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Moving Forward in Backing Up

Understanding the difference between backing up virtual machines vs. physical systems and knowing what to ask when selecting a BDR solution is vital for IT providers offering cloud and hosting services.

“Technology is supposed to make our lives easier, allowing us to do things more quickly and efficiently. But too often it seems to make things harder, leaving us with fifty-button remote controls, digital cameras with hundreds of mysterious features and book-length manuals…”

— James Surowiecki, journalist for The New Yorker

For as long as businesses have been using computers, people have been concerned about losing their data when a glitch occurs. First, we copied data onto floppy disks that were actually floppy (yes, I worked with them!); then we turned to tape. Backup solutions have become far more sophisticated in the last decade, making automated disk-based backup more robust.

Unfortunately, the more technology advances, the more complicated things become. Just when IT providers thought they had a handle on backup and recovery, the cloud came along. Virtualization and cloud services have moved beyond the periphery and now support mission-critical systems. Understanding the difference between backing up virtual machines vs. physical systems and knowing what to ask when selecting a BDR solution is vital for IT providers offering cloud and hosting services.

Why Is it So Complicated?

While there are tremendous advantages to virtualization, it’s important to understand why and how VMs complicate the backup and recovery process:

  • VMs are more than their data. A VM must remain tied to its operating system, applications, hypervisor settings, system configuration and logs.
  • VMs are dynamic. They can be created, paused, deleted, restarted and moved in an instant. A backup needs to detect these changes and keep associated data together.
  • VMs can be redundant. Backup can become storage-intensive when it retains multiple copies of the same software, OS and applications.
  • Physical and virtual compatibility is required. A backup solution for virtual systems has to be compatible with both VMs and the physical hardware running them.
  • Backup can impair performance. Virtual systems increase system utilization, but also reduce the processing and bandwidth resources available for performing backup.
  • Costs can be high. Depending upon the licensing model, costs can quickly mount (VM count).

Interview Questions for a VM Backup Solution:

When you’re looking at a backup solution for virtual systems, you need to ask the right questions. Here is what you need to ask any backup solution provider before signing on the dotted line.

  1. Is it compatible with your servers, drivers, hypervisor, operating systems and software?
  2. Is a separate physical server, SAN or NAS required?
  3. Can it also back up physical infrastructure, or is a different backup solution needed for that?
  4. How does it reduce storage usage (block-level, zero copy snapshots, de-duplication)?
  5. How are the management tools used and accessed?
  6. Is it integrated with other systems, such as the hypervisor or storage?
  7. If snapshots are used, how often are snapshots taken? Can it meet your recovery point objective?
  8. How is data recovered? Is it time- or labor-intensive? What recovery time objective can it meet?
  9. Can it back up multiple VMs simultaneously without impacting performance?
  10. Does it auto-detect new or moved VMs and automatically protect them by default?
  11. How does it support/provide failover functionality?
  12. Can you perform disaster testing without impacting production?
  13. Does it support offsite replication?
  14. Can you test or try it before purchasing it?
  15. What is the cost? Are licenses required per VM? How much is offsite bandwidth and storage?

Capture the Opportunity!

Backup of virtual systems goes hand in hand with providing cloud, hosting and virtualization services. It can be an incredibly lucrative service to bundle with your other offerings. Your customers understand its importance and want you to take care of it for them.

As challenging as constantly changing technology is, it also provides new revenue sources for IT providers who keep up and adapt. As Tim O’Reilly, a vocal advocate of the free software and open source movements, points out: “What new technology does is create new opportunities to do a job that customers want done.”

Richard Reiffer is Vice President of Cloud Services at Zenith Infotech and CEO of Global Cloud Consulting. Monthly guest blogs such as this one are part of Talkin' Cloud's annual platinum sponsorship.

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