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What scaling and protection issues exist in virtual server technology?

Learn scalability and protection factors to consider when trying to identify if a virtual server product you're assessing meets your enterprise needs.

What are the scalability and data protection issues associated with virtual server technology? Can hypervisor-aware storage systems play a role?

In a product evaluation, questions about the target market, the ability to scale beyond a single box and the largest deployments in which the system is used help to identify if the virtual technology in question meets your scalability requirements.

For instance, a product targeted for the small and medium-sized business market likely won't be able to scale to enterprise requirements. Capabilities that are usually not found in storage systems, such as the ability to use the storage system to also run virtual machines (VMs), need to be analyzed for their impact on scalability. The benefits of a rapid deployment and the simplicity of a converged system are in some products offset by limited scalability. Last, but not least, the ability to scale without the need for data migration is indispensable, especially as storage systems for VMs can grow fairly large.

The simplicity of spawning new VMs that inevitably result in a greater number of servers, combined with the abstraction inherent to virtualization, make data protection of virtualized servers a more challenging task. Backing up VMs via backup agents that run on the VMs is problematic because of the overhead and impact on performance. Backing up the physical host can cause problems as well unless the VMs it hosts and the applications within each VM are backed up in a consistent state; this requires data in memory to be flushed to disk to ensure all data is backed up and restores can be performed in an application-consistent manner.

Hypervisors provide APIs to aid in data protection: VMware has its vStorage API for Data Protection (VADP) and Microsoft’s Volume Shadow Copy Service (VSS) enables application-consistent snapshots of VSS-enabled applications. Hypervisor-aware storage systems can play an essential role in simplifying this data protection challenge via techniques such as snapshots, replication and continuous data protection.

About the author:
Jacob N. Gsoedl is a freelance writer and a corporate director for business systems. He can be reached at jacobslab@live.com.

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