Announcing Backup Central Live!

Next month, BackupCentral.com will start coming to you.  Backup Central Live! is a series of seminars coming to at least 20 US cities in 2011.  Each seminar will feature independent content from W. Curtis Preston, as well as presentations from sponsoring vendors.  These seminars will be free to qualified end-users.

Topics covered will include the challenges of backing up and recovering:

  • Virtualized servers (e.g. VMware, Hyper-V, Xen)
  • Very large servers and data centers
  • Remote offices and laptops
  • Data retained for multiple years

We will also cover how to solve these challenges using products and services available today, including:

  • Cloud Backup Services
  • Deduplication
  • Continuous data protection (CDP)
  • Near-CDP
  • Archive software
  • Tape and its proper role

Our first five seminars will be in the following cities:

City Date Registration
Irvine, CA Jan 25   Register here
Santa Clara, CA Jan 27 Register here
Orlando, FL Feb 1 Register here
Chicago, IL Feb 3 Register here
Houston, TX Feb 8 Register here

We will announce other cities and dates as they are scheduled.  We look forward to seeing you in your own city.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are these events independent of TechTarget?

Yes.  These events are not sponsored or managed by TechTarget.  They are my own branded events.

Will you still be doing the TechTarget backup or dedupe seminars?

I will not be the featured speaker at TechTarget’s seminar series moving forward.  TechTarget and I both felt that it would be confusing to attendees and sponsors alike for me to be doing both my own branded events and their events as well.  The decision was an amicable one and I should still be speaking at Storage Decisions and writing for searchstorage.com, but I will not be speaking at their seminars.

Will the content of the seminars still be independent?

Absolutely.  The sponsors do pay a fee to exhibit and speak at the show, but they have no editorial control over my content.  My content will not be changing to anything that sounds like “product A is awesome and you should buy it.” I will continue to speak primarily about concepts and techniques rather than products.  Product specific discussions will continue to be conducted on truthinIT.com.

Attendees of past seminars will find these very familiar; however, I will be doing some things that I believe will be exciting and will enhance the experience for those attending the seminars.

What about TruthinIT.com?  Is it still moving forward?

Absolutely.  Our many customers have recognized that it is the only place where you can get real, hands-on, completely independent knowledge about how products work in the real world.  In addition, we will be enhancing the offerings of truthinIT.com this year as well.

Are you going to come to ?

Sometime soon I will be conducting research as to what additional cities to do beyond the five cites listed above.  I can answer that question once that research is done.

About Backup Central

Backup Central was founded in 1997 and is the industry’s most popular website dedicated solely to backup and recovery and tens of thousands of unique visitors visit every month to find independent information. It contains the Mr. Backup Blog, backup forums, and a wiki containing directories of backup and recovery products.

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What a difference the cloud makes

I hinted the other day on Twitter that I had some big news coming.  I’m not announcing that news just yet, but I wanted to talk about the difference between building a company 10 years ago and building one now.

The Way We Were

February 23, 2001 I found myself summarily fired from the company I was working at.  (It was not the first or last time my big fat mouth would get me in trouble.)  I then started a company called The Storage Group, which I would later sell to GlassHouse.

I needed an email system.  I need a phone system.  I needed a file server.  I needed a lab.  I needed a CRM system and a billing system.  I went out and did all kinds of research to find the best things for all of those things.

For the phone system, I chose a Windows-based PBX called Televantage.  It had a lot of really advanced features like ringing multiple extensions, following you on your cell phone, emailing you your voice mails, etc.  (All stuff google voice now does for free.)  I had to buy several thousand of dollars in PC hardware, Windows licenses, Intel Dialogic cards, and the Televantage software itself.  We then constantly maintained that thing over the next few years.  The Windows software was immediately out of date, but we were scared to death to update it.  We weren’t sure how close the “marriage” was between Televantage and the version of Windows it ran on.  We bought updated licenses of the Televantage software to resolve that issue, but then never installed it.  It was a combination of being too busy and the upgrade being a very hairy process.  (I wanted to do a parallel upgrade of such an important system, but that wasn’t technically possible, since you had to move the Dialogic cards back and forth.)  A year after I bought those licenses, GlassHouse acquired us and I handed them the phone system and the dusty Televantage CDs that were sitting on top of it. 😉  Basically we spent 3.5 years praying that the phone system would never go down.

For our CRM system we choose ACT.  We spent a few hundred dollars on buying the license and then more money with a consultant to show us how to use it.  We then maintained that and its database for the next few years. For billing we spent a few hundred dollars on QuickBooks Pro, and then maintained that and its database for the next few years.  Both of these systems did what we needed to do.

For the lab I spent thousands and thousands of dollars on used equipment.  We had dozens of small PCs whose only existence was to run one app so we could see how it would get backed up with various backup packages.  All of that required all kinds of power and cooling, of course.

Then there was the email/fileserver/firewall/VPN system.  We bought an all-in-one Linux-based system called Net Integrator.  (This company was bought in 2008 by IBM and the product is now IBM’s Lotus Foundations, according to this Wikipedia article.)  It was supposed to be Outlook-compatible, allowing us to do centralized scheduling, emailing, filing, etc. — all in one server.  It even had fully-integrated backups!  I wish I could say it was a flawless system.  The reality was that the scheduling part took ages to perfect and cost us hundreds of hours of lost work.  The system cost a few thousand dollars, which seemed like a steal compared to the cost of maintaining all of the different things that it replaced.  The reality was that it cost us more than it saved us in the long run.  (I’m sure the current version is much better, but we were early adopters.)

All of that hardware meant a dedicated server room with dedicated power and cooling.  The cooling system itself cost thousands of dollars and it’s not like running and maintaining it was free, either.

Present Day

I find myself building a new company again.  I need all the same stuff I needed back then.  The difference is how I will be making that happen.

For email and scheduling I had to choose between Google Apps and hosted Exchange.  I went with the latter oddly due to support for a Windows product on a Mac.  Google Apps doesn’t know how to do Outlook 2011 or Entourage on the Mac.  It has a plugin for Outlook on Windows but I am NOT running a VM all day long just to get email.  (I turn on Parallels only when I need to run Visio.  It’s a nice app but it sucks your battery dry.)  Exchange supports Outlook 2011 just fine, so I went with hosted Exchange with Sherweb.  It’s $8 a month per user, another $5 for ActiveSync, another $10 for BES.  I get 24×7 access to my email (including Outlook for the Web) without ever having to manage Exchange.  It’s a beautiful thing. Done.

My CRM system is salesforce.com, my billing system is Quickbooks.com — and they talk to each other.  Both of them have a monthly fee, but that yearly upgrade to latest versions of both weren’t that much cheaper than this monthly fee.  Done.

BackupCentral.com (and all my other domains) is hosted on a computer I’ve never seen either. Every once in a while I “call the guy,” and he “does stuff” (e.g. upgrade PHP).  I can even do it at 3 in the morning and it just happens within minutes.  It’s a beautiful thing.  The company is Liquidweb.com.  There are cheaper providers, but I’ve never found better service than these guys.  They do Linux or Windows based virtual or physical servers, and they all get 24×7 support.

I’m making the final decision right now on a virtual PBX system (leaning to VirtualPBX.com), but suffice it to say I will NOT be spending thousands of dollars on phone system any more  — only to need to replace it a few years later!  I won’t be using Google Voice because I want the concept of a main phone number and extensions.

I do want an onsite filer, but once I get rolling I’ll probably sync it up with a cloud service provider so my data is also safely offsite.

And the lab?  I still have the same need, but it will be met by a couple of VMware boxes. I did look into EC2, but it just seemed like I would get eaten alive with fees.  I’m OK with maintaining a couple of $1000 ESXi boxes.

What a difference the cloud makes

I mean, wow.  I had to spend about $10K in stuff just to get rolling back then.  Today I’m up and rolling in a matter of hours with a bunch of free trials, and then I just need to pay the monthly bills of those services to keep going.  I’ve got nothing to maintain, hardly anything to cool — nothing to backup — just some monthly bills to pay.

I’m liking this cloud stuff.

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What giveaway would entice you most to attend an event?

Suppose a free event was in your town and someone was trying to entice as many people to attend it as possible.  What giveaway trinket would most entice you to come?

Please take a look at the poll on the left of the site and select which option you think is most appropriate.  For example, is it more enticing to have a chance to win the much more expensive iPad, or is it more enticing to have a much greater chance to win 1 of 4, or 1 of 20 of the other giveaways.  Got it?

If you think all of my suggestions are lame, feel free to suggest your own in the comments to this article.

I appreciate your help in advance.

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My thoughts on DCIG's Buyer's Guide

Last year NexSan published a Buyer’s Guide on midrange disk arrays that was written by DCIG.  NexSan got top honors in the guide.  This week CommVault published a Buyer’s Guide on Virtualization Backup that was written by DCIG.  CommVault was given top honors in this guide.

The folks at Veeam objected to the Buyer’s Guide in their Blog. Their objections seem to boil down to the fact that CommVault does not disclose the fact that they do pay DCIG to blog for them, and that Veeam did not reply to the survey, yet they were included in the results.  This allowed CommVault to say in their press release that they won out even over independent point-products “like Veeam.”

The folks at DCIG wrote their response to those criticizing the report — sort of. I say “sort of” because the only addressed the root question of how the buyer’s guide works, without addressing the accusations that Veeam made about Veeam not participating in the survey.

This quote

“DCIG receives payment for the different services it performs for storage providers. The services that DCIG provides include blogging, case studies, product reviews, executive white papers and full-length white papers. … In the interest of being fully transparent, a number of the storage providers included in this Virtual Server Backup Software Buyer’s Guide are or have been DCIG clients. No vendors, however, whether clients or not, have been afforded preferential treatment in this Buyer’s Guide.”

This next part of the quote is where I believe the key to this whole thing really lies:

“The client relationship means that we have more complete and better knowledge of a specific vendor’s products and solutions, and that DCIG would consider their virtual server backup software for inclusion in this Buyer’s Guide.”

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Abusive ebay seller pleads guilty to Cisco fraud

Christmas came early and it’s a big ol’ package of Schadenfreude.  I first wrote about Chris Myers two years ago when I had the most abusive ebay experience ever.  Then someone contacted me a year ago to tell me that he had been indicted for fraud.  He was accused of buying counterfeit Cisco equipment from China, relabeling it with valid Cisco serial numbers that he got by hacking the Cisco website, then selling the counterfeit equipment on ebay.  It was over $1 million dollars in equipment!

Cisco and I received our early Christmas present this year when this scumbag “pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Kansas City, Kansas, to selling $1 million worth of counterfeit Cisco computer equipment.”  As part of his plea bargain, he agrees to repay the $1 million, and he will be sentenced in April.  He faces up to five years in prison and $250,000 in fines — in addition to paying back the $1 million.

Excuse me for a minute…

snoopy dancing

Peace on earth, good will toward men…

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Drobo didn't care cause I didn't have DroboCare

Update 2/16/2011: Drobo has addressed all of the issues in this post.  I talk about that here.

Sensational headline, I know.  And it’s sure to aggravate the folks over at Data Robotics.  They certainly thought my tweet of the same title was unfair. I didn’t think I was being unfair, so I did some research, and I was right!  This blog contains the results of that research, as well as some observations on the research process itself.

Here’s what happened.  I safely shutdown my DroboPro before unplugging it and moving it from one place to another in my home.  When I plugged it back in, it wouldn’t come back up.  It was lost in a continuous reboot cycle.  I knew I was past my 90 day warranty where they offer phone support, so I opened a support ticket online.  Here is how that went:

  • 11/29 6:53 PM I open the support ticket that says my unit is completely down
  • 11/29 6:53 PM It fires back an automated “did you try all these things” message.  I saw it, but I had already put in my original message that I had tried those things and they didn’t work.
  • 11/30 1:13 PM I login to the support site wondering why I haven’t heard anything. I see the ticket was in the “waiting for customer” status because I didn’t REPLY to the first “did you do all this stuff” message.
  • 12/1 12:56 PM I get a non-automated “did you try this?” message that says the same thing as the first message that I had already replied to
  • 12/3 11:25 AM I respond to the above message (I was traveling)
  • 12/6 06:11 AM They respond back they respond back with a “yeah, but did you try doing the above while switching outlets?”  (Are you SERIOUS?)  She also asked when it was purchased.
  • 12/6 08:50 AM I respond saying, YES, I tried that and NO, it didn’t fix it.  I explain that it was a complimentary unit.
  • 12/6 9:50 AM  What number should we call you at?
  • 12/6 1 PM  I give them my digits
  • 12/6 1:43 PM They close the ticket and open an RMA case
  • 12/8 10 AM  I receive a call from the RMA admin explaining how things are going to work

That’s when things went off the rails.  Never mind it’s been almost ten days since I opened the darn ticket.  Never mind I’m completely down that whole time.  I was told that because I didn’t have DroboCare (their support contract), that I would have to ship them the defective unit back, after which they will ship me a replacement unit.

I explain to the rep how I’ve been down almost 10 days, due entirely to the Draconian nature of their online support process.  I explain also that I’m on the road and that forcing me to ship the unit this way is going to add three-four more days to the process.  I asked if there was anything he could do.  He spoke to their manager and he said, “No.”

I suppose at this point I could have played the “don’t you know who I am?” card.  Perhaps if they knew I was a blogger with a website that over 60,000 people visit per month, they might have done differently.  But I decided to just let the “normal” support experience play out.  At this point I am awaiting my return trip home so I can ship it to them.

After hanging up with them, I tweeted something essentially the same as the title of this blog.  Most of my fellow bloggers felt my pain. Only a blogger who also happens to work at a vendor came to Drobo’s defense.  Then @Drobo responded saying “ou’re being unfair. What company services products that are not under service contract. Sorry you don’t want to buy one.”  I disagreed.  We went back and forth and the result is that they think what they’re doing is fine and I think they have no idea how to support a customer that isn’t willing to pay for a support contract.

There are all kinds of customers like that.  The first group is SMB customers with limited budget. They think very much like consumers that don’t understand why they should pay $200 a year just in case their $1200 product doesn’t work.  Large businesses think more about risk and know that downtime is everything.  So they’re willing to pay 15+% a year to make sure things are fixed as quickly as they can be when they’re broken.  Customers and SMBs believe that they’ll replace it if it’s broken, and they’ll live with the downtime.

I found myself wondering if other companies in this space (SMB RAID storage) had similar policies, so I did some research.  Here’s how THAT went.

I went to Iomega’s website and within a few seconds was chatting online with a pre-sales support person, Jon.  He explained that their policy was similar to Drobo’s.  If you want advanced replacement you need to buy their support contract.  BUT if you buy the contract, you get 24×7 phone support?  (With Drobo you get business-hours phone support.)

I then went to Netgear’s site. There was no chat icon, but there was a pre-sales support number.  I called it and was immediately connected to… someone in India via a VOIP connection.  We could understand each other just fine when the line was working.  Sigh.  But, I found out that they do provide advanced replacement for products under warranty.  They have either ground of next-business-day.  They take your credit card, charge you for shipping both ways ($20 for ground, $30 for NBD) and then if you don’t return the defective unit in 10 days, you bought it.

I looked into Qnap and Cisco, but they both say that your support comes from your resellers. Since the point of this blog was support, I’m leaving them out.

I talked to Synology via Twitter and Jason told me they have free tech support for the life of the product and advanced replacement just like Netgear. Give them a credit card and it’s on its way.  He also said the units have a 1-5 year warranty depending on the product.

I also looked into Buffalo Technology’s products and called their pre-sales support line and talked to someone named Cameron.  This phone call was everything the Netgear call was not.  No weird delays or fuzziness in the call, and there was no one named Aamod saying his name was Steve.  Cameron explained that they had — wait for it — free 24×7 phone support for the life of their products at no additional charge!  And, yes, they did indeed offer advanced replacement just like Netgear and Synology.

Hey @Drobo.  The answer to your question is Netgear, Synology, and Buffalo Technology.  Outside of your industry (but also SMB and consumer products), my Bose headset, Plantronics Bluetooth headset, and my Western Digital portable hard drive were all recently replaced via advanced replacement.  It costs no more to do advanced replacement than it does to do it the other way, but the customer experience is very different.

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Is a whitebox or branded box better for a VMware lab?

I’m going to solve this age-old question once and for all.  Is it better to buy a whitebox or a branded box for your VMware server?  Alright, you caught me.  There’s no way I’m going to solve that question, but I am going to pit two or thee configs against each other and see how it comes out.  Maybe we’ll all learn something.

What’s the backup angle?  I need to build a VMware/Hyper-V lab again, and I wanted to do it right this time.  I’m thinking about buying 2-3 servers, so cost is very important. But I also want everything to be fully supported in VMware/Hyper-V land.

So it was with great interest that I read Philip Jaenke’s blog post about his VMware whitebox config he calls the Baby Dragon. I started discussing this on Twitter last night, and next thing I know I was in way over my head as a third party watching Philip Jaenke and Eric Siebert argue why their config was the best.  (I wish I knew a better way of capturing a three-way convo like this so I could put it in this blog entry.)  Philip was, of course, arguing on behalf of the Baby Dragon, and Eric was arguing for the HP ML110.  I thought both of them made really good points, so I thought I would summarize them here.

The Baby Dragon is a pretty sweet setup based on a SuperMicro X8SIL-F motherboard (that includes a dual-ported Intel 82574L GbE controller), an Intel Xeon X3450 CPU, 16 GB of RAM, and a 300 GB 10K RPM SATA drive.  He buys best-of-breed components from the cheapest place (with good customer service) he can find, and puts them together himself.  He says that his config is fully supported within VMware, and can do anything you need VMware to do, including a lot of the advanced stuff I’ve never even heard of.  And, he says, it’s really quiet (32dBA) and not too power hungry (300 watts).  The total price for the Baby Dragon is $1388.

Enter Eric Siebert and his favorite branded box, the HP ML110. The base system comes with a Xeon X3440 CPU and 2 GB of RAM, and a 250 GB 7500 RPM SATA drive, and you can have that for $599 on Amazon, Newegg, and some other sources.  He can then add up to 16 GB of RAM, but chooses instead to put 8 GB of RAM and a 64 GB SSD drive on which he places the vswp files.  He also adds an Intel Pro Dual-Port GbE NIC.  He gets all that for $1096.

Let me put these side-by-side.  The Baby Dragon is as Philip described it in his blog with links to the various parts and where he buys them.  Note that it has 16 GB of RAM, a 300 GB 10K drive, and a 2.66 GHz CPU.  The first HP ML110 is how Eric would configure things, with the included 250 GB 7500 RPM SATA drive, 8 GB of RAM (2 GB included, 6 GB extra), then using a 64 GB SSD drive and an extra dual GbE NIC.  The third config is to try and match the Baby Dragon’s specs as close as possible with HP branded hardware by going ahead and buying the 16 GB of RAM (throwing away the included 2 GB), adding the 300 GB 10K RPM drive, and a 1 yr HP Lights-Our license that matches functionality that Philip mentioned is included in the Baby Dragon.  (Eric said he really didn’t need this functionality, but felt that if he wanted it, he could get a complimentary blogger license from HP.  Philip didn’t think that was fair and neither did I, so I left that out of the comparison below.)

Part Baby Dragon Cost HP ML110 w/SSD Cost HP ML110 Closer to Baby Dragon Cost
Case Lian-Li V351B MicroATX $100 HP Unknown Inc HP Unknown Inc
MBD Supermicro X8SIL-F $190 HP Unknown Inc HP Unknown Inc
CPU Intel Xeon X3450 (2.66GHz) $245 Xeon X3440 (2.53GHz) Inc Xeon X3440 (2.53 GHz) Inc
Pwr Seasonic M12II Bronze (520W) $91 HP Unknown (300W) Inc HP Unknown (300W) Inc
Fan 2x Gelid Silent 12 PWM $24 1 HP Unknown Inc 1 HP Unknown Inc
RAM 16 GB Hynix (Supermicro) 4GB DDR3-1066 $568 2 GB DDR3-1066 Inc 2 GB DDR3-1066 Inc
Disk WD VelociRaptor (300GB,10K,SATA2) $170 Unknown (250 GB, 7500, SATA2) Inc Unknown (250 GB, 7500, SATA2) Inc
CD-ROM None (Could have 16X CD-RW for $18) N/A 16X SATA DVD-RW Inc 16X SATA DVD-RW Inc
NIC Imbedded Dual Intel 82574L GbE NICs Inc Imbedded NC107i PCI-X GbE Inc Imbedded NC107i PCI-X GbE Inc
System N/A N/A HP ProLiant ML110 G6 Intel X3440 $599 HP ProLiant ML110 G6 Intel X3440 $599
RAM N/A N/A 4 GB DDR3-1066 $141 16 GB Hynix (Supermicro) 4GB DDR3-1066 $568
RAM N/A N/A 2 GB DDR3-1066 $100 N/A N/A
SSD None N/A Kingston SSDNow SNV425-S2/64GB $125 N/A N/A
NIC N/A N/A Intel Pro Dual-Port GbE NIC $131 Intel Pro Dual-Port GbE NIC $131
Disk None N/A N/A N/A WD VelociRaptor (300GB,10K,SATA2) $170
iLO N/A Inc None N/A HP Lights-Out 100i (LO100i) 1 yr $229
Onsite Not Available N/A 1 yr free onsite parts replacement $0 1 yr free onsite parts replacement $0
Total $1388 $1096 $1697

It seems to me that a big part of this comes down to whatever functionality is provided by the HP Lights-Out program and whether that’s important to you or not.  Eric says for his lab of a few servers it’s a lot of money for something he rarely uses and really doesn’t need when he might need.  He said he’s “not that lazy,” and that all he had to do when he rebuilt his box was swap a cable or two.  If you want that functionality (I’m still not sure what it is), then it would seem that the Baby Dragon would be the cheapest way to get that.  If you don’t want it, and you took the cost of it out of the third column, you have two systems that are almost identical and cost almost exactly the same: one with a name brand supported by a major vendor and one that is not.

Eric makes a pretty compelling argument about having one vendor to call (or a vendor to call at all), and that said vendor (HP) provides onsite support for a year for free.  That is a really nice thing to have, and you can buy additional years for $110 each if you want to.

Eric points out what he feels is a danger in going down the whitebox route.  He feels that VMware has a rep of making changes, and making sure that their fully supported vendors are OK, but that they don’t really care about whitebox vendors.  Philip feels that this is nonsense and FUD, and points out that the important parts of his config are indeed on the supported list.  (The numbers don’t quite match up, but he says there’s an explanation for that.)

Philip’s main argument is that he gets much more “bang for the buck.”  He says he gets more functionality and power for his $1388 than Eric does for his $1096.  But then Eric says that the 10K RPM drive really doesn’t help much because any serious lab has their VMDK file stored externally and the ESX boot drive really isn’t used that much.

Philip has done a phenomenal job building the Baby Dragon box.  It’s a best-of-breed box (compared with all the no-name components of the HP box) and it probably really screams.  I also think Eric’s config (if you don’t need the Lights Out stuff like he says he doesn’t) is indeed cheaper by almost $300, is fully supported by HP, and could actually be faster if you have more than several GB of vswp files.

Like I said, I solved this argument once and for all. 😉

What do you think?

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