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Cobalt Iron Targets IBM i with New VTL Offering

By November 14, 2018 Editorial

Originally published by IT Jungle, The 400

Cobalt Iron yesterday unveiled a new analytics-infused virtual tape library (VTL) solution that it says will optimize and bring IBM i backup and recovery operations into sync with the rest of the enterprise. The offering lets IBM i users back up their data to anywhere – including on-premise and the cloud backups, with automated replication in between — but without giving up IBM i-specific features delivered through existing tools like BRMS and native commands.

Richard Spurlock founded Cobalt Iron five years ago with a plan to modernize backup and recovery. He saw that enterprises were spending too much time and money dealing with dedicated solutions, so the company delivered a solution called Compass® that provides a centralized point for managing backups and recovery across a range of popular platforms, file systems, and databases.

Delivered either as software or as an appliance (pre-loaded onto hardware like an IBM Storwize device), Compass is designed to automate many of the administrative tasks that must otherwise be carried out by people. That includes not just managing the backup policies and provisioning new resources, but managing the underlying servers and storage infrastructure (VIOS, anyone?) and even monitoring data replication to disaster recovery sites in complex hybrid scenarios spanning on-premise and public (or private) clouds.

The key ingredient that Cobalt Iron brought to the equation – what Spurlock says differentiates Compass and makes it a unique offering in the space – is its use of analytics.

“Data protection is the largest application in the enterprise. It’s the most brutal. It touches the most systems and the most applications, and has to do the most work in the shortest period of time,” Spurlock tells IT Jungle. “Analytics drives all that and allows us to constantly tune and optimize the layers of the systems, the locations of the systems, and deliver the right policies and the right restore requirements and the right data when customers need it.

“Analytics is why Cobalt Iron is here.”

So far, the Lawrence, Kansas, company has attracted customer across 44 countries. At least one of its customers is backing up in excess of 1 petabyte of data using Compass, while several have 100 terabytes or more. The company boasts IBM and Mainline Information Systems as business partners, and supports IBM’s cloud-based object storage offering, as well as those from cloud giants Amazon and Google.

In September, Cobalt Iron launched Compass 4.1, which nominally brought support for the IBM i operating system, along with other Power Systems platforms. However, IBM i customers ostensibly will get more functionality with the new VTL data ingest option that was announced yesterday.

According to Cobalt Iron, the VTL data ingest path will make it even easier to connect Compass to non-standard host systems like IBM i servers. By emulating an LTO drive or library (or even other VTLs like Data Domains), Compass is able to incorporate native IBM i backup routines into the Compass scheme, without giving up control at the local level.

“We don’t change the current iSeries backup and restore operations,” Spurlock says.

“In that sense, it’s nice because it seamless fits into iSeries operations, whether it’s RobotSAVE, BRMS, or a combination of BRMS with SAVE21, SAVESYS, or SAVESEC. It’s the same with recovery. We don’t change that.”

The goal is to automate everything in the data protection scheme, except for the “last mile” of connectivity into IBM i, AIX, VMS, HP-UX, Power Linux, and HP3000 hosts. Customers are loathe to give up control into the last mile, and will take care of those requirements themselves, Spurlock says.

“What happens in the last mile the customer knows about. The customers understand the requirements as they ebb and flow through time,” Spurlock says. “Everything but the last mile is managed by Compass.”

Once the system is configured, customers can rely on Compass to manage the backup requirements. According to Spurlock, this will finally give IBM i shops the advantages of a modern, optimized backup and recovery environment that other platforms are starting to enjoy, but without giving up local control.

Cobalt Iron says its new VTL option will simplify data protection operations for IBM i shops.

“What we observe today and what we’ve seen in patterns for 30-plus years, is platform-specific, product-specific tools and technology, and heavy complexity from a storage, system, and software perspective,” he says. “There are core systems that frankly are left outside of the data protection landscape. They’re not first-class citizens. And from our perspective, these critical applications and platforms that customers need defining and participating in core enterprise-class data protection.”

For example, one of the company’s IBM i customers is a hospital network with more than 200 facilities. “Their critical systems – inpatient on-boarding, financial systems, patient tracking and so on — is all delivered on iSeries. To be able to protect this cohesively with the rest of the enterprise, which is Windows, Linux, and virtualization and cloud resources, is a key component of what customers should be experiencing.”

Part of that modern data protection experience involves Compass Commander, which is Cobalt Iron’s “single pane of glass” for monitoring backup and recovery operations. While customers want to be insulated from some of the underlying complexity in data protection, they still demand control at the high level.

Delivering good performance is also part of the equation, particularly when customers back up data to public clouds. “The key is not only around sovereignty and control, but it’s also performance,” Spurlock says. “I can talk about cloud object storage all day long, but during recovery on a cloud object storage, its’ just not the fastest or fanciest thing on the planet. So in a lot of cases, that short term, priority-restore class data stays on prem in an economical performance tier, like an IBM Storwize storage array. But longer term data can live elsewhere, offsite, for slower recovery requirements.”

Cobalt Iron prices its solution based on the amount of data being ingested into its system. It offers daily ingest tiers, from 0 TB up to 65TB, to match a range of backup sizes. Learn more about Cobalt Iron's solution, Compass®.

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