FlexClone On Steroids

Introduction to OnDemand Sandbox from Storage Snapshots

This new feature from Veeam was released in version 9 on January 12th 2016, probably my favourite feature that came in the new release, simply because it takes a great technology that is rarely used because of the manual steps required and allows for these steps to be automated. Meaning you get this great technology in an automated fashion allowing to perform lots of test and development on production storage and no extra storage cost.

Basically with OnDemand Sandbox from Storage Snapshots we are able to take existing storage snapshots, create a segregated, full performance copy of production workloads for testing and troubleshooting.

In particular, this post is going to discuss how this works with the NetApp ONTAP systems that are supported with Veeam. I have also rebranded the title to “FlexClone on Steroids”.

Introduction to FlexClone

Having worked with NetApp for a number of years I am very well familiar with one of the key ONTAP features, FlexClone. My experience from a Pre-Sales point of view is that it’s always a silver bullet and people are always excited and interested when talking about FlexClone and its capabilities. However, from a implementation and usage experience I see very little or have seen very little usage of the FlexClone technology.

I believe this to be down to the steps that are required for this technology to be fully useable. I touch this later on in the post.

Firstly, lets explain what FlexClone is:

“NetApp® FlexClone® technology instantly replicates data volumes and datasets as transparent, virtual copies—true clones—without compromising performance or demanding additional storage space. You can use each cloned volume for essential business operations such as: Testing and bug fixing.”

The official description from NetApp kind of gives you that short concise description. The fundamental thing to take from this technology is that it allows you to completely clone i.e take a snapshot make it writeable and then use the contents for testing and development at no additional storage requirement, basically the way in which this is achieved is through snapshots pointing to data blocks so with FlexClone we are making these read & writeable so we have access to those data blocks. The only penalty is when you want to start adding or changing those data blocks, this is when we will start seeing a storage increase on the ONTAP system. The other options around FlexClone is that you can break them away from their parent volume and in doing so you have a complete new volume with the same snapshot content data residing inside. Obviously then you are going to take that additional space up on the containing aggregate as they become completely independent. Once testing and development tasks have been completed its simply a case of removing and then continuing as normal until the next requirement, again I will touch more on the steps involved. In the next section.

Steps taken to bring a FlexClone environment up minus Veeam

On the video posted above I outline a number of steps that are required for a native NetApp user to leverage FlexClone within their environment. Below I will detail these steps a little further to give you an understand as to how fast they and also how they can be a lengthy process.

To begin with we have some fairly fast operations shown below:

  1. Connect to Storage System
  2. Create Application Consistent Snapshot
  3. Create FlexClone from Snapshot

We then move into the exporting and presentation of the volumes, this is where it can be a lengthy process depending on the number of Volumes and Virtual Machines you are looking to bring up in this test and dev bubble.

  1. Export Volume or Mount LUN
  2. Add Virtual Machines to inventory
  3. Change Virtual Machines networking
  4. Power On in order
  5. Run Testing & Development
  6. Power Down

Once the testing has been completed we then need to tidy or clean down the environment again depending on how many Virtual Machines, Datastores and Volumes this is going to determine the amount of intervention from a NetApp Administrator.

  1. Remove from inventory
  2. Remove datastores
  3. Remove FlexClone

I have touched on all of the great benefits of FlexClone but in my opinion and experience I see very little adoption and usage of this great technology. Smaller environments are not going to have the large numbers of Virtual Machines & Volumes to worry about the above time frame constraints. However large enterprises will have this issue, and in my opinion probably don’t use this technology to its fullest today because of the timings and effort.

How can Veeam make this process automated?

In comes Veeam with the “FlexClone on Steroids” feature, allowing for this automated approach to FlexClone.

There are some pre reqs that need to be followed for this process to be used:

  • Adding NetApp Controllers to the Veeam Management Console
  • Create Virtual Lab & Application Group
  • Create SureBackup / SureReplica Job

These above, once created and configured can be used over and over again for this process.

Your virtual lab configuration is going to consist of the target ESXi hosts or clusters that you would like to bring this isolated environment up on. The application group is going to consist of the virtual machines that you would like to be powered on and used in this isolated network.

The SureBackup job is going to bring the virtual lab and application group together. And allow for the actual task to be ran and then used. This job will also be stopped to perform the structured powered down.

Spin up the environment on a Second site

One point that shouldn’t be missed on this topic is the fact Veeam cannot only just orchestrate this FlexClone piece on the production storage this can also be achieved from a SnapMirror and SnapVault location, giving the ability to spin up test environments in second and tertiary sites not encroaching on live workloads.
All in all, I think this is a really powerful play for both Veeam and NetApp customer, the ability to automate this process for Testing & Troubleshooting is just going increase the storage use efficiency around leveraging existing assets to perform more!

As I have said in the aforementioned link to the YouTube video, please reach out on Twitter with any feedback also any experiences with the above,  also any questions regarding configuration or setup

I will also follow up this post with a step by step process of HOW TO configure this from a Veeam perspective.

Thank You,

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