A Phase Complete, Learning about Cohesity

Today marks the end of me documenting my journey of documenting my learning about Cohesity, so I thought it might be useful to recap some of the things I learned. Probably the most significant thing is that simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. Making a product that is easy to use for complex requirements requires focus; it is easy to get caught up in the minute details and end up missing the ease of use. With Cohesity, I found that features are easy to use, and the amount of time I spent with the Cohesity console was less than I expected. I liked that I could reuse the Protection Policies across different data sources. Even restores are simple due to the universal search feature, especially helpful when users only know the name of a file, not where the directory where they saved it before deleting their important version. I also found a lot of breadth in Cohesity; for a single product company, the product does a lot fo different things. Data protection, as well as data storage with protection. Protection for VMs, SaaS (Office365), and protection for physical servers. I barely scratched the surface of using the Public Cloud with Cohesity since I only used AWS as storage expansion for my Cohesity cluster. I haven’t done their migration from on-premises, DevOps integration or DR to the cloud. You can find all of the videos and blog posts about my Cohesity learning experience on my Cohesity page.

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AWS Surprises – No VM Console Access

In a vSphere environment, connecting to the “physical” console of a VM is natural. Whether you need to change the BIOS settings or choose to boot from the network or watch the operating system boot, the VM console is a significant part of working with vSphere VMs. I was rather shocked (more AWS surprises here) that the same is not possible with AWS and EC2. There are a bunch of routine operational tasks that you cannot do with EC2 instances: no PXE booting, no attaching ISOs, and no installing your own operating system. Fundamentally, EC2 instances are always deployed from Amazon Machine Images (AMIs), which contain an installed operating system. There is no requirement to attach ISOs before boot or to boot from the network. Usually, all of our remote management is done after the operating system is up and using OS native tools such as SSH and RDP when we need access to an instance.

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AWS Surprises – Reduce your bill by giving AWS more responsibility

This article is part of my series on how AWS surprised me as I transitioned from an on-premises vSphere specialist to teaching AWS courses. In a previous life, I worked for an IT outsourcing company here in New Zealand, much like any other outsourcing company around the world we would take on your IT systems for a fee. In my experience, the more problems you get the outsourcer to manage for you, the larger the bill. It is a bit of a surprise to me that a given outcome often costs customers less to achieve with an AWS managed service than a more basic service. The more problems you hand over to AWS, usually the smaller your bill.

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Protecting Physical Servers with Cohesity

Cohesity started with data protection and management for virtual machines and can also help customers who have valuable data and applications in physical servers. Like every other physical backup product, there is an agent to install and then register with the Cohesity cluster. We will take a quick walk through this simple process. Then we will see that once the Cohesity cluster knows about your physical machines, data protection and recovery is just as simple as on virtual machines. You can watch me walk through the process in this video.

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Vendor Briefing – Formulus Black

New servers in your data center can have a lot of RAM DIMMs in them, or some RAM and some Persistent MEMory (PMEM) such as Optane DIMMs. Either way, there is a lot of fast capacity that might help solve application performance issues that are caused by slow storage. Formulus Black would like to help you by turning some DIMMs into a block device for your application. Their FORSA software takes either RAM or PMEM and makes it into a local file system with latency and throughput that are better than NVME SSDs. Your application can run directly on the Linux host, where FORSA is installed. The other option is your application inside VMs under the KVM hypervisor on that host. The VM option allows applications that require Windows to be accelerated with DIMM based storage. There are other drivers that take Optane DIMMs and make them a disk device, and other RAM disk drivers around. FORSA has some unique features around management and data services. One feature is the ability to rapidly clone a volume (usually RAM-based) to an SSD to provide data protection. Another is replicating a volume from one FORSA node to another for high availability. There is also a GUI for friendlier management and deduplication to increase the effective capacity of the high-speed volume.

I expect we will see more use of DIMM based storage when there are cost-effective options for PMEM. Increasing application (particularly database) performance is important, but finding the expertise to fix and optimize applications is expensive. Moving from the fastest NVMe SSD, you can get to DIMM attached storage can offer an order of magnitude better application performance for a relatively small increase in hardware cost. Formulus Black says that they are targeting medium-sized companies and Wall Street. The presentation I saw had some significant improvements in IOPS and 99th percentile latency, which translates into fewer storage bottlenecks. If you are struggling to get enough storage performance with local NVMe SSDs, give them a look.

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AWS Surprises – It Is Not All about VMs

This is the first in a series of posts about things that surprised me when I started to work with AWS services. This particular surprise was one of the first, back in 2013, I was still teaching VMware courses and was invited to attend some AWS training. On the first day, the trainer explained that you could deploy as much software-defined network and as many VMs as you wanted. That was all a given at the time when VMware was struggling to integrate Nicera (now NSX) with vSphere. Then my mind was blown when the instructor said that EC2 (the VM service) is not that interesting. The real fun is in the AWS services that you use to assemble applications. The next two days were spent learning about these services and labs where I actually built an application. It was just too easy, even when I started going outside the lines. The lab had the usual prescriptive guidance about how to configure everything to work as intended. I built the autoscaling group of EC2 instances that would respond to the number of requests in a queue and take input data from object storage and place results in more object storage. The lab instructions only told us to scale-out the cluster, I worked out how to configure scale-in too & managed to test that still in the lab time.

Now that I teach the AWS courses, I do see more acceptance of applications that run in VMs, the way they do on-premises. But I now talk about EC2 instances as the last resort for when you have no better way to achieve your objectives. Usually, a managed service is a better option because it requires less work from you and often because it costs less in AWS bills too. I noticed that the Developing on AWS course is very focussed on serverless application development, meaning no EC2. New applications shouldn’t require working with legacy constructs like VMs, but you can have your VMs for your older applications.

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AWS Is a Land of Surprises

As I started working with and writing about AWS, there were a few things that surprised me about how different AWS is from on-premises vSphere. As I have been teaching AWS official courses, I have continued to notice things that surprise me about AWS. I’m planning to write a separate post about each of these strange things. As I think of more strange things, this list will get longer, and I will write separate blog posts with more detail about each strange thing.

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Cohesity + Ansible = Automation Protecting Physical Servers

Ansible is an easy tool to start using for declarative configuration.  I use Ansible to make sure a small fleet of Linux VMs are configured exactly the same each time I deploy them. In my last Cohesity video and post, I showed you how to deploy the Ansible role for Cohesity and gather information about your Cohesity cluster. Today we get to the real use of Ansible, integrating the protection of a fleet of physical servers with our Cohesity platform. The playbook I created from the samples deploys the Cohesity agent, adds the physical server as a source, and then adds the source to a protection job. You can watch me copy and paste from the samples and run the playbook in this video on YouTube.

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Getting Started with The Cohesity Ansible Role

When it comes to managing a fleet of Linux boxes with minimal extra infrastructure, I am a fan of Ansible. I have written before about using PowerShell to automate working with Cohesity, that will be a good choice for vSphere and Hyper-V environments where PowerShell is the native automation platform. I have also shown how the AutoProtection feature on Cohesity allows newly created VMs to be protected based on folders, tags, or naming. But what about when you have a bunch of physical Linux boxes that you want to protect? Ansible seems a great fit, and happily, Cohesity has an Ansible role to make everything easy. Here, I look at deploying the role and retrieving information about your Cohesity cluster using the Cohesity facts function. The video of me following this process is right here if you would prefer not to read any further.

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Cohesity at Tech Field Day in 2019

Cohesity I have made a lot of walk-through and demonstrations videos as I have learnt about the Cohesity platform over the last year. We also showed you the deployment process and some architecture in the Cohesity Build Day Live event, plenty of video there too. If you would like a more structured set of presentations about the Cohesity platform and its newer features, then I suggest you take a look at their presentations at Tech Field Day. Unfortunately, I did not get to attend any of these events, hopefully I will see my Cohesity friends at Tech Field Day in 2020.

Disclosure: This post is part of my work with Cohesity.

Storage Field Day 18

Cloud Field Day 5

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