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How Virtualization Changes Your Disaster Recovery Plans

May 11, 2010

Summary

Virtualization is transforming the data center. But did you know that virtualization can increase the risk of application downtime? Find out what it takes to get the same level of high availability and disaster recovery protection in the virtual server environment as in the physical environment.
If your company is like most large organizations, virtualization has become a fact of life in the data center. And you’ve probably learned by now how virtualization can help consolidate servers and drive down costs. But did you realize that virtualization can also increase the risk of application downtime?
Think about it: In the physical world, if a server goes down, three or four applications may be affected. But in the virtual world, where 10 or even 20 applications may be running on a single physical machine, the impact of downtime is much greater.
And make no mistake: The surging cost of downtime is putting more and more pressure on the business, which in turn means more and more pressure on IT.
Continue reading to learn what it takes to get the same level of high availability and disaster recovery (HA/DR) protection in the virtual server environment as in the physical environment.

Virtualization and HA/DR pain points

Let’s begin by looking at how virtualization affects HA/DR planning today. Symantec’s most recent IT Disaster Recovery Research Report sheds light on some key areas. According to this survey of more than 1,600 IT managers:
  • More than 60% of the IT managers surveyed reported that virtualization is causing them to reevaluate their DR plans. (That’s up from 55% the previous year.)
  • Nearly one-third (27%) of organizations do not test virtual environments as part of their DR initiatives.
  • More than one-third (36%) of data on virtualized systems is not regularly backed up.
  • More than half of the respondents cited lack of backup storage capacity and automated recovery tools as top challenges to protecting data in virtual environments.
  • More than half of the respondents cited a lack of management tools as the top challenge in protecting mission-critical data and applications in virtual environments.
“One of the problems organizations face is that the native tools provided by virtualization vendors just don’t cut it,” says Dan Lamorena, Senior Manager for Storage and Availability Management at Symantec. “They’re typically starting-point solutions. They can’t protect you in case an application fails. And that’s a big issue, especially as more and more mission-critical applications move to virtual environments.”
Virtualization vendors may claim to address some aspects of HA/DR, but that’s not enough, Lamorena explains.
“They don’t provide visibility or monitor any applications, application components, the virtual machine, the network connection, the storage connection, or the status of the data center site itself,” he continues.
If companies want to move mission-critical applications onto virtual servers, Lamorena says, they need to be confident that their HA/DR solution can:
  • Monitor applications and application components, including the virtual machine, network components, storage components, and the physical server
  • Notify administrators of failures in any of those resources
  • Automate the recovery and startup of applications including reconnecting users to the restarted application
Automating the recovery is critical, says Lamorena, given the realities of today’s data center. He cites Symantec’s recently released State of the Data Center Study, which found that staffing remains tight at most organizations. At a time when the data center is harder than ever to manage, many enterprises are struggling to recruit and retain qualified staff. That’s why Symantec recommends that organizations curb the costs of downtime by implementing more automation tools that minimize human involvement.
Lamorena also emphasizes the importance of regular testing to make sure a DR plan works as expected.
“For too many companies, [testing] is a painful process,” Lamorena says. “It requires people to stop working and it impacts customers, so not enough testing is done.”
He says Symantec recommends that organizations implement disaster recovery tests that can be run frequently and don’t disrupt business operations.

The importance of global visibility

Veritas Cluster Server is Symantec’s HA/DR solution for reducing both planned and unplanned downtime. By monitoring the status of applications and automatically moving them to another server in the event of a fault, Veritas Cluster Server can significantly increase the availability of an application or database.
Veritas Cluster Server provides a single solution for clustering both physical and virtual systems. With it, administrators can monitor an application running within a virtual machine and recover it when there is a failure.
“Organizations should expect to use a single set of tools for their HA and DR needs across physical and virtual server environments,” Lamorena says. “Veritas Cluster Server provides global visibility and management across both environments.”
Veritas Cluster Server also enables organizations to test their disaster recovery plans frequently and non-intrusively. A feature called Fire Drill allows the user to bring up the application at the remote site. Simultaneously, Fire Drill creates a carbon copy of live production data on a designated DR host and automates testing of the application against the copy.

Conclusion

Managing physical and virtual platforms differently can lead to complexities and inefficiencies, including higher costs for training, software, and operations. Companies looking to simplify their IT environment should explore HA/DR solutions that support both physical and virtual server environments and provide a single management interface for their entire HA/DR infrastructure, regardless of the operating system, virtualization technology, replication technology, server and storage hardware, or location of the application.
The bottom line: High availability and disaster recovery in virtual environments should be treated the same as it is in physical environments.
To learn more about keeping mission-critical applications in a virtual environment up and running and easier to manage, visit the Veritas Cluster Server product page.

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