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Virtual Visibility: Why you need X-Ray Vision to Backup Virtual Machines

Created: 29 Nov 2011 • Updated: 22 Jan 2013 • 1 comment
SeanRegan's picture
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If there is one key challenge for the virtualization team, it is backup.  All of that newfound agility that makes the virtual machine (VM) teams ninja-like in their ability to deliver IT as a service comes with a backend challenge.  As more and more mission critical applications and systems go virtual, how can these teams make sure they can deliver the same or better SLAs for backup?  Virtualized systems and data are not second class workloads anymore, they are prime time.  And lest you think virtualization is only a big company phenomenon – think again.  Small and mid-sized companies are adopting server virtualization technology at a faster pace than their bigger counterparts.  So the issue of protecting important data in virtualized environments is touching your neighborhood firms as much as big name businesses.

Vendor Landscape – Proceed with Caution

It’s no secret that the virtualization phenomenon has created a new landscape of VC’s looking to fund startups and vendors seeking to capitalize on change in the datacenter. Many offer solutions that might do a decent job of solving one narrow part of the backup and recovery problem, but generally fail to address the bigger challenge.  Using aggressive marketing tactics, many are finding creative ways make their offerings look better. More often than not, they compare themselves to Symantec backup solutions as a way to get attention. When everyone compares their product to yours it means two things:

  1. You are the true leader.
  2. As the leader you need to be doubly focused on delivering the best technology.

Here are a few things to watch for:

  1. The perennial#1 in VM Backup claim – Everyone can’t be number one in virtual machine backup. Even in a virtual world, where everything runs at a higher density, you still can’t have 5 vendors claiming #1 status. Some vendors are making grand claims in this space while their offerings address only one limited set of VM technology.  Other more questionable techniques include counting free product giveaways as part of their install base assessments.  Most of these claims go unchallenged, so they perceive little downside to this type of grand standing.
  2. My product is 20X faster than their product claim -- We see this all the time, and let’s just say up front that there is absolutely nothing wrong with benchmark data.  But be aware that most of these benchmarks are created in vendor environments in conditions that favor their own products.  They might be providing an accurate picture (especially if a reputable 3rd party benchmark company is involved) – but they often don’t show the full picture.  Who cares about backup speed if recovery takes a huge amount of time and effort?  Look for benchmarks that provide backup AND recovery data.  Further, look for a variety of recovery scenarios like getting a whole server back vs. restoring a single file.  Dig in deeper and don’t be shy about asking for more information as no vendor has ever commissioned a 3rd party test that didn’t showcase their best capabilities while minimizing the rest. 
  3. My product is X% cheaper than their product claim (variation: customer saves X millions by switching to my product claim) – This one gets me every time.  First off, lower license prices are almost never equate to lower total cost of ownership.  For example you might save in software license prices, but if the product doesn’t offer good dedupe technology, you might pay even more in physical storage costs.  Worst yet is that most customers don’t put a price on reliability.  So what if I buy a very inexpensive software solution and save money up front, but the product fails me during recovery?  Truth is more often than not, you get what you pay for.  And, adding different solutions for backup, dedupe, virtual, physical etc. adds to the complexity and management costs that keep backup admins in the office over the weekend. That’s a cost worth considering also.
  4. The backup vendor logo farm --There are a ton of good point technologies out there, but customers can’t afford to keep bringing in new vendors every time their needs evolve.  Their data center becomes a patchwork of logos as they bring in one vendor for virtual backups, one for physical, a different vendor for dedupe and yet another for remote office backups and another for snapshots.  This is a complicated and expensive proposition.  Think about your short term and your long term needs and select a vendor that can meet your requirements today and tomorrow.
  5. It’s ALL ABOUT THE RECOVERY– It’s amazing how many vendors tout amazing backup capabilities but don’t provide a robust recovery experience.  Fast backup is worthless if you have to go through hours of recovery to get one file back.  Fast raw image backup is worthless if you can’t restore single application or a specific email mailbox.  Disaster recovery is yet another facet of this equation that is often overlooked. Backup functionality is great, but recovery capability is why backups exist in the first place.

Getting on the fast track for Virtual Machine Backups

What if you could accelerate your virtualization efforts with backup? Some backup technologies have improved upon their existing products to support VMware and Hyper-V backups brilliantly. Others have attempted to leverage the traditional models for backup on virtual machines with less success.

When a company evaluates backup, deduplication and storage management solutions that can only protect a small part of the backup environment they aren’t seeing the whole picture.  It is a bit like a doctor who can only see part of an X-Ray. 

Start Treating Your Virtual Data like Real Data

There are some simple steps organizations can take to centralize backup and recovery of their physical and virtual server environments.

  • Unify Physical and Virtual!: A common software platform enables organizations to centrally schedule backup jobs, manage recoveries, monitor the success and failure of backup jobs and provide a common console that backup administrators can use to administer all backup jobs.
  • Leverage the Backup Team to Protect VMs: Help keep the virtualization project humming by engaging the existing storage and backup teams to support your goals. In doing so, the goal of 50 percent or more virtualization can be achieved faster.
  • Implement automated and centralized monitoring and reporting: The creation of a virtual machine can now occur in as quickly as a few minutes by an individual and their creation can be automated through the use of scripting.
  • Choose a platform with deep API integration: Integration with leading virtual server platform features such as the vStorage API in VMware vSphere should be viewed as a prerequisite in order for them to successfully protect and recover these platforms.
  • Dedupe Everywhere:Organizations should implement deduplication on all backup data at all levels across the enterprise’s physical and virtual environments. 
  • Get Granular on Granular Recovery: Granular recovery is where the rubber meets the road when it comes to integration with VMware and Hyper-V. Those that have done it well can recover the single file they want, when they want, without the VM or backup administrator being forced to traverse the directories and files.

By implementing a data protection strategy that provides improved virtualization visibility, and setting up the right processes, organizations can not only realize the initial benefits that server virtualiza­tion delivers but successfully avoid some of the challenges that can accompany it.

Additional References:

The Next Big Thing is Already Here:   

Everyone is #1 in VM Backup!:

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