Posts Tagged ‘Cloud Protection Manager’

AWS Cloud Protection Manager Part 3: Backup and Restore

August 21, 2017

Backup

Backups are created according to the schedule specified in the backup policy. We discussed how to configure backup policies in the previous blog post of the series. The list of backups you see on the Backup Monitor tab are your restore points. Backups that are older then the specified retention policy will be purged from the list and you will not see them there, unless you move them to “Freezer”.

It is important to understand that apart from volume snapshots, for each backed up instance CPM also creates an AMI. Those who has hands-on experience with AWS may already know, that AMIs is the only way to create clones of Windows EC2 instances in AWS. If you go to AWS console and try to find a clone action under the instance Action menu, you won’t find any. You will have “Create Image” instead. It creates an AMI, from which you can then spin up a clone of an instance the image was created from.

CPM does exactly that. For each backup policy the instance is under, it creates one AMI. In our example we have four backup policies, that will result in four AMIs for each of the instances. Every AMI has to have at least one storage volume. So CPM will include the root volume of each instance into AMI, just because it has to. But AMIs are required only to restore EC2 instance configuration. Data is restored from volume snapshots, that can be used to create new volumes from them and then attach them to the instance. You can click on the View button under Snapshots to find the corresponding snapshot and AMI IDs.

There is a backup log for each job run as well that is helpful for issue troubleshooting.

Restore

To perform a restore click on the Recover button next to the backup job and you will get the list of the instances you can recover. CPM offers you three options: instance recovery, volume recovery and file recovery. Let’s go back to front.

File recovery is probably the most used recovery option. As it lets you restore individual files. When you click on the “Explore” button, CPM creates new volumes from the snapshots you are restoring from and mount them to the CPM instance. You are then presented with a simple file system browser where you can find the file and click on the green down arrow icon in Download column to save the file to your computer.

If you click on “Volume Only”, you can restore particular volumes. Restored volumes are not attached to any instance, unless you specify it under “Attach to Instance” column. You can then select under “Attach Behaviour” what CPM should do if such volume is already attached to the instance or if you want to automatically detach the original volume, but the instance is running (you can do it only if instance is stopped).

And the last option is “Instance”. It will create a clone of the original instance using the pre-generated AMI and volume snapshots, as we discussed in the Backup section of this blog post. You can specify many options under Advanced Options section, including recovery to another VPC or different availability zone. If anything, make sure you specify a new IP address for the instance, otherwise you’ll have a conflict and your restore will fail. Ideally you should also shut down the original EC2 instance before spinning up a restore clone.

Advanced Features

There are quite a few worth mentioning. So far we have looked at simple EC2 instance restore. But you don’t have to backup whole instances, you can also backup individual volumes. On top of that, CPM supports RDS database, Aurora and Redshift cluster backups.

If you run MS Exchange, Sharepoint or SQL on your EC2 instances, you can install CPM backup agent on them to ensure you have application-consistent backups via VSS, as opposed to crash-consistent backups you get if agent is not used. If you install the agent, you can also run a script on the instance before and after the backup is taken.

Last but not least is DR. Restoring to another availability zone within the region is already supported on instance recovery level. You can choose availability zone you want to restore to. It is not possible to recover to another region, though. Because AWS snapshots and AMIs are local to the region they are created in. If you want to be able to recover to another region, you can configure DR in CPM, which will utilise AWS AMI and snapshot copy functionality to copy backups to another region at configured frequency.

Conclusion

Overall, I found Cloud Protection Manager very easy to install, configure and use. If you come from infrastructure background, at first glance CPM may look to you like a very basic tool, compared to such feature-rich solutions like Veeam or Commvault. But that feeling is misleading. CPM is simple, because AWS simple. All infrastructure complexity is hidden under the covers. As a result, all AWS backup tools need to do is create snapshots and CPM does it well.

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AWS Cloud Protection Manager Part 2: Configuration

August 14, 2017

Overview

As we discussed in Part 1 of this series, snapshots serve as a good basis to implement backup in AWS. But AWS does not provide an out-of-the-box tool that can manage snapshots at scale and perform snapshot creation/deletion based on a defined retention. Rich AWS APIs allow you to build such tool yourself or you can use an existing backup solution built for AWS. In this blog post we are looking at one such product, called Cloud Protection Manager.

You will be surprised to know that the first version of Cloud Protection Manager was released back in 2013. The product has matured over the years and the current CPM version 2.1 according to N2W web-site has become quite popular amongst AWS customers.

CPM is offered in four different versions: Standard, Advanced, Enterprise and Enterprise Plus. Functionality across all four versions is mostly the same, with the key difference being the number of instances you can backup. Ranging from 20 instances in Standard and $5 per instance in Enterprise Plus.

Installation

CPM offers a very straightforward consumption model. You purchase it from AWS marketplace and pay by the month. Licensing costs are billed directly to your account. There are no additional steps involved.

To install CPM you need to find the version you want to purchase in AWS Marketplace, specify instance settings, such as region, VPC subnet, security group, then accept the terms and click launch. AWS will spin up a new CPM server as an EC2 instance for you. You also have an option to run a 30-day trial if you want to play with the product before making a purchasing decision.

Note that CPM needs to be able to talk to AWS API endpoints to perform snapshots, so make sure that the appliance has Internet access by means of a public IP address, Elastic IP address or a NAT gateway. Similarly, the security group you attach it to should at least have HTTPS out allowed.

Initial Configuration

Appliance is then configured using an initial setup wizard. Find out what private IP address has been assigned to the instance and open a browser session to it. The wizard is reasonably straightforward, but there are two things I want to draw your attention to.

You will be asked to create a data volume. This volume is needed purely to keep CPM configuration and metadata. Backups are kept in S3 and do not use this volume. The default size is 5GB, which is enough for roughly 50 instances. If you have a bigger environment allocate 1GB per every 10 AWS instances.

You will also need to specify AWS credentials for CPM to be able to talk to AWS APIs. You can use your AWS account, but this is not a security best practice. In AWS you can assign a role to an EC2 instance, which is what you should be using for CPM. You will need to create IAM policies that essentially describe permissions for CPM to create backups, perform restores, send notifications via AWS SNS and configure EC2 instances. Just refer to CPM documentation, copy and paste configuration for all policies, create a role and specify the role in the setup wizard.

Backup Policies

Once you are finished with the initial wizard you will be able to log in to the appliance using the password you specified during installation. As in most backup solutions you start with backup policies, which allow you to specify backup targets, schedule and retention.

One thing that I want to touch on here is backup schedules, that may be a bit confusing at start. It will be easier to explain it in an example. Say you want to implement a commonly used GFS backup schedule, with 7 daily, 4 weekly, 12 monthly and 7 yearly backups. Daily backup should run every day at 8pm and start from today. Weekly backups run on Sundays.

This is how you would configure such schedule in CPM:

  • Daily
    • Repeats Every: 1 Days
    • Start Time: Today Date, 20:00
    • Enabled on: Mon-Sat
  • Weekly
    • Repeats Every: 1 Weeks
    • Start Time: Next Sunday, 20:00
    • Enabled on: Mon-Sun
  • Monthly
    • Repeats Every: 1 Months
    • Start Time: 28th of this month, 21:00
    • Enabled on: Mon-Sun
  • Yearly:
    • Repeats Every: 12 Months
    • Start Time: 31st of December, 22:00
    • Enabled on: Mon-Sun

Some of the gotchas here:

  • “Enabled on” setting is relevant only to the Daily backup, the rest of the schedules are based on the date you specify in “Start Time” field. For instance, if you specify a date in the Weekly backup Start Time that is a Sunday, your weekly backups will run every Sunday.
  • Make sure to run your Monthly backup on 28th day of every month, to guarantee you have a backup every month, including February.
  • It’s not possible to prevent Weekly backup to not run on the last week of every month. So make sure to adjust the Start Time for the Monthly backup so that Weekly and Monthly backups don’t run at the same time if they happen to fall on the same day.
  • Same considerations are true for the Yearly backup as well.

Then you create your daily, weekly, monthly and yearly backup policies using the corresponding schedules and add EC2 instances that require protection to every policy. Retention is also specified at the policy level. According to our scenario we will have 6 generations for Daily, 4 generations for Weekly, 12 generations for Monthly and 7 generations for Yearly.

Notifications

CPM uses AWS Simple Notification Service (SNS) to send email alerts. If you gave CPM instance SNS permissions in IAM role you created previously, you should be able to simply go to Notification settings, enable Alerts and select “Create new topic” and “Add user email as recipient” options. CPM will create a SNS topic in AWS for you automatically and use email address you specified in the setup wizard to send notifications to. You can change or add more email addresses to the SNS topic in AWS console later on if you need to.

Conclusion

This is all you need to get your Cloud Protection Manager up and running. In the next blog post we will look at how instances are backed up and restored and discuss some of the advanced backup options CPM offers.

AWS Cloud Protection Manager Part 1: Intro to Snapshots

August 7, 2017

Cloud computing conceptOverview

We have all been dealing with on-premises infrastructure for years before public cloud became a thing. Depending on complexity and size of your environment, retention and other requirements you can choose from plethora of products, such as Veeam, Commvault, NetWorker, you name it.

When public cloud started getting more traction we realised that the paradigm has shifted. Public cloud providers are pushing us to treat instances of application servers as cattle versus pets and build fault tolerance into code and not rely on underlying infrastructure reliability.

If application is no longer monolithic and is distributed among multiple instances of the same server, loss of any one instance has little overall impact on the application and does not require a restore. We can simply spin up a new instance instead.

However, majority of applications in today’s IT environments are still monolithic and need to be backed up. Data needs to be protected as well, if it gets corrupted or if for any other reason we need to roll back our application to a certain point in time, backups are necessary.

AWS Snapshots

When I started researching the topic of backup in the cloud I realised that it is still a wild west. Speaking of AWS specifically, if you are using one of the native AWS services, such as RDS, you would usually have the backup feature built-in. Otherwise, if you simply want to backup some application or service running inside an AWS instance, all you have is snapshots.

We have all heard the mantra, that snapshot is not a backup, because usually it is kept in the same place as the original data it was created from. This is true for most of the traditional storage arrays. AWS is slightly different.

Typically when you start an EC2 instance, its disk volumes are kept on Elastic Block Store (EBS), which is an equivalent of block storage in traditional infrastructure world. But when you create a snapshot of an EBS volume, the snapshot is transferred to S3 object storage.

When the first snapshot is created, the whole volume needs to be copied to S3. It may take some time to complete, depending on the volume size, but the copy process happens in the background and doesn’t impact the original EC2 instance. All subsequent snapshots will be significantly quicker, unless you overwrite large amount of data between snapshots.

CloudWatch Event Rules

As we can see, unlike traditional storage arrays, AWS snapshots are kept separately from the original data. They can even be restored to another availability zone or copied to another region to protect from region-wide failures, which makes AWS snapshots a decent backup solution. But devil is in the details.

Creating a volume snapshot manually is simple, you pick “Create Snapshot” from the Actions menu and the rest is handled by AWS. To automate the process, AWS offers CloudWatch event rules for scheduled snapshot creation. By going to CloudWatch > Events > Create Rule, setting up a schedule, selecting “EC2 CreateSnapshot API call” and the volume ID in the Target section you can implement a simple backup in AWS.

cloudwatch_snapshot1.jpg

However, there are two immediate problems with such approach. The first is scalability of it. Snapshots in AWS are created on volumes, not instances. This has interesting implications, such as it is not possible to create a consistent snapshot across multiple volumes. But more importantly, if you have more than one volume on every instance, you may end up having dozens of CloudWatch rules, that are hard to manage and keep track of.

cloudwatch_snapshot2.jpg

Second is retention. CloudWatch events let you create snapshots, but you cannot specify how long you want to keep them for. You will need to write your own scripts using AWS APIs to delete snapshots, which makes the whole solution questionable, as you can then use APIs to create snapshots as well.

Conclusion

As you can see, AWS does not offer a simple out of the box solution for EC2 backup. You either need to write your own scripts using AWS APIs or lean on backup solutions built specifically to solve the problem of backups in AWS. One of such solutions Cloud Protection Manager we will discuss in the next blog post of the series.