An extra level of protection from Protect.

It seems like quite a while since I’ve written a blog piece, but I’ve been galvanised into action by some new features that were introduced into Protect 8.1.5 while I recently spent some time away from work…

Spectrum Protect 8.1.5 will now detect “suspicious activity” in your clients. Or to put it more simply – Protect will help to protect you against ransomware attacks as they start. That is the period where the ransomware is quietly encrypting away and spreading over your network but is still un-noticed by your production users.

security notifications

To achieve this Protect will now notify you in the Operations Centre overview screen and in a new Security Notification screen of in-expected changes to various metrics. The metrics are tracked, averaged over time and include increase/decrease of the amount of data/number of files being backed up and decreases in the dedupe ratio. These all being indicative of something making changes en-masse to the underlying filesystem. You can configure the server to email your server team or application owners directly if their servers have warnings pop up against them.

Pretty cool huh?

You can see a short video by Tricia Jiang here:

Spectrum Protect Plus 10.1.1

It’s been out a little while now and it’s about time I said something about Spectrum Protect Plus 10.1.1. The new release has had a large dump of new features liberally spread across it, building a more compelling solution on top of the initial 10.1.0 release.

Top amongst these features is greatly enhanced MS SQL Server support and the addition of Oracle Support. However unlike many of the other similar products on the market SPP is differentiating itself here. The support for MSSQL and Oracle is not tied to VMs, it’s for physical machines and even clusters as well. Agentless (or rather – you don’t have to manually install an agent), with progressive incremental backups, instant restores, including point-in-time restores and data re-use features.

vSnap replication is another new addition of note, which now allows for replication of images between two vSnap servers. This is combined with a new concept of “sites” which allows different vSnaps to be assigned to a “site” allowing a more easy visualisation of the infrastructure. Replicating from Prod to DR, being more conceptually easy than between two different server names.

A key strength in the new replication system is that the frequency can be as low as 5 minutes, allowing for high frequency, short retention backups to be moved over to DR. This effectively replaces the hypervisor to hypervisor VM replication features in a number of similar products with a true backup. The backed up VM can be started at the remote site with an instant restore. Instant restore being the expected default for SPP restore operations.

More information can be found here:

A free trial version can be downloaded here:

So what is Spectrum NAS?

Ok, so what is Spectrum NAS? Where does it fit into the Spectrum Software Defined Storage Portfolio? What makes it different from my hardware NAS? Why should I care?

What is Spectrum NAS?

Spectrum NAS is a newly announced scale-out, software defined NAS system, which runs on bare metal “storage rich” x86 servers, or as virtual appliances on various different hypervisors. The system provides NFS and CIFS/SMB file shares with all the usual directory integration.


Where does it fit in the Spectrum SDS Portfolio?

It’s become apparent that the Spectrum SDS Portfolio didn’t really do simple NAS in the way in which customers want it. Sure, if you want to have a globally distributed single name-space, running a bajillion different protocols across tens of thousands of nodes, Spectrum Scale is better than anything else on the market, but Scale doesn’t really play nicely as a simple NAS environment. Of course, it’s good at NAS protocols, NFS, SMB, etc.  but they’re really targeted as large data stores with archival or HPC types of use cases, rather than file/home directory type storage. Spectrum NAS is therefore targeted at customers who wish to have a simple to configure and maintain NAS, but one which is highly functional, while also scaling up to customers such as service providers, who are in need of similarly simple hands-off NAS at massive scale, for their customers’ multiple different use cases.


What makes it different from my hardware NAS?

Spectrum NAS is different to the NAS implementations you’ve dealt with before. IBM haven’t just implemented SAMBA over the top of some shonky FOSS scale-out filesystem. This is an entirely new product. The SMB support, for instance, implements 89% of the protocol specification, compared with Microsoft’s 91% and SAMBA at somewhere below 50%.

Spectrum NAS can tolerate failure without requiring connections to be re-made, it is not a bog standard dual controller failover system. No loss of communications to critical applications, in the event of a trivial failure of network or node.

Spectrum NAS implements true erasure coding, for hardware redundancy. You can even select your preferred level of erasure coding, rather than being stuck with a one-size fists all enforced EC level.

Available bandwidth as well as storage scale as new nodes are added.

Spectrum NAS can upgrade hardware seamlessly without the requirement to restart or replicate to another system. New nodes can be brought into the cluster and old ones ejected for smooth upgrades.

Crucially though – This is a NAS where you’re not trapped with a hardware vendor – you can buy the hardware from whoever you want and mix and match as you desire!

Spectrum NAS is not just made for bog standard file serving, you can also run hypervisors’ VMs from it and sophisticated applications such as Exchange or MSSQL have the protocol features they need.


Why should I care?

Spectrum NAS is not just another gateway in front of an object store, or a monolithic array which can form a cluster with other monolithic arrays, it’s a fully featured, fully software defined NAS. You can buy what you want, when you want it and scale linearly with excellent support for many different NAS use cases.


More information can be found here:

Announcing Spectrum Scale 5.0

Late last year Spectrum Scale 5.0 was released, this is the first major version of Scale (formerly known as GPFS) for quite some time and represents some major updates to the system. This includes making day-to-day operation far easier via GUI developments and large improvements to installation.

For those who don’t know Scale is a fully software defined highly configurable, scale-out storage system, which is used in archive, data protection storage, cloud object storage, NAS, Hadoop, medical and HPC environments. You don’t need to buy hardware from IBM, as with many competitors’ systems, but IBM do produce hardware that it can be run on – don’t think of this as an appliance though, rather an assured performance platform. Unlike an appliance, once you’re finished with the hardware, you can do what you want with it, it’s not locked to the software. Scale can also be run on your own hardware, in the cloud or extended across multiple sites and cloud.

As part of the Spectrum Storage Suite, Scale is tightly integrated with the other Suite packages. For example: Scale has backup integration with Protect, however Protect can also integrate with Scale as storage. Scale can be monitored by Control, but also perform HSM to Cloud Object Storage and/or Archive…

IBM’s announcement and new features can be found here:

There’s a really large amount of new features, it’s worth a look.


Looking at Scale-Out PBBAs? Beware of hidden costs!

I’ve been doing some research into various of the new generation of Scale-Out backup products – you know the ones, they’re commodity Intel based servers with some disks and some flash cache. They’re dedicated to their backup software, not a scale-out product like IBM’s Spectrum Scale, or the various competitor general purpose scale-out systems. These appliances are sold with many promises, including:

  • Erasure coding means hardware redundancy and fast disk rebuilds
  • Ease of infrastructure expansion – just add new nodes
  • Massive Scale-out, near limitless data storage
  • Enormous bandwidth for ingest

However, upon closer inspection these are all features available from IBM in both hardware and Spectrum software defined storage.

A backup system can run on storage presented by Spectrum Scale, Accelerate or Virtualise, or use a hardware array such as Storwize v5000. All these systems can be dynamically expanded with just a few mouse clicks, all the while remaining online and delivering dRAID protected disks (or similar) for fast rebuild and hardware redundancy. These systems can scale out massively to multi PB size and even larger. Servers can be implemented with multiple teamed NICs to deliver huge bandwidth. Essentially all the “unique” features of the new generation of PBBA are covered off however, as we dive deeper we start to come across a major disadvantage of the new generation of PBBAs.

Scale-out PBBAs’ dirty little secret

Power consumption. I looked at three of the market leaders’ example configurations and it’s not pretty:

                               Usable Storage        Power Consumption
Company 1          32TB                           1.7KW (average)
Company 2          72TB                           1.99KW (max)
Company 3          205TB                        4.8KW (max)

To hold this up to a comparison with IBM, I looked at a Lenovo SR630, with 2x26core Xeons @ 2.1GHz, with 256GB RAM (ie: enough to run virtualised Spectrum Protect and Protect Plus on the same box) with storage presented from a single Storwize v5000 shelf, it looks like this:

                                                   Usable Storage   Power Consumption
V5000 SSD & SR630               245TB                    329W (average)
V5000 SAS NL & SR630         80TB                     534W (average)

IBM Data Protection competitors’ new generation scale-out PBBAs use an absolute minimum of three times the power.

And we haven’t even looked at cooling yet…

Spectrum Protect Suite 8.1.4 Announcement

The Spectrum Protect Suite (not to be confused with Spectrum Storage Suite…) has been announced. New features include

  • Simple, automated, and customizable operational reporting in the operations center
  • Simplified configuration with quicker time to value for virtual environments
  • Faster recoveries when restoring multiple virtual machines for VMware
  • Ability to restore Microsoft™ SQL Server Volume Shadow Copy Service (VSS) backups to alternate instances
  • Automated creation of SQL database clones through storage snapshots
  • Expanded policy options for SAP HANA backups
  • Simplified configuration and expanded support for Oracle with Spectrum Protect Snapshot
  • Space management support for Linux® on Power® Little Endian
  • New enhancements for space management on UNIX® and Linux and Microsoft Windows™

Full details can be found here: