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Virtual server backup tips

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Virtualization backup tools
The major array vendors are tuning their backup, recovery and replication tools to work with VMware, often as part of a two-step process in which companies use VCB to protect the VMs by creating crash-consistent copies and then deploying array-based replication technology to protect the data.

VMware recently introduced Site Recovery Manager to automate disaster recovery management.

Site Recovery Manager works with VMware's Virtual- Center management console and with replication software from various storage partners, including 3PAR Inc., Dell Inc., EMC Corp., FalconStor, Hewlett-Packard Co., Hitachi Data Systems, IBM, LeftHand Networks Inc. and NetApp.

Navicure Inc., a Duluth, GA, provider of revenue-cycle management systems for physicians, relied on extensive manual scripting to back up as many as two dozen virtual servers using the replication capabilities built into its EqualLogic SAN (now owned by Dell). "The scripting was taking us hours," says Donald Wilkins, Navicure's IT director. "We wanted to streamline the process." Just trying to recover a VM and promote it to production involved a cumbersome process of mounting files and changing IP addresses.

"Site Recovery Manager automated all this for us, all the scripting and changing of IP addresses. It also lets us test our DR plan non-intrusively," says Wilkins.

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To validate this approach, Wilkins undertook the two-hour challenge--to bring up 10 VMs in two hours. "We started at 7pm on a Friday night and began cloning VMs with EqualLogic. We changed IP addresses, replicated them and defined protection groups in less than two hours. We pressed a button and had all 10 VMs up and running 10 minutes later," he says. By 9pm the team was heading home.

UGL Unicco, Newton, MA, turned to STORServer Inc.'s STORServer Appliance for VMware Consolidated Backup. With approximately 100 VMs running on five VMware ESX servers and TSM as its primary backup tool, UGL Unicco uses the STORServer Appliance to interface with Tivoli, VMware and VCB. For most of its VMs, it puts a TSM agent on the server and backs up in the conventional way to STORServer disk, which spins it off to LTO-4 tape. It uses VCB with approximately 30 critical VMs to allow for file-level recovery.

"We're an IBM shop and we liked what Tivoli does, but it's very complex, highly scripted and uses a CLI, so we went with STORServer as a GUI front end," says Darrell Stymiest, UGL Unicco's network services manager. VMware backup was similarly challenging, requiring extensive scripting through another CLI. With the STORServer Appliance for VMware Consolidated Backup "we can take the VCB snapshot and write it to disk on STORServer and then send it to tape," says Stymiest. Recovering files with VCB remains a cumbersome multistep process, but it's much improved over previous VMware backups. "We want to use VCB with 90% of our VMs eventually," he adds.

"Backing up virtual servers isn't simple and the tools aren't perfect," says Mainland Information Systems' D'Costa. But the virtualization backup process is still immature. "Backup tool vendors and array vendors are still trying to conform with VMware," which is still evolving its tools and APIs, adds D'Costa. Until the virtualization industry matures in a few more years, backing up VMs will remain a challenge.

This was first published in September 2008

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