Moving systems and data to cloud

by Arun Shankar   28 March, 2017
Moving systems and data to cloud

John Zanni, Acronis Chief Marketing Officer and Senior Vice President Channel and Cloud Strategy.

Most enterprise organisations in the region have a mixed portfolio of physical servers and virtual machines as well as multiple versions of operating systems, system configurations, applications and databases. The diversity of system configurations, operating systems, applications is likely to be even more in small and medium enterprises. However, all types of organisations face the same challenges of executing backups of their data and increasingly being able to restore that data in a prompt and effective fashion.

This requirement is often not as straightforward as it appears. While a host of on-premises and cloud solutions exist to take backups of data, it is when an organisation is under pressure to restore the data within a time bound window, that shortcomings become visible and limitations suddenly appear. Market movement towards an always-on business is putting pressure on all types of organisation to be able to operate without interruption and recover their operations also without interruption. As a consequence, the concept of recovering IT assets, remotely and without pre-conditions to the location and configuration of the original system has also become very fundamental.

While backup and restore of data has been available for some time, solution to backup systems end to end, and remotely restore the systems are more limited. Taking a snapshot image of a system includes the hardware configuration, operating system, registry, data, applications, user settings, access rights, user preferences, browsing histories, and so on. Each workload is linked to a specific hardware or virtual machine where it is stored. Typically, in a system there is no separation between the production workload and the operating system platform and its settings.

Restoring a system remotely is therefore not as straight forward as it appears. Things get more complicated when the system at the other end, where the restore is happening or the recovery location, does not match the configuration of the original system where an incident may have happened. This gets further exacerbated if the original system was a physical machine and the restore system is a virtual machine, or the reverse.

System restore in general can include the following possibilities: between different hardware configurations and operating systems, between different types of systems that is physical and virtual, and all combinations in between.

Global cloud storage vendor Acronis, provides such a method that lets an organisation easily migrate workloads and production systems, whether they are physical or virtual, to other physical or virtual platforms, interchangeably. The primary solution is Acronis Backup 12 that protects data across the following mixed environments: Microsoft Windows and Linux servers, virtual VMware and Microsoft Hyper-V, cloud Microsoft Office 365 mailboxes, Azure virtual machines, Amazon EC2 instances, Microsoft Exchange, SQL Server, SharePoint, and Active Directory applications, local and remote Microsoft Windows and Mac workstations and laptops, iPhone, iPad, and Android devices.

Points out John Zanni, Acronis Chief Marketing Officer and Senior Vice President Channel and Cloud Strategy, it is incorrect to assume that a backup taken from a local system will be restored on an identical system remotely. Not only is it likely that the hardware and operating configurations will be different, but even the end-user policies on the recovery system may be different.

“Our backup is based on image snapshot technology, of everything that is working, every machine, physical and virtual servers. This is possible to a granular level.” This snapshot image, whether of one system or the entire datacentre, is saved locally on-premises, at a scheduled date and time. It can then be saved remotely at other physical locations or in the cloud in a hot standby fashion.

End-user control of backup and restore operations are managed through the Acronis Backup administrative console either on-premises or from the cloud, managing physical, virtual, and cloud machines locally or remotely. The console can assign backup plans to one or more machines, review status updates, and receive alerts, all from a single console. Acronis Backup solution allows data to be replicated from physical to virtual machines and the reverse, physical to physical machines, and virtual to virtual machines, and not necessarily of the same vendor or configuration.

The Acronis Backup administrative console is a key part of the Acronis solution and extends the physical machine to the virtual machine and the cloud as well. “Our core competency is through the management of data and to be able to protect the data. As an IT administrator I really love it since I have one console for physical, virtual, cloud, and they are interoperable. I can move data from physical to virtual to cloud with a single console,” explains Zanni.

The Acronis Backup solution and Acronis Cloud storage is available from multiple datacentres across the world. Large enterprises have the choice of selecting in which datacentre to back-up their Acronis Image and data in order to comply with their own business continuity policies. For small and medium enterprises, Acronis has been offsetting the initial cost of cloud storage in multiples of 1 Terabyte to encourage data migration to the cloud.


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End-user benefits

  • Any-to-any migration by storing data in unified backup format regardless of source system
  • Application-aware restore providing granular recovery for Microsoft Exchange Server, Microsoft SQL Server, SharePoint, Active Directory
  • Backup conversion to one of seven virtual machine formats
  • Business continuity through safe recovery improving IT and user productivity
  • Capture everything using a patented disk and virtual machine image backup
  • Complete application migration using application-aware restore recovery of Microsoft Exchange Server, Microsoft SQL Server, SharePoint, Active Directory
  • Do not lock your organisation into a single hardware or virtual platform.
  • Flexible, reliable P2P, P2V, V2V, V2P migrations
  • Managing heterogeneous IT environment with complex physical, virtual, storage, cloud computing
  • Migrating a complete system to any physical or virtual machine
  • Migrating an entire server onto bare-metal hardware and minimise downtime
  • Migrating data to the same or different hypervisor
  • Protecting the hypervisor host of the entire virtual environment
  • Protecting virtual machines with agentless backup running from hypervisor level
  • Protection of data in transit by encryption using military grade AES-256 encryption
  • Protection of virtual machines on any hypervisor including VMware, Microsoft Hyper-V, Citrix XenServer, Red Hat Enterprise Virtualisation, Linux KVM and Oracle VM Server
  • Seamless migration of production workloads from any platform to any platform
  • Supporting disaster recovery and system replication, improving IT productivity, improving data recovery time, reducing management complexity
  • WAN optimisation with built-in, block-level, source data deduplication and compression, reduced backup data volumes, optimised speed, reduced storage requirements, minimised network loads

For on-premises end-user installations, Acronis follows a license based pricing approach. When there is cloud based backup, the pricing changes and is dependent on storage space consumed by the end-user. The same pricing approach is used by Acronis with its regional channel partners. Acronis uses a two-tier channel structure to reach its commercial and business end-customers, while 100% of its sales is indirect in the region.

Channel partners that are selling Acronis Backup software on-premises use a license based payment approach with the storage space provided for by the end-user. However, when the end-user is backing up the Acronis Image into the Acronis Cloud and using the Acronis Backup administrative console to synchronise between onsite and cloud folders, the pricing used by channel partners is based on storage space consumed in the Acronis Cloud.

Since all the Acronis global datacenters are based outside the Middle East and Africa region, regional Acronis channel partners are moving towards a third model of pricing and service offering. Channel partners can now combine the Acronis Backup administrative console with localised cloud storage within the country or within the region, using local and regional service providers and datacenters.

In this case also, the unit of pricing will remain as the storage space consumed through the channel partner outside the Acronis Cloud. However, the unit value of the pricing charged by Acronis to the channel partner will be less in comparison to when the Acronis Cloud is used by the end-customer.

“They do not have to use our datacentre. They can use a datacentre service provider that is local, or public cloud, or AWS, Google, Microsoft Azure,” adds Zanni, implying that end-customers can choose to save their data on a cloud platform of their choice. They would opt for such cloud storage, building their disaster recovery and business continuity capabilities, while ensuring compliance with country specific data privacy legislation.

Acronis channel partners can negotiate to buy volume space in the Acronis Cloud and slice and dice the cloud storage space using their own metrics. But for every end-user accessing storage space in the Acronis Cloud, channel partners will need to attach a unique instance of Acronis Backup administrative console. Service providers have the further option of white labelling Acronis Backup software to boost their self-branded cloud backup and disaster recovery services to enterprise customers.

“Today we are offering Acronis Backup in our datacenters. So, you can build out a virtual IT environment in our datacentre. Next year it will be enabled in service provider datacentres as well,” adds Zanni. “What we have done, we have taken that solution and we are democraticising it.” Acronis Backup will also be split into two versions – one for small businesses and the other for the middle range markets.

How should end-users cope with latency in their networks and increasing costs associated with high speed data transfer rates?

Using localised and regional datacenters is an important part of coping with network latency and availability. The next most important initiative is to have a priority schedule of which files and folders to backup into the cloud. Understanding the nature and quality of the network being provided by the service provider is also important. The backup software being used should also be smart enough to pause and continue from the last point of data transfer in case of a network interruptions.

Acronis can provide its own service level agreement built around its global datacenter operations, if it has a turnkey contract with the end-user. If the end-user has a service level agreement with a service provider, then the Acronis Backup service level agreement will terminate with this service provider. With the increasing momentum towards digital transformation in the region, for all types of businesses, Acronis and at its channel partners will continue to witness fast growth in demand for easy to use, data and cloud based solutions.


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Partnering with Scuderia Toro Rosso

A key global relationship for Acronis is its technology support for the Formula One racing team, Scuderia Toro Rosso. The Toro Rosso team has been using Acronis to blockchain-watermark the data being generated. It also plans to manage data transfers, backups and replication and comes back to Acronis with its feedback on the application.

Says Acronis’ Zanni, “How can you with the knowledge and heuristics of data get more efficient about what components you need to backup to actually recover all the data. This is why we are taking our time with the integration, because we want to deeply understand their environment and their needs, so we can learn to tune our product.” Acronis is embedding the feedback from the Toro Rosso team back into its product, to further improve its product portfolio that can benefit all sizes of organisations and not just the high-end enterprise segment.

Acronis has commenced implementation of data protection technology into Scuderia Toro Rosso’s IT infrastructure. Scuderia Toro Rosso has built a new racing car, the STR12, in order to comply with new set of technical regulations issued by the Formula 1 governing body. While Toro Rosso’s factory has the capacity to design and manufacture most of the new car parts in its factory in Faenza, Italy, time constraints force the production team to outsource some of the manufacturing process to third party providers. This forces Toro Rosso to release parts of its intellectual property to outside vendors, exposing the need for a robust file sharing technology. Scuderia Toro Rosso has been addressing this need with Acronis Access Advanced. The new way of sharing sensitive data comes with advanced data security and user management features, which includes tracking user behavior and keeping comprehensive file access history.

The process of designing and testing the new car is entirely data driven. Scuderia Toro Rosso generates over 15TB of new data every day, 50% more compared to the volume generated only a year ago. This data needs to be stored and protected from tampering. Scuderia Toro Rosso will gradually optimise data storage by deploying Acronis Storage with Acronis Notary blockchain data watermarking mechanism, which will enable the Formula 1 racing team to validate the authenticity of important data. Scuderia also plans to deploy other data protection technology powered by Acronis Hybrid Cloud architecture. These includes Acronis Backup, Acronis Disaster Recovery Service and Acronis Monitoring Service.

The partnership also promotes innovation and the delivery of new technologies. This year Acronis released a number of innovative technologies to support the needs of motorsport teams and always-on businesses. These include Acronis Notary data notarisation, Acronis CloudRAID software-defined storage redundancy, Acronis Instant Restore data recovery technology.

The partnership with Scuderia Toro Rosso has already proved to be beneficial for partners and service providers using these products. Acronis new hybrid cloud architecture is specifically designed to help partners and customer take control over their data.

Gains from this partnership:

  • Acronis has hosted over 1,000 guests at the Acronis Racing Weekends with Scuderia Toro Rosso around the world
  • Acronis partners have reported increased interest in Acronis products and improved sales
  • 50% growth in Acronis partners globally compared to the same period prior to the sponsorship
  • New partnerships with Synapsys Systems in South Africa and Innovix Distribution in Southeast Asia
  • In APAC region, Acronis cloud business has grown over 50% YoY in 2016 amounting to over 20% of total revenue
  • From Middle East and Africa regional standpoint Acronis has seen its cloud business grow by 50% YoY in 2016

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3-stage migration using Acronis AnyData Engine, SnapAPI, Acronis Universal Restore

#1 Acronis AnyData Engine detaches workload from the original platform

The migration process starts with the Acronis AnyData Engine creating a disk image, which is a full copy of everything that is on the disks and partitions of a particular server or virtual machine. To preserve consistency of data, Acronis AnyData Engine takes a snapshot of the disk before creating the copy using Microsoft VSS, Linux LVM, or Acronis own drive snapshot technology, SnapAPI. The resulting disk image contains everything on the disk at the precise moment that the snapshot is taken. This creates a crash consistent image. The database saves all the transactions to the disk and freezes all activities. The snapshot is taken and the resulting disk image is application consistent. During the copy process, the data is abstracted, a process of removing platform specifics from the data elements in order to reduce it to a set of essential characteristics and put it into a general, unified format. The Acronis AnyData Engine also creates the copy at the sector level so the opening and locking of files by the operating system does not affect the process. The disk image now contains everything required to run a workload.

#2 Acronis AnyData Engine applies server workload to new hardware

The next step is to apply the disk and partition content to the target physical server or virtual machine. When migrating to a physical server, an operating system does not need to be installed on the new physical machine but simply load the image for bare metal recovery. Furthermore, the disk configuration of the target machine does not have to match the original machine because the Acronis AnyData Engine resizes the disks and partitions. The disks only have to be large enough to hold all the data. For migration to virtual machines, the Acronis AnyData Engine connects directly to the managing hypervisor and creates a full virtual machine, including CPU, RAM, disk configuration. The Acronis AnyData Engine can also create virtual machines as a set of files on any disk storage.

#3 Acronis AnyData Engine tunes server workload to match new hardware

The Acronis AnyData Engine analyses the new hardware platform or hypervisor and tunes the operating system settings to match the new requirements. The Acronis AnyData Engine analyses the change in CPU type, number of CPUs, and changes the settings of the operating system. The Acronis AnyData Engine analyses each machine type, the motherboard and chipsets, hypervisor configuration, and changes the HAL setting of the operating system. Acronis Universal Restore technology analyses the target hardware and injects all the drivers required to boot the operating system. These include SATA, SAS, SCSI and RAID drivers, as well as SAN HBA adapters.

Acronis Universal Restore disables all critical hardware drivers that are not present on the new machine in order to eliminate compatibility issues. Microsoft Windows drivers INF/SYS files can be loaded from any CD or network location. For Linux, Acronis Universal Restore leverages the driver modules built into the kernel, even if they are not active. The Acronis AnyData Engine injects and activates any required network drivers. On Windows systems, Acronis AnyData Engine disables and removes configuration of old network adapters when configuring the network.

Modern servers use UEFI method of booting the operating system, while virtual servers and older machines predominantly use BIOS. Acronis Universal Restore technology changes the partition layout, boot loader settings, boot configuration, to restore the image of the original BIOS machine to the UEFI platform or vice versa. This conversion works for most operating systems, in any direction.


Acronis AnyData Engine

Acronis AnyData Engine is the core suite of technology that powers Acronis new generation products to capture, store, recover, control, and access data in virtual, physical, cloud, mobile environments. The Acronis AnyData Engine leverages a patented disk-imaging technology to backup and maintain a complete image of a disk or volume in a unified backup format so that it can recover to any platform, regardless of the source system.

Acronis disk-imaging technology:

  • Captures every component of the production workload: operating system, settings, registry, application, data
  • Accesses hard disk storage directly, bypassing operating and file system drivers when capturing the image
  • Uses a snapshot technology, which makes the backup transparent to applications and users
  • The process runs live and does not affect the workload
  • Executes a single pass backup for Microsoft SQL Server, SharePoint, Active Directory
  • Migrate the entire server onto bare-metal

The Acronis AnyData Engine also includes Acronis Universal Restore technology, to migrate systems to different hardware, to and from virtual machines, and across different hypervisors. The combination of Acronis disk imaging and universal restore technology allows migrating the production workload to dissimilar hardware and virtual environments, protecting and preserving data on any system.


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