The Different Flavors of EMC TimeFinder

I don’t know what most people know about TimeFinder, so I’ll start with a short introduction.

EMC Timefinder was developed to provide customers with a dynamic mirror they could use to try and cut some of the tediousness out of copying data, whether from one host to another or within the same host.

When I was working for EMC, Timefinder was still more or less in it’s infancy, and only came in one flavor.  (Now referred to as “TimeFinder/Mirror”)

A Timefinder volume is a volume that is essentially a dynamic mirror of a production volume.  Called a ‘BCV’ (for Business Continuance Volume) it was a straight 1:1 mirror of your production data.  (If you were running in a 2-Way-Mirrored configuration, the BCV essentially become a third mirror.)  At a point-in-time, you could split the third mirror off it’s production pair and make it available to another host.

The main benefits were obviously discovered in Backup.  You could split a BCV of your production data off, mount it to another host, and back it up to a locally attached tape library with zero network overhead.  Using this you could also use a single backup host to back-up copies of BCV’s from multiple production hosts.

Another good use for BCV’s was in development.  One story I like to tell was from I was an admin several years ago.  Developers liked to “break” their database on a friday afternoon, knowing that the restore from tape would take the better part of a day and in doing so they guaranteed they would make their tee-time.  With the advent of TimeFinder, I was able to tell them “Not a problem, I’ll have it back up in 20 minutes.”   The reason being that I could restore from the mirror almost instantly.

The main negatives for TF/Mirror are that in all cases, the initial synchronization has to complete before the data can be made available to the target system.  Now this is mitigated by the fact that after the initial relationship is established all further mirrors are incremental, meaning that only changed tracks are copied to the BCV volume, but it can still be a time consuming process.

Now EMC has come out with two new forms of TimeFinder in Symmetrix, very similar to the Clariion functionality.


  SNAP uses a process called “Copy On First Write”.   This uses a much smaller volume than the production volume as a “virtual device”  (Called a VDEV)   The VDEV serves as a list of pointers for each track in the volume.  Reads are serviced from the original volume until the track is changed.  When the track is changed the original data is copied to a cache area, and the pointer for this track in the VDEV device is changed to point to the cached original track.  In doing this the VDEV device will contain an exact copy of the production data as it was when the Snap session was activated.  When the data is no longer needed, you terminate the Snap session and the cached changes are discarded.

The data is available the instant the SNAP session is activated.

The downside to this is that all reads touch the production volumes.  In a heavily utilized system there can be a noticible impact.  Another negative is that SNAP sessions are limited to the amount of cache set aside.  A usual configuration is to set aside about 20% of the area used by production as “SnapCache”  This can then be used as needed.  If the SnapCache fills up, the Snap session ends and that is that.


  Clone uses another process, similar to SNAP, called “Copy On Access”.  Clone volumes are identically sized to the production volumes, which of course uses up more space, but provides for a more permanent home.  This provides the data permanance of TimeFinder Mirror, the speed of TimeFinder Snap, and the agility to move data from Standard volume to another standard volume. (Raid-1 production volumes to Raid-5 Development volumes is a good example)

What copy-on-access offers is the unique ability to use the volume before it’s actually finished mirroring.  When a clone session is first started, all the target volume contains are pointers to the source volume.  Every time a track is accessed, (read or write) it is copied to the target volume first.  (prior to any write operations)  If no options are selected this is the only time a track is copied.  If the -copy option is selected when the Clone session is created, a background copy of the production volume is started.  This will eventually result in a copy of the data that will persist after the clone session is terminated.  (when no option is specified, the data will disappear when the session is terminated)  There is also the option to copy (mirror) the entire production volume to the target volume before the session is activated.  This is called “Precopy” and is a close emulation to what is done using TimeFinder mirror without the limitations of having to use BCV’s as targets.

TF/Clone has to be the best of all worlds.  It gives you the flexibility of Snap with the data-resilience of Mirror, and the flexibility of being able to go from one volume to another without restrictions on what type of volume your target is.  (TimeFinder/Mirror requires the use of BCV volumes)

Timefinder is the production that gave me my introduction into EMC.  TimeFinder and SRDF are also the technologies I’ve implemented more often than any others in my work for (and with) EMC.

If you’ve got questions, feel free to post them.  You’re probably not the only ones.

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