Why Virtualization STILL Breaks Backup

With the broad adoption of server virtualization by data centers, it became apparent that protection of the new environment was very inadequate. Organizations faced in-guest protection or very fragile off-host architectures. As adoption continued, VMware and others made significant strides in providing robust APIs that backup vendors could use to protect virtual infrastructures more effectively. Despite progress in capabilities, most IT teams still cite protecting the virtual infrastructure as a top pain point in their data protection strategies. These environments need more than just basic protection. They need an intelligent protection solution that can be as flexible as the virtual environment itself.

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Dealing with VM Mobility

One of the earliest advantages of a virtualized environment was its ability to migrate virtual machines (VMs) from one host to another. Now, though, VMs can migrate to hosts in other data centers or in the cloud. Data protection solutions need to be able to track a VM’s movement and protect it appropriately.

Another advantage of virtualization is the ability to almost instantly create another VM and install a new application. Unless the organization has a strict change control process in place, the data protection team may be unaware of the existence of new applications and data until an application crashes and loses its data. Then everyone knows about it.

Coinciding with the instant creation problem is the problem of VM sprawl. After creating and using a VM, it is frequently left active and unused, but still consumes resources and needs protection.

Modern backup applications need to go beyond just basic backup of known VMs and help the IT team identify new VMs, even automatically backing them up. These applications also need to notify the backup team of a VM that has not changed over time. At this point, the IT team can decide to archive the VM, delete it or at least exclude it from the backup set.

The Virtual-Only Backup Problem

The early challenges with protecting virtual environments led to the creation of VMware-specific data protection solutions. Not encumbered with integrating virtual data protection into existing code bases, these new vendors were able to jump out to an early lead and provide features that legacy vendors did not, at least initially. The problem is that these VM-only data protection solutions exacerbated an emerging problem in the data center, data protection sprawl. Data protection sprawl occurs when an organization uses multiple, non-integrated techniques to protect data. These can include snapshots, in-application protection (database dumps), enterprise data protection and now protection specific to the virtual environment.

The justification from most of these VM specific data protection solutions is that the data center will one day be 100% virtualized. While adoption of virtualization is very high, most enterprise data centers will never be 100% virtualized. There will more than likely always be some physical systems, often running in their own cluster that still need to be protected.

StorageSwiss Take

Virtualization is not necessarily the end game for the data center. Organizations will continue to count on physical systems for quite some time. In fact, virtualization itself will evolve, with new hypervisors and new takes on the technology, like containers. Enterprise solutions that protect physical and virtual environments and have a proven track record of adapting as new technologies come to market, may be a better fit for the data center. Additionally, they can ensure current challenges presented by virtualization don’t break the backup process.

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Twelve years ago George Crump founded Storage Switzerland with one simple goal; to educate IT professionals about all aspects of data center storage. He is the primary contributor to Storage Switzerland and is a heavily sought after public speaker. With over 25 years of experience designing storage solutions for data centers across the US, he has seen the birth of such technologies as RAID, NAS and SAN, Virtualization, Cloud and Enterprise Flash. Prior to founding Storage Switzerland he was CTO at one of the nation's largest storage integrators where he was in charge of technology testing, integration and product selection.

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