Re-setting the Bar for VMware Backups in the Cloud Era

In a world where IT is scrutinized based on the bottom line, it’s easy to deprioritize disaster recovery. Building out, refreshing and managing a dedicated infrastructure for disaster recovery requires significant capex investment and compounds the already heavy burden of managing IT – and this infrastructure does not directly generate revenue. Times are changing though, as big data grows exponentially, as businesses seek to harness that data for competitive advantage, and as security breaches and data outages cripple organizations’ ability conduct business while threatening their credibility long term.

The business case for making disaster recovery a strategic priority is strengthening, and a plethora of vendors are pitching cloud-based solutions that promise the ability to obtain these critical capabilities more cost-effectively, and without the management-related hassle. However, many IT shops continue to struggle with backing up and recovering their VMware environments (which continue to comprise the majority of today’s data centers). Evaluating how the history of VMware disaster recovery has evolved helps to explain why.

As virtual machine adoption was gaining momentum, there was a common but also false perception that backing up VMware environments is easy and automatic. As is common with any new application or infrastructure, disaster recovery was an afterthought. Within about two or three years after using virtual machines in production became mainstream, companies began installing backup agents on their virtual machines, as they would in a server. This approach, however, was not effective.

To address this pain point, VMware introduced its VMware Consolidated Backup (VCB) platform, which was designed to offload backup network traffic from the ESX server. IT shops initially flocked to the platform, but quickly learned that the tool lacked robust functionality and still required a standalone, physical server to back up virtual machines. VMware ultimately replaced VCB with the VMware vStorage API for Data Protection (VADP), which addressed many of the issues inherent in VCB. However, buyers’ quest for a VCB workaround and more effective backup for VMware environments had already paved a path to demand and spend for standalone disaster recovery solutions from companies such as Druva.

Today, the advent of cloud storage marks the next twist in the VMware backup saga. The cloud is undoubtedly where the backup market is heading, and VADP is typically a critical component in this journey. However, VADP is still not without its flaws (click here to read Storage Switzerland’s coverage of why VMware backups still break), and many vendors are still figuring out how to address the cloud.

StorageSwiss Take

IT should think both critically and proactively about disaster recovery, considering long-term business needs and impact. An infrastructure-less strategy may be an effective path to controlling costs (both capex and opex) while meeting recovery time and point objectives (RTOs and RPOs) – but this is far from true for all approaches that integrate cloud services.

Above and beyond lowering total cost of ownership, cloud backup and disaster recovery vendors have the potential to be strategic partners for business continuity. Solutions should be scrutinized for comprehensive support, including full native support for VMware on Amazon Web Services (AWS), for the flexibility to pay as you go, for a single-pane-of-glass management experience and for granular data visibility. IT’s expectations for disaster recovery and backing up virtual machines may be set low following historical pains a la VCB, but that bar must be re-set to accommodate today’s demands.

To learn more about effective VMware backup strategies, watch Storage Switzerland’s webinar in collaboration with Druva, “What’s Breaking Your VMware Backups? And How You Can Fix Them Quickly,” on demand.

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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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