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FalconStor Continuous Data Protection Virtual Appliance

  • Editors' rating
    8.0 Excellent

Pros

  • Supplied as a preconfigured virtual machine; very easy to install
  • No space, cooling or power requirements to burden datacentre systems
  • Easy to use
  • Data can be restored to any point in time

Cons

  • Requires agent software on servers that are being protected
  • Expensive for small organisations

Launched in September, the FalconStor Continuous Data Protection Virtual Appliance (CDP VA) is a preconfigured virtual machine that runs on 64-bit VMware ESX Server systems. It provides top-end backup and recovery facilities for Microsoft Windows, Exchange and SQL servers, and Oracle databases. In our tests, we installed the CDP VA and configured protection for a Windows Server 2003 domain controller in around two hours, so it’s certainly easy to set up and use. It can protect physical servers and those running as virtual machines, and can also be used to migrate physical servers to virtual machine format.

FalconStor supplies the CDP VA on a single CD containing the virtual appliance, Windows agents for servers that are to be protected and a Java utility for managing the appliance. The CD also contains a Linux script that automatically added the CDP VA to our ESX Server and configured it to run the appliance. With the appliance registered and running on our ESX Server, we needed to configure the VA to use a suitable virtual network in our VMware environment. Next, we used the appliance's Linux console to set an IP address suitable for our LAN, and to configure the date, time and timezone. These steps were all clearly documented in the installation instructions. From this point forward we could use the graphical Java management utility to configure the CDP VA.

FalconStor's graphical management utility allows you to configure the Continuous Data Protection Virtual Appliance (CDP VA).

As the phrase suggests, 'continuous data protection' means that server administrators can restore the contents of databases or Windows file systems to any point in time covered by the CDP system. For example, to restore the C:\ drive of a Windows server, we right-clicked on the disk in the FalconStor DiskSafe agent, and selected the restore option. A dialogue box presented a calendar and allowed us to select a time and date to which to restore. A further dialogue box showed us a graph of data being written to the disk around that time, and we could zoom the graph and move a cursor over individual blocks of data that had been written at specific points in time — the time being displayed with millisecond accuracy. When we were happy with our selection, we pressed a button to begin the restore process, and a few minutes later the data had been presented to our chosen destination server as a new hard disk partition in Windows Disk Management. After assigning a drive letter to the partition, we could then browse its directories and work with the files.

It’s also possible to restore database files in this way, but due to the complexity of databases, the restored database might not work properly unless the original database had been quiesced — or halted momentarily — before the backup was taken. Thus FalconStor CDP VA comes with agents that must be installed on Exchange, SQL and Oracle servers that will quiesce the database before taking a snapshot of its contents. The entire process of quiescing and snapshotting takes about two seconds, during which time information can be retrieved from the database but cannot be added.

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Systems running Microsoft Exchange can be restored in much the same way as databases, and there’s a utility to automate the process of connecting a restored mail store to an Exchange server.

Snapshots can be taken at user-defined intervals: CDP VA can handle a maximum of 256 snapshots, so taking a snapshot every hour would enable administrators to recover a system to any hour within the last 10 days. There's no limit on the CDP capability, beyond the requirement that the appliance has sufficient storage to handle data for the required period.

The $7,999 (~£4,000) price covers 8 servers, and up to 8 further systems can be covered by purchasing extra agent licences. We’d like to see more granular pricing, which would make the system affordable for smaller organisations wishing to protect only one or two servers.

 

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