options: In addition to credit cards, this version supports a variety of payment options (such as Bank transfer, checks, etc.). So whether you are a government agency or an international firm, mode of payment is never going to be an issue.
  • Simplified billing and account management: Since this aspect is entirely handled by Zmanda, it is much easier and user friendly to manage your ZCB subscription. So no more hassles of updating your credit card information and no need of managing multiple accounts. When you need help, just write to a single email id (zcb@zmanda.com), or open a support case with us, and we will assist you with everything you may need assistance with.
  • Partner friendly: The direct result of all the above benefits is that reselling this ZCB version will be much more simplified and rewarding. If you are interested in learning more, do visit our new reseller page for more details.

So with all the great benefits above, do we still expect some customers to choose our current pay-as-you-go ZCB version for Amazon S3? Of course! As we said, if your needs are currently small or unpredictable, the flexibility of scaling up and down without committing to a long term plan is a sensible option. And the 70 GB free tier and volume discount tier offered on this ZCB version can keep your monthly costs very low.

Oh and I almost forgot - along with this version, we have also announced the availability of ZCB Global Dashboard, the web-interface to track usage and backup activity of multiple ZCB systems at a single place. If you have multiple ZCB systems in your environment or you are a reseller, it will be extra useful to you.

As we work on enhancing our ZCB solution more, please keep sending us your feedback at zcb@zmanda.com. Much more is cooking with Cloud Backup at Zmanda. Will be with you with more exciting news soon!

-Nik

Cloud Backup Your Way! (Releasing ZCB 4.1)

Monday, February 27th, 2012

Today, we released ZCB 4.1, a major update to our prior version 4.0.2. In addition to significant polish and general fixes, ZCB 4.1 has several features requested by our customers.

Here is a walkthrough:

Better utilize your Internet bandwidth based on your work schedule

Traditionally, data backup is seen as an activity to be completed during nights or weekends – when users are not actively using their systems. But today, this practice is difficult to follow for two main reasons: First, the available time-window for backups has now shrunk as people now work from different offices at different times of the day. Second, with improvements in Internet speeds still lagging behind the growth in data volumes, hoping to upload everything during the weekend looks like an eventual impossibility.

So how does one cope with this changed reality? While we can’t perhaps solve the problem of lack of bandwidth, we can try dividing it better between our production work and backup procedure. And this is exactly what ZCB 4.1 offers through its new feature which allows you to specify the bandwidth throttling limits down to the granularity of 15 minute intervals of the day. This essentially means that you can control ZCB’s usage of bandwidth to exactly fit your environment’s unique network utilization pattern.

To help you understand how this feature can be used, we have also included intelligent predefined templates such as “Throttle on weekdays” and “Gradual throttle on weekdays”. The latter template, for example, limits ZCB’s usage of bandwidth during peak weekday hours and relaxes the limits as it begins to close. This is shown in the figure below:

Time Window

(In the above screenshot, green bars represent full bandwidth usage, red bars represent significantly throttled bandwidth and other bars represent a value in between these two extremes).

You can also work with Zmanda’s support team to customize these templates to exactly fit your needs.

ZCB now supports seven backup locations in four continents

ZCB 4.1 supports the two newest regions of Amazon S3 - US West (Oregon) and South America (São Paulo). If you are near these regions and/or wish to use them - you can celebrate a more, since all usage charges for these two regions are waived off until March 20th, 2012!

With this update, ZCB now supports seven convenient regions (spread across four continents!) to backup to – making backups of our users across the globe more efficient, convenient and practical. And when we are talking about a global user-base, let me add that in addition to English, German, Chinese (Traditional and Simplified) and Japanese languages, ZCB UI is now available in Korean language too. ZCB will speak more languages soon - stay tuned!

Cloud Locations

Backup Oracle servers

ZCB 4.1 includes the support for backing up Oracle 11g databases running on Windows servers. All backup levels - Full, Differential and Incremental are supported.

Oracle

Backup more, at the same time

ZCB 4.1 supports parallel backups across backup sets. This means you don’t have to wait for your ongoing backup to finish before future backups begin. This allows you to schedule backups independently and easily. This item was on our radar for quite some time and we have finally added this support in ZCB 4.1.

Faster and more efficient restores

When all you want is to restore a few specific files from your backups, why should the whole backup archive get downloaded from the cloud? Yes, now ZCB only downloads the specific chunk of data from within the backup archive which it needs to complete the requested restore, so that you can recover your data faster - with minimal downtime.

Save costs with a finer grained control on retention policy

ZCB 4.1 allows users to have different retention policies for full and incremental/differential backups. What this means is that you can choose just how long you want a particular kind of backup to remain on the cloud. This new feature will be very useful in ensuring judicious use of your cloud storage, which could, in turn, translate to significant reductions your backup costs. An instance of such a backup scheme is:

retention

Here, full backups are scheduled every week and retained as per default retention policy (two weeks). But the user doesn’t want to retain incremental backups for so long and wishes to delete them after 8 days since the backup cycle is of 1 week.

The above feature further illustrates the design of ZCB to let you backup your way, and also have control in deciding how much you want to pay for your backups. To see more such examples, you may want to read my earlier blog post.

Bulk-deploy ZCB on multiple machines with the new Configuration Cloning utility

ZCB 4.1 includes a new utility to help you in deploying ZCB on multiple of your machines more efficiently. If you are looking to protect multiple of your systems using ZCB, you may be interested in exploring this new feature. For more details, please look at our knowledgebase article here: http://network.zmanda.com/lore/article.php?id=576

So this was a brief walkthrough of ZCB 4.1. If you are an existing customer and find these features interesting, download it from your account on http://network.zmanda.com and upgrade now (the release notes can be found here). And if you are yet to purchase ZCB, well, let us know what’s been holding you back!

Our engineering is aggressively working on many more cloud backup innovations. If you would like to request a feature or have some feedback, we would love to hear from you at zcb@zmanda.com.

Optimizing the cost of your cloud backup

Thursday, January 5th, 2012

A well-known challenge of new technologies such as cloud backup is that there are no set standards. Take pricing, what would you expect to pay for storing 10 GB of your data on cloud today? Given that the answer can be anything from zero to a few hundred dollars, how do you know that you are not paying more than you really should for your requirements? The question worth asking essentially is - since businesses are different and have different backup needs, why shouldn’t they be allowed to control how much they want to pay for cloud backup?

We broached this question in our recent Zmanda Cloud Backup (ZCB) webinar titled “How to get the maximum out of ZCB” (recording available here) and looked at ways to optimize ZCB costs for one’s requirements. While exploring different options, we realized something interesting – ZCB’s flexibility not only makes it very versatile, but when combined with its pay-as-you-go pricing model, it also allows great leeway in optimizing backup costs. In this post, I will try to explore the options available in ZCB to do just that.

Before we begin, allow me to clarify – while the bulk of this post focuses on cost optimization options with ZCB, the intent is to provide a systematic way of thinking about cloud backup costs. If you are a ZCB user, you can use these options directly. And if you are not a ZCB user, you can map some of these options to your backup solution (and for the benefit of all of us, please do remember to post your results in a comment below!) and see how better (or worse) it fares.

First, a look at the ZCB pricing model

ZCB’s pricing model has two components:

  • Fixed monthly license fee: $4.95 per month
  • Usage based fee:
    • Storage: $0.15 per GB-month
    • Upload to cloud: $0.15 per GB
    • Data download from cloud: Free

Admittedly, this does look more complicated than a fixed monthly cost, but its complexity really emerges from its flexibility, which does leave a lot of room for optimizing costs. Let’s see how.

Step 1: “Divide and conquer” the monthly license fee!

Got multiple machines to back up? Congratulations! Unlike most other backup services, which charge a fee per machine, ZCB allows a single ZCB license to be used to protect an unlimited number of systems. So if you have, say, 5 or 10 machines to be backed up, the fixed monthly cost per backup system becomes non-significant. (However, just be aware that machines that share a ZCB license can potentially access the backup data of each other – although use of encryption can alleviate the potential privacy issue).

Step 2: Optimize the usage based fee!

The usage based fee with ZCB simply means you pay for data storage and data uploads. Thus, optimizing this fee can involve two steps:

Step 2.1: Optimize your total backup size

Let’s first try to see how much data you really need to backup and how to shrink the size of backup media to store the backed up data. ZCB offers following options here:

  • Carefully choose what data needs to be backed up: While backing up applications such as Exchange with ZCB, you can select specific datastores instead of all datastores. For file system backups, you entirely control what gets backed up (ZCB does NO automatic selection of *.mp3, *.jpg files etc.) and you can also specify an “exclude list” to skip backing up large user files by mentioning patterns such as *.mp3 or *.mov. This point may look obvious, but doing this is not easily allowed by many cloud backup applications which attempt to maximize your backup data size, for obvious reasons ;).

    Figure 1: Exclude list

    Figure 1: Exclude list

  • Use backup levels: Incremental and differential backups contain only the data which changed since a last backup and hence reduces backup size. Use incremental and differential backups judiciously to reduce data size while still adhering to your backup strategy.

    Figure 2: Differential backups – backup changed data since last full backup

    Figure 2: Differential backups – backup changed data since last full backup

    Figure 3: Incremental backups – backup changed data since any last backup

    Figure 3: Incremental backups – backup changed data since any last backup

  • Choose backup frequency: How often you backup directly impacts your total backup data size. So you need to choose the right backup frequency which fits your backup requirements but also keeps your total data size manageable. With ZCB you can choose to do only manual backups (when you want) or choose from powerful scheduling options to perform backups every 15 mins to a certain date in every year.

    Figure 4: Choose backup frequency

    Figure 4: Choose backup frequency

  • Enable compression: Depending on your data type (document, text files are more compression friendly), enabling compression may help you shrink your storage requirement by about 10-50%.Here is a figure which summarizes all of these ZCB options:

    Figure 5: Summary of all options to optimize total backup size

    Figure 5: Summary of all options to optimize total backup size

Step 2.2: Optimize how much cloud storage is used to store backup data

Now that you have optimized the total backup data size, let’s see how you can reduce the storage required on the cloud for keeping this backup data. Here are your options with ZCB:

  • Blend cloud storage with local storage: ZCB allows you to store all or some of your backup data to your local or network storage. e.g. you may choose to store only certain full backups on cloud storage while using your local/network disk storage for your primary/frequent backups. Below is an example:

    Figure 6: A sample backup strategy to minimize cloud storage (only monthly backups go to cloud, rest all backups go to local/network storage)

    Figure 6: A sample backup strategy to minimize cloud storage (only monthly backups go to cloud, rest all backups go to local/network storage)

  • Judiciously choose the cloud data retention policy: ZCB allows complete control over the retention period for your backup data. So you can choose to adopt as aggressive retention policy as your backup policy allows, such as “retain full backups for 2 weeks and retain incremental backups for 2 days”.
  • Monitor, Monitor and Monitor: Monitor your cloud usage regularly and purge old backup runs which you don’t require. For monitoring, you can use Amazon bills, ZCB Global Dashboard and jets3t tool. And for purging old backup data which is not required, you can click on File > Purge Backup Runs Before and select a historic date all the backup runs before which will be deleted by ZCB. Do note that deleting any data which is required by subsequent backup runs (such as deleting full backups while retaining incremental/differential backups) may make your dependent backups useless for any restoration requirement in future.

    Figure 7: Purging old backup data which is no longer required

    Figure 7: Purging old backup data which is no longer required

  • Exploit the ZCB free tier: ZCB offers 5 GB free cloud storage and uploads for each of the 5 Amazon S3 regions, making it possible to use up to 25 GB free cloud storage across all 5 regions completely free! You can scatter your data across all the 5 AWS regions to fully exploit this free tier. (With two more AWS regions supported in ZCB 4.1, this free tier will soon become 35 GB free tier and hence this option becomes even more effective!).

    Figure 8: The ZCB free tier

    Figure 8: The ZCB free tier

Quite a handful ways to optimize costs, isn’t it? And perhaps the best part is - since ZCB as well as the pricing model is super-flexible, the above is not even an exhaustive list!

Are you a ZCB user? If yes, do consider these steps and let us know if/how they worked for you. And if you are not a ZCB user, I’m very curious to know how you are optimizing your costs with your current solution?

Have a “cost effective” new year!

-Nik

Drop the box and start backing up!

Tuesday, November 22nd, 2011

Okay first let me say this: I love Dropbox and like many of you depend on it each day to seamlessly access my important files from office/home/shared computers and from my cell phone. Also ever since Dropbox released the developer APIs, an increasing number of innovative applications (see here and here for a few examples) are coming to the fore that extend Dropbox beyond its “native” features of syncing, sharing and collaboration.

This is great but creates a potential problem. With all this excitement it is easy to get carried away and think of using Dropbox to solve a problem which it was never designed to solve – a robust cloud backup. Even at a conceptual level, classic data backup technology based tools such as Zmanda Cloud Backup (ZCB) and sync-sharing tools such as Dropbox solve very different needs of businesses. To most of backup administrators it would seem outlandish to even suggest that one can be used in place of the other (a silicon valley based system administrator, I tossed this idea to, frowned upon it and found the comparison so illogical that he spent a few seconds thinking about where to begin his explanation from!).

But yet over the last few months, since the same time since Dropbox started gaining mass acceptance, we’ve been seeing this confusion pop up in the heads of some of our prospective users. Thanks to the (well-deserved) widespread attention which Dropbox has gathered in recent times, such users would begin comparing ZCB with Dropbox for solving their data backup problems. And so far, to clear up the matter, we largely just tried to remind them about the fundamentals of disaster recovery and how Dropbox is an excellent tool to share and synchronize data but a very primitive tool to perform data backups.  I can’t tell how far we’ve succeeded in conveying this, but I know some of them indeed saw our point (they became our customers!).

But this post became unavoidable, since the plot seems to have thickened with the recent introduction of Dropbox for teams. With this latest offering, Dropbox now consciously targets businesses by offering them huge shared storage (1 TB) along with some administrative tools to manage the service. Not a bad idea really. The problem however is that to sell SMBs this much storage, Dropbox now seems to be telling them to use this storage for data backups, something it never claimed to do well so far.

So let’s scratch the surface a bit here to see what Dropbox is and what it can or can’t backup.

At the outset, let’s try to see what problems Dropbox has been designed to solve and how data backup was not one of those problems. This is how the Wikipedia defines Dropbox:


Dropbox is a Web-based file hosting service operated by Dropbox, Inc. that uses cloud computing to enable users to store and share files and folders with others across the Internet using file synchronization.

This is what it really is. You give Dropbox some files which you want to share and it laps them up, stores them on its cloud storage and shares them among multiple Dropbox clients:

Dropbox at work

Source: http://www.dropbox.com/static/images/install_graphic.gif

And when any of your files change from any shared machine, the changes are instantaneously replicated across all the shared devices. So what’s the secret sauce? Well the steadfast decision process to keep things simple for syncing and sharing the user files. See such an instance of decision making on this page.

On the other hand, a true backup solution, such as ZCB, exists to ensure that all your data gets backed up regularly and you can go back to any of the backed-up states of your machine when the sky comes crumbling down. This may sound similar, so let’s see why this goal is not achievable with Dropbox:

  1. Completeness: At a higher level, the data in your computer can be classified in following categories:
    1. User files: These are independent files like documents, presentations, spreadsheets which are created by users for their official or personal work.
    2. File system/Interlinked files: These can be your entire directory structure such as D:\, a particular special directory such as “My Documents” or a set of some files which are inter-linked – for e.g. a bunch of website files or a spreadsheet with embedded images or macros.
    3. Application data: The data created and used by your business applications such as SQL Server or Outlook. These can be databases, configuration files, temporary files, etc. and are generally created in the installation directory of these applications. Also these files are “open” when the application is running.
    4. Applications: Binaries and configuration files of applications which are installed such as Microsoft office and Adobe PDF suite.
    5. Operating system and system configuration: The installed operating system, its configuration (“System State” in Windows) and other system information such as partition table, etc.

    Now looking at the above, it is obvious that Dropbox can only be considered for data in the first and second categories. And even in second category, some special folders (e.g. C:\Program Files) can’t even be put inside your Dropbox folder. And those which can be, you are likely to have problems during restores. With many interlinked files, how are you going to find a logically consistent set of interlinked files as it existed at a particular historic point in time?

    A true backup solution such as ZCB, on the other hand, backs up almost all the above categories of data (ZCB backups Windows system state though not the operating system and boot loader/partitioning information), and the backup archives represent logical and consistent states at particular points in time.

  2. Modification/Deletion of original copy of data: A true backup solution never modifies the original copy of data, let alone deleting it. In fact even changing a file’s meta-data (archival bit, modification time etc) has been considered unacceptable by many backup administrators, since that may interfere with some other installed applications.

    But since the primary goal of Dropbox is to “synchronize” data across multiple machines, it will do all which is necessary to accomplish this goal. So if a file gets accidently deleted or corrupted on one system, Dropbox will gleefully and promptly propagate that accident to all the shared machines.This is obviously a serious problem and hence in its paid versions, Dropbox offers an “unlimited undo history” feature to allow you to undelete files. Though this surely helps, but from Disaster Recovery standpoint it still is a risky situation, since this would mean that you have lost all your local copies and now have only one remaining copy of your original data. What’s worse - it is only available on the cloud, so if you need it when you have no or poor internet connectivity, you are out of luck.

    On the other hand, a true cloud backup solution such as ZCB supports smart redundancy options where you can keep backup data on local as well as cloud storage. Since you will have 3 copies of your data (original + 2 separate copies), even if you accidently delete your original copy of file you still have two redundant copies to restore from.

  3. Security: The tricky thing about security is that it’s like insurance – you may not care for it in steady state but it can be catastrophic when something goes wrong. And security has been the number one reason why Dropbox is still unwelcome in many enterprises today. Some issues:
    1. True data privacy: Dropbox encrypts your data on the Amazon S3 cloud using an encryption key which is unique to your Dropbox account. Also note that this encryption key is known to Dropbox. This means two things. First, your data is not truly private as Dropbox personnel can potentially see your data (Of course, we believe that this is unlikely). Second, it means you can’t have any data privacy between two of your users sharing the same Dropbox account.

      The only way out here would be to use a separate file/volume level encryption tool on top of Dropbox (such as TrueCrypt). But in addition to burdening your users with new workflows related to encryption/decryption, this would most probably also make the Dropbox synchronizations inefficient, thus defeating the whole purpose of using Dropbox in first place. I recommend checking out the experiences of the commenters on this blog for the gory details of such problems if you are indeed thinking of going down this path.

      In comparison, a true backup solution like ZCB offers asymmetric encryption with the user generated certificates, making it virtually impossible for anyone else to see your encrypted data.

    2. The disadvantage of being a public “data sharing” service: Dropbox was designed to support data exchanges among multiple devices and multiple users over the internet. You can imagine that such a service needs to have somewhat relaxed rules when it comes to authentication, access rules, open ports, etc. Dropbox has already had its share of such issues – see this page and this page for examples.

    Again, in contrast, a true backup application such as ZCB has much more tighter security mechanisms. It can securely encrypt your data with user-generated keys as soon it is backed up, can send the data over a SSL tunnel to the cloud which is protected by multiple layers of authentication for gaining access. This ensures that your backup data is safe and secure; irrespective of its location - on local disk or cloud.

  4. Flexibility in choosing data retention policy: Choosing retention policy is a very important decision variable for your Disaster Recovery plan as it decides the oldest historic time you can restore to and has direct implication on your storage costs.But since Dropbox has the “unlimited undo history” feature, why should one even worry about this? My doubts about the long term sustainability of a truly “unlimited” deleted file history notwithstanding, there are at least two reasons why data retention policy still is an issue with Dropbox:
    1. There is no automatic management of your storage quota – so you need to manually delete the older files manually to free up space for newer data. With multiple users working on your shared data, won’t it be challenging to identify what data is too old and delete it manually? Until of course you buy a storage quota which is multiple times of your actual storage requirement, so you never have to delete anything!
    2. In addition, many organizations need to abide with the data storage laws which stipulate which geographical location to store data and even the maximum time customer data can be retained by a business. You don’t have any such control with Dropbox.
  5. Scheduling uploads for making them efficient and unobtrusive: One key issue for many businesses while considering cloud backup is the lack of adequate internet bandwidth. During normal business hours there is only so much bandwidth which you can devote for data backups. This is why many administrators like to schedule the backup uploads to run during the idle times such as weekends.

    Telling Dropbox when to sync is not possible, and even if it is made possible, it surely defeats the whole purpose of using such a sync tool. Yet another problem (feature!) with Dropbox is that it immediately syncs every change of your data. So if you make frequent changes to your files during the day, each of them will be synced across all your devices thus wasting your bandwidth, even though you may have just wanted to make a copy of your file at the end of the day. Again, for syncing and sharing this “churn” is the necessity and one of the core benefits of Dropbox but for backups, it is nothing but “noise” which is wasteful and disruptive for your normal business network traffic.

As you can see, the above list is by no means an exhaustive one. As you go deeper into this, more such differences pop up. But the question is – is that surprising? Given that Dropbox was conceived, designed and implemented to solve the need of syncing and sharing and not robust cloud backup, isn’t trying to do the latter is more of a “hack” than a true solution?

And did I mention that we have a webinar coming up on Dec 7th, 2011 in which we will be discussing how to get the maximum out of your ZCB installation and will also be taking some of the above issues for discussion? Please register for this webinar here. Hope to see you then!

-Nikunj

Introducing ZCB 4 – Next Generation Cloud Backup!

Monday, August 29th, 2011

Today, we announced the immediate availability of Zmanda Cloud Backup (ZCB) 4, our comprehensive cloud backup offering for Windows servers, desktops and laptops. ZCB 4 had been under a limited beta program for past few weeks and was extensively tested by many end users and resellers. We received some great feedback which led to many improvements and bug fixes. Thank you all who participated!

ZCB 4 is a huge step forward for the idea of cloud backup. And after working with many ZCB users for a while, we say this with a lot of conviction. We took a hard look at what users wanted to achieve with cloud backup and compared that with the available solutions on the market. We identified various gaps, which are addressed in ZCB4:

  1. Flexibility of choosing where to store backup data: Users of cloud backup have different needs. Some are embracing it as an extra line of defense and hence want to backup to both on-premises disks and on the cloud. On the other hand, some users are looking at cloud storage as their primary and only backup location and hence are looking for a solution which backs up data only to the cloud.ZCB had this covered from day 1. The data was always first backed up to disk and then to cloud. The data on disk could then be deleted or retained, depending on which of the above two use cases you wanted to deploy. But we realized that we could improve it further by offering a “backup to cloud” operation which would back up your data to cloud directly without using any temporary local storage. So, if you are short on disk space or don’t want backup on disk, then this operation would be handy.


    Cloud Backup new operation

  2. Improving transfer speeds: Users who have either a lot of data to backup or less Internet bandwidth to use, are hit by a basic problem – how to transfer data to and from cloud within required time limits? We also discovered cases where users had the bandwidth available and met their part of the bargain, but the backup solution was either not capable to use the bandwidth completely or the backup provider imposed limits to the upload/download speeds for the users.ZCB never imposed any transfer limits, whatsoever, on upload/download speeds and always tried hard to maximize the throughput. In ZCB 4, we made it even better by adding support for multithreaded uploads/downloads. This feature makes ZCB use multiple concurrent connections to Amazon S3 cloud and hence unlocks the bandwidth you always had available. And true to our promise of providing flexibility to users, we have made this feature entirely configurable:

    Cloud Backup multithreading

    So by default, we use 3 concurrent connections for data transfer. If you wish you can tweak this value to experiment and find out what works best in your work environment. Higher thread count may be beneficial if you have spare bandwidth and CPU/memory resources to push or pull data.

  3. Manageability and usability: We believe usability is core to the idea of cloud backup, as it involves critical decisions about when/where/how you backup your systems. Users need to be given full freedom to make these decisions and yet it shouldn’t be hard to configure and monitor the solution. Though our users and experts always rated us high in this area, we realized that the user interface  needed to be ready to handle our planned rapid growth, both in terms of product features as well as customer use cases. So in ZCB 4, we redesigned our user interface, made many workflow improvements and made it much more intuitive and easier to use. To see it in action, you can view the new ZCB screenshots.

In addition to the above, ZCB 4 also offers:

  • Backup/Restore of selective databases in SQL Server and Exchange server
  • Differential backup of SharePoint server
  • Parallel operations across multiple backup sets
  • Extensive Reporting across multiple backup sets
  • Hundreds of other improvements

ZCB 4 is also available in German and Japanese languages. For more details on ZCB 4, please refer to the release notes page.

ZCB 4 brings to the market a comprehensive, flexible and practical cloud backup solution. Also, as we gain scale, we are also working on the pricing (in case you didn’t notice, we recently announced the 25 GB free tier, perhaps a first in the industry) to make it affordable to a bigger set of users.

We are already working very aggressively on our next releases and will soon be making some exciting announcements. If you have a suggestion for us, please do drop me a line at nikunj@zmanda.com.