Veeam’s upcoming V8 virtues

[Not] Vamoosing VMworld

We were at Storage Field Day 5 (SFD5, see the videos here) last month and had a briefing on Veeam’s upcoming V8 release.

They also told us (news to me) that they are leaving VMworld[I sit corrected, I have been informed after this went to press that Veeam is not leaving VMworld2014, and never said anything about it at the session – My mistake and I take full responsibility, sorry for any confusion] (sigh, now who’s going to have THE after conference, KILLER PARTY at VMworld) and moving to [but they did say they are definitely starting up] their own VeeamON conference at The Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas on October 6,7 & 8 this year. If their VMworld parties are any indication, the conference in the Cosmo should be a fun and rewarding time for all. Pre-registration is open and they have a call out for papers.

Doug Hazelman (@VMDoug), Rick Vanover (@RickVanover) and Luca Dell’Oca (@dellock6) all presented although Luca’s session was under strict NDA to be revealed later. I think sometime later this summer.

Doug mentioned that after 6 years, Veeam now has over 100,000 customers world wide.  One of their more popular, early innovations was the ability to run a VM directly off of a backup and sometime over the past couple of years they have moved from a VMware only backup & replication solution to also supporting Microsoft Hyper-V (more news to me).

V8’s virtues

Veeam V8 will add some interesting capabilities to the Veeam product solutions:

  • (VMware only) Built-in backups from storage snapshots – (Enterprise Plus edition only) Backup from VMware snapshots can sometimes impact app performance, especially when it comes time to commit changes. But with V7, Veeam now offers backup utilizing VMware’s Change Block Tracking (CBT)and taking backups from storage snapshots directly for HP 3PAR StoreServ, HP (Lefthand) StoreVirtual/StoreVirtual VSA and in soon to be available V8, NetApp FAS (Data ONTAP 8.1 or above, 7- or cluster-mode, clones too) storage systems. First Veeam does its application level processing (under Windows Server does VSS operations), after that completes tells VMware to take (a VMware) snapshot, when that completes they tell the storage to take a (storage) snapshot, when that completes they release the VMware snapshot. What all this does is allows them to utilize VMware CBT as well as storage snapshots which makes it up to 20 times faster than normal VMware snapshot backups. This way they can backup directly from the storage snapshot using the Veeam proxy. Also because the VMware snapshot is so short lived there is little overhead for committing any changes.  Also there is no need to use a proxy ESX server to do this, i.e., promote the VMware snapshot to a LUN, add it to an ESX, resignature, add the VM, and do all the backups, which, of course destroys CBT. This works for FC, iSCSI and NFS data stores. With NetApp storage you can also take the (VSS) application consistent snapshot and copy it to SnapVault.
  • Veeam Explorer (recovery) for storage snapshots – (Free backup edition) Recovery from (HP in V7 & NetApp in V8) storage snapshots is yet another feature and provides item (e.g., emails, contacts, email folders for Exchange), granular (VM level or file level) or full (volume) recovery from storage based snapshots, regardless of how those storage snapshots were created.
  • Veeam Explorer for SQL Server (V8 only) – (unsure what license is required) Similar to the Explorer for snapshots discussed above, this would allow a Veeam admin to do item level recovery for an SQL database. This also includes recovery from Veeam Backup repositories as well as storage snapshots. But this means that you could restore a ROW of an SQL table, an SQL TABLE as well as a whole SQL database. Now DBAs always had these sorts of abilities which required using Log services. But allowing a Veeam admin to do these sorts of activities seems like putting a gun in the hands of a child (or maybe a bazooka in the hands of an untrained civilian).
  • Veeam Explorer for Active Directory (V8 only) – (unsure what license is required) You’ve seen whats’ available above and just consider these same capabilities only applied to active directory. This means you can restore a password hash, user, group or organizational unit (OU). I don’t know about you but this seems more akin to a howitzer in the hands of a civilian.

They showed an example of competitive situation where running V8 (in beta?) with NetApp backups using snapshots versus some unnamed competition. They were able to complete a full backup in 1/4 the time of their competition (2hrs. vs. 8hrs.) and completed incremental backups in 35min. vs. 2hrs. for the competition.

“Thar be dragons there …”

Ok, maybe I am a little more paranoid than the average IT guy/gal. But in my (old world, greybeards) view, SQL databases belong in the realm of DBAs and Active Directory databases belong to domain controller admins. Messing around with production versions of SQL DBs or AD DBs seems hazardous to a data centers health. We’re not just talking files anymore here guys.

In Veeam’s defense, these new Explorer recovery tools are only probably going to be used to do something that needs to be done right away, to get things back operating again, and would not be used unless there’s a real need/emergency to do so. Otherwise let the DBA and security admins do it with their log recovery tools.  And another thing, they have had similar capabilities for Exchange emails, folders, contacts, etc. and no ones shot their foot off yet so why the concern.

Nonetheless, I feel strongly that these tools ought to be placed under lock and key and the key put in a safe with the combination under a glass case labeled IN CASE OF EMERGENCY, BREAK GLASS.


Insecure SHA-1 imperils Internet security, PKI, and most password systems

safe 'n green by Robert S. Donovan (cc) (from flickr)
safe ‘n green by Robert S. Donovan (cc) (from flickr)

I suppose it’s inevitable but surprising nonetheless.  A recent article Faster computation will damage the Internet’s integrity in MIT Technology Review indicates that by 2018, SHA-1 will be crackable by any determined large  organization. Similarly, just a few years later,  perhaps by 2021 a much smaller organization will have the computational power to crack SHA-1 hash codes.

What’s a hash?

Cryptographic hash functions like SHA-1 are designed such that, when a string of characters is “hash”ed they generate a binary value which has a couple of great properties:

  • Irreversibility – given a text string and a “hash_value” generated by hashing “text_string”, there is no way to determine what the “text_string” was from its hash_value.
  • Uniqueness – given two or more text strings, “text_string1” and “text_string2” they should generate two unique hash values, “hash_value1” and “hash_value2”.

Although hash functions are designed to be irreversible that doesn’t mean that they couldn’t be broken via a brute force attack. For example, if one were to try every known text string, sooner or later one would come up with a “text_string1” that hashes to “hash_value1”.

But perhaps even more serious, the SHA-1 algorithm is prone to hash collisions  which makes fails the uniqueness property above.  That is, there are a few “text_string1″s that hash to the same “hash_value1”.

All this wouldn’t be much of a problem except that with Moore’s law in force and continuing for the next 6 years or so we will have processing power in chips capable of doing a brute force attack against SHA-1 to find text_strings that match any specific hash value.

So what’s the big deal?

Well it turns out that SHA-1 algorithms underpin almost all secure data transmissions today. That is, most Public-key infrastructure (PKI) depend on SHA-1 to sign digital certificates.  And although that’s pretty bad, what’s even worse is that Secure Socket Layer/Transport Layer Security (SSL/TLS) used by “https://” websites the world over also depend on SHA-1 to send key information used to encrypt/decrypt secure Internet transactions.

On top of all that, many of today’s secure systems with passwords, use SHA-1 to hash passwords and instead of storing actual passwords in plain-text on their password files, they only store the SHA-1 hash of the passwords.  As such, by 2021, anyone that can read the hashed password file can retrieve any password in plain text.

What all this means is that by 2018 for some and 2021 or thereabouts for just about anybody else, todays secure internet traffic, PKI and most system passwords will no longer be secure.

What needs to be done

It turns out that NSA knew about the failings of SHA-1 quite awhile ago and as such, NIST released SHA-2 as a new hash algorithm and its functional replacement.  Probably just in time, this month, NIST announced a winner for a new SHA-3 algorithm as a functional replacement for SHA-2.

This may take awhile, what needs to be done is to have all digital certificates that use SHA-1, be invalidated with new ones generated using SHA-2 or SHA-3.  And of course, TLS and SSL Internet functionality all have to be re-coded to recognize and use SHA-2 or SHA-3, instead of SHA-1.

Finally, for most of those password systems, users will need to re-login and have their password hashes changed over from SHA-1 to SHA-2 or SHA-3.

Naturally, in order to use SHA-2 or SHA-3 many systems may need to be upgraded to later levels of code.  Seems like Y2K all over again, only this time it’s security that’s going to crash.  It’s good to be in the consulting business, again.


But the real problem IMHO, is Moore’s law.  If it continues to double processing power/transistor density every two years or so, how long before SHA-2 or SHA-3 succumb to same sorts of brute force attacks?  Given that, we appear destined to change hashing, encryption and other security algorithms every decade or so until Moore’s law slows down or god forbid, stops altogether.



To iPad or not to iPad?

iPad (from
iPad (from

I am going to a big conference next week, 2 full days out of the office. In times of yore, I would haul my trusty Macbook along and lugging it with me on both days as I move from pavilion to briefing hall, from lunch back to pavilion and from beer hall to bed.

A couple of months ago, I tried using an iPad for a different conference. I purchased an Apple Bluetooth (BT) keyboard and carried it with the iPad for most of the show.  With the BT keypad, power input was just as fast as on the laptop and even faster as I didn’t need to boot anything up.

The other nice thing about the BT keyboard with the iPad is you have fine cursor controls (arrow keys) which can be used to position input pointer.  I did find having to take my hand off the keyboard and touch the screen for some clicking action disconcerting and there were some iPad applications that didn’t handle the arrow keys appropriately but other than that, it worked great for power input, answering emails, and web searches.

The internal, soft iPad keyboard worked ok but wasn’t nearly as fast and didn’t support Dvorak.  Also the soft keyboard in portrait mode only provides 6 lines of pages text which makes power input with feedback more difficult.  In any case, I would use it to rip off quick emails, tweets, and other short stuff which worked well enough. I still took notes on paper (probably to old now to take notes on the iPad/laptop).  Having the keyboard available with a moments delay, made it easy to decide to take it out to use it when I had the time or leave it in the backpack when I didn’t.

Another positive note was that the iPad took up very little desk space.  Most briefing halls nowadays have these smallish retractable desk tops that can barely hold a legal pad let alone a laptop.  The iPad fit these postage stamp desktops just fine.

Not sure how to quantify the weight advantage of the iPad+BT Keyboard vs. Macbook without weighing them but it is significant.  Given all the junk I carry along with the laptop vs. the iPad+BT keyboard, the iPad/BT keyboard wins hands down.  It’s almost like I am not carrying a computer at all.

Problems with using the iPad

There are a couple of web applications (e.g., Wordress visual editor) that seem dependent on flash to work properly, which made using the iPad to create blog posts problematic.  Also, scrolling in WordPress post editor seems to be a flash application as well which made dealing with any long post edits problematic at best.  Wordpress has an iPhone/iPad application which is just as good as the non-visual editor in web-based WordPress which comes in handy at these times.

Now in all honesty, I haven’t tried these in a while and these may not be flash issues as much as iPad issues. Nonetheless, I will guarantee that you will run into some websites that you use in your daily activities that use flash and won’t work.  With the iPad you just will need to forego these websites and find alternatives.

In the office I am a heavy TweetDeck user.  For some reason this application doesn’t work that well for the iPad. I have the latest version and all but find using Twitterific or the official Twitter App a better solution on the iPad.

I purchased the WiFi version of the iPad and iPad’s do not come with Ethernet plug-ins.   Now most conference centers these days have WiFi, but it may not always work that well.  Also some hotels only have WiFi in certain locations and not in the hotel rooms.  All this makes having internet access somewhat sporadic. But you can always buy the 3G version if you want to and I always have my iphone for internet access in a pinch (assuming ATT has adequate conference center/hotel coverage).

I was told that the iPad power converter and connection would also charge up my 3G iPhone but this turned out not to work.  Luckily, I brought along the power converter for the 3G iPhone by mistake and the cable connection between the power converter and iPad worked just fine for the iPhone.  Also the cable from the power adaptor to iPad is somewhat short, so bring the extension cord in order to be able to work with the iPad while its charging.

I ended up purchasing the Apple case for the iPad. I wanted to be able to have it upright portrait or landscape while I was typing on the keyboard, have it slant upward while using the soft keypad and otherwise lie flat. The Apple iPad case does all this without problem.

Microsoft Office documents

Word documents get converted into Pages documents pretty easily but you lose all change tracking, some of the formatting, and other esoteric stuff.  It’s probably ok for internal documents but I find putting together a final document using Pages still a problem. But  I must say I am a novice here.  Also converting Pages documents back into Word seems easy enough.

I have spent even less time with Numbers and Keynote but they seem adequate for minor stuffconvert .XLS and .PPT files to Numbers and Keynote files (but not back to .XLS and .PPT) and if I used them more probably ok for much more sophisticated work.  There are other applications that seem to provide better iPhone support for Microsoft Office editing but I have yet to try them on either the iPad or iPhone.  Also, beware that converting Numbers documents to Excel and Keynote to PowerPoint require Mac desktop versions of these programs.

Document availability is somewhat problematic.  I met one person who emailed work documents to themselves to solve this problem.  Email works ok as long as they don’t scroll out of iPad (iPad keeps the latest 200 emails max for any account which includes spam).  For this purpose, I used a not-so-well-known email address and emailed my current work documents to that account.  iTunes supports a way to copy files to and from the Mac or iPad which seems painless enough but the email interface worked just as well for me and I didn’t have to synch up to have the files transferred.

Beware of changing headers and footers in Pages and trying to alter them in Word once you get it back to the office.  It never worked for me.  I had to copy the text of the document to another fresh Word file and work the header/footers in that.

iPad security

Mac based passwords, logins, and security characteristics are a bit difficult and time-consumming to transfer to the iPad.  You can manually load them in for any websites and applications you need but there is no way to transfer a whole keychain from Mac to iPad.  As such, if you neglect to transfer security credentials for an important website to iPad your out of luck.  Now there are some apps that profess to being able to transfer and maintain keychains on the iPhone or the iPad but I haven’t tried them yet.

Other iPad security aspects are even more problematic.  The iPad can be setup to require entry of a 4 numeric character string to access it.  Another setting will erase the contents of the iPad after 10 failed logins attempts. And MobileMe probably supports some way to erase an iPad that’s out of your hands (it does this for iPhones so I would think the same service would be available for the iPad but I haven’t looked into it).

But despite all that, I don’t feel the iPad is as secure as the Macbook. For one thing, I encrypt the data on the Macbook and the system password can be alphanumeric and considerably longer than 4 characters.  In any case the harddrive can be removed from the Macbook but without the passkey, the data on the drive would be useless.  In contrast the SSD-Flash memory on the iPad could be pulled out and analyzed without any trouble whatsoever and with proper understanding of IOS storage formatting be read in the clear.

Also the fact that its smaller and lighter it could easily be forgotten and left behind making it more lose-able.  And it’s certainly more prone to being stolen because it’s smaller and lighter.


At this point I will probably  use the iPad for the upcoming VMworld conference just to see if it works as well the 2nd time as it did the first.  It’s only two full days, what can go wrong?