Amazon.com is the world’s largest online retailer. In 2011, Amazon.com switched from tape backup to using Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3) for backing up the majority of its Oracle databases. This strategy reduces complexity and capital expenditures, provides faster backup and restore performance, eliminates tape capacity planning for backup and archive, and frees up administrative staff for higher value operations. The company was able to replace their backup tape infrastructure with cloud-based Amazon S3 storage, eliminate backup software, and experienced a 12X performance improvement, reducing restore time from around 15 hours to 2.5 hours in select scenarios.

As Amazon.com grows larger, the sizes of their Oracle databases continue to grow, and so does the sheer number of databases they maintain. This has caused growing pains related to backing up legacy Oracle databases to tape and led to the consideration of alternate strategies including the use of Cloud services of Amazon Web Services (AWS), a subsidiary of Amazon.com. Some of the business challenges Amazon.com faced included:

  • Utilization and capacity planning is complex, and time and capital expense budget are at a premium. Significant capital expenditures were required over the years for tape hardware, data center space for this hardware, and enterprise licensing fees for tape software. During that time, managing tape infrastructure required highly skilled staff to spend time with setup, certification and engineering archive planning instead of on higher value projects. And at the end of every fiscal year, projecting future capacity requirements required time consuming audits, forecasting, and budgeting.
  • The cost of backup software required to support multiple tape devices sneaks up on you. Tape robots provide basic read/write capability, but in order to fully utilize them, you must invest in proprietary tape backup software. For Amazon.com, the cost of the software had been high, and added significantly to overall backup costs. The cost of this software was an ongoing budgeting pain point, but one that was difficult to address as long as backups needed to be written to tape devices.
  • Maintaining reliable backups and being fast and efficient when retrieving data requires a lot of time and effort with tape. When data needs to be durably stored on tape, multiple copies are required. When everything is working correctly, and there is minimal contention for tape resources, the tape robots and backup software can easily find the required data. However, if there is a hardware failure, human intervention is necessary to restore from tape. Contention for tape drives resulting from multiple users’ tape requests slows down restore processes even more. This adds to the recovery time objective (RTO) and makes achieving it more challenging compared to backing up to Cloud storage.

Amazon.com initiated the evaluation of Amazon S3 for economic and performance improvements related to data backup. As part of that evaluation, they considered security, availability, and performance aspects of Amazon S3 backups. Amazon.com also executed a cost-benefit analysis to ensure that a migration to Amazon S3 would be financially worthwhile. That cost benefit analysis included the following elements:

  • Performance advantage and cost competitiveness. It was important that the overall costs of the backups did not increase. At the same time, Amazon.com required faster backup and recovery performance. The time and effort required for backup and for recovery operations proved to be a significant improvement over tape, with restoring from Amazon S3 running from two to twelve times faster than a similar restore from tape. Amazon.com required any new backup medium to provide improved performance while maintaining or reducing overall costs. Backing up to on-premises disk based storage would have improved performance, but missed on cost competitiveness. Amazon S3 Cloud based storage met both criteria.
  • Greater durability and availability. Amazon S3 is designed to provide 99.999999999% durability and 99.99% availability of objects over a given year. Amazon.com compared these figures with those observed from their tape infrastructure, and determined that Amazon S3 offered significant improvement.
  • Less operational friction. Amazon.com DBAs had to evaluate whether Amazon S3 backups would be viable for their database backups. They determined that using Amazon S3 for backups was easy to implement because it worked seamlessly with Oracle RMAN.
  • Strong data security. Amazon.com found that AWS met all of their requirements for physical security, security accreditations, and security processes, protecting data in flight, data at rest, and utilizing suitable encryption standards.

With the migration to Amazon S3 well along the way to completion, Amazon.com has realized several benefits, including:

  • Elimination of complex and time-consuming tape capacity planning. Amazon.com is growing larger and more dynamic each year, both organically and as a result of acquisitions. AWS has enabled Amazon.com to keep pace with this rapid expansion, and to do so seamlessly. Historically, Amazon.com business groups have had to write annual backup plans, quantifying the amount of tape storage that they plan to use for the year and the frequency with which they will use the tape resources. These plans are then used to charge each organization for their tape usage, spreading the cost among many teams. With Amazon S3, teams simply pay for what they use, and are billed for their usage as they go. There are virtually no upper limits as to how much data can be stored in Amazon S3, and so there are no worries about running out of resources. For teams adopting Amazon S3 backups, the need for formal planning has been all but eliminated.
  • Reduced capital expenditures. Amazon.com no longer needs to acquire tape robots, tape drives, tape inventory, data center space, networking gear, enterprise backup software, or predict future tape consumption. This eliminates the burden of budgeting for capital equipment well in advance as well as the capital expense.
  • Immediate availability of data for restoring – no need to locate or retrieve physical tapes. Whenever a DBA needs to restore data from tape, they face delays. The tape backup software needs to read the tape catalog to find the correct files to restore, locate the correct tape, mount the tape, and read the data from it. In almost all cases the data is spread across multiple tapes, resulting in further delays. This, combined with contention for tape drives resulting from multiple users’ tape requests, slows the process down even more. This is especially severe during critical events such as a data center outage, when many databases must be restored simultaneously and as soon as possible. None of these problems occur with Amazon S3. Data restores can begin immediately, with no waiting or tape queuing – and that means the database can be recovered much faster.
  • Backing up a database to Amazon S3 can be two to twelve times faster than with tape drives. As one example, in a benchmark test a DBA was able to restore 3.8 terabytes in 2.5 hours over gigabit Ethernet. This amounts to 25 gigabytes per minute, or 422MB per second. In addition, since Amazon.com uses RMAN data compression, the effective restore rate was 3.37 gigabytes per second. This 2.5 hours compares to, conservatively, 10-15 hours that would be required to restore from tape.
  • Easy implementation of Oracle RMAN backups to Amazon S3. The DBAs found it easy to start backing up their databases to Amazon S3. Directing Oracle RMAN backups to Amazon S3 requires only a configuration of the Oracle Secure Backup Cloud (SBC) module. The effort required to configure the Oracle SBC module amounted to an hour or less per database. After this one-time setup, the database backups were transparently redirected to Amazon S3.
  • Durable data storage provided by Amazon S3, which is designed for 11 nines durability. On occasion, Amazon.com has experienced hardware failures with tape infrastructure – tapes that break, tape drives that fail, and robotic components that fail. Sometimes this happens when a DBA is trying to restore a database, and dramatically increases the mean time to recover (MTTR). With the durability and availability of Amazon S3, these issues are no longer a concern.
  • Freeing up valuable human resources. With tape infrastructure, Amazon.com had to seek out engineers who were experienced with very large tape backup installations – a specialized, vendor-specific skill set that is difficult to find. They also needed to hire data center technicians and dedicate them to problem-solving and troubleshooting hardware issues – replacing drives, shuffling tapes around, shipping and tracking tapes, and so on. Amazon S3 allowed them to free up these specialists from day-to-day operations so that they can work on more valuable, business-critical engineering tasks.
  • Elimination of physical tape transport to off-site location. Any company that has been storing Oracle backup data offsite should take a hard look at the costs involved in transporting, securing and storing their tapes offsite – these costs can be reduced or possibly eliminated by storing the data in Amazon S3.

As the world’s largest online retailer, Amazon.com continuously innovates in order to provide improved customer experience and offer products at the lowest possible prices. One such innovation has been to replace tape with Amazon S3 storage for database backups. This innovation is one that can be easily replicated by other organizations that back up their Oracle databases to tape.

To learn more about backup and storage on AWS, visit: http://aws.amazon.com/backup-storage/.