IT and Business Insights for SMB Solution Providers

New Tools for Backing Up Virtual Machines

With virtualization becoming a popular choice among SMBs, it's important for your customers to know that their virtual machines are backed up and protected. Make sure you understand the necessary tools. By James E. Gaskin

“Virtual machine backup tools now make it far easier to facilitate off-site disaster recovery [and] fast recovery for entire virtual machines, and add advantages you can’t easily get with physical servers,” says Jerome M. Wendt, president and lead analyst, DCIG Inc., a technical analyst firm focused on data storage and protection. “Time to apply a Microsoft service pack, for example? Copy your production server instance, test the upgrade, then roll it out. Or just copy the changed image into production.”

VM-aware backup tools copy the entire file containing the virtual machine instance and all applications, leveraging the snapshot image files created with VMware. “Manage that file and you recover your whole virtual machine,” says Wendt. But finding specific files can get harder when you have to restore an entire machine instance to recover a single file.

John Maxwell, vice president of data protection products at Quest Software Inc., in Aliso Viejo, Calif., has been in backup for 20 years and is an admitted VM bigot. “Virtual machines have made backup and recovery easier in at least three ways,” he says. “First, as long as you’re running VMware vSphere 4 or higher, there’s no need for a backup window. VMware does a stupendous job with APIs to grab an encapsulated point-in-time image, with no disruption. Second, this is an agentless technology. SMBs don’t have time to put a software agent on every VM, and they don’t have to because the technology exists to run backup software within the hypervisor itself. And finally, you can do an image backup and restore the full virtual machine or individual components.”

Quest’s vRanger software, early to the virtual backup market, is leveraging features from other Quest tools, like dedupe, says Maxwell. “Soon we’ll be able to expose a backup image as a mountable file system, then index that with a search engine,” he notes. “Data will look like it does natively.”

“We approached VM backup fresh, not hindered by any existing products for physical backup,” says Doug Hazelman, senior director for product strategy at Veeam Software, a VM management and backup company in Columbus, Ohio. “VMs are just files on a disk, and we back up that image and don’t have to worry about the individual applications.” All Veeam backups are disk to disk.

According to Hazelman, recoverability is what matters. “We take the backup through a boot sequence to verify it, every backup for every machine, every time,” he says. Veeam also promises its solutions can start a recovery without extracting the backup file image, and restore a machine instance from backup in less than five minutes. They can also pull individual files out of backups to put back into production.

VM backups are becoming more important, especially for smaller businesses as they adopt virtualization. Of the new servers in 2010, for example, more were on a virtual rather than physical platform. And VMware claims about 90 percent of its customers are SMBs, meaning 1,000 users or fewer. Analyst firm Gartner Inc., for its part, says virtualization adoption has passed the tipping point, so the time to approach clients is now.

Maxwell at Quest Software did a survey and found that more of his customers are aggressively putting mainstream applications on virtual machines than he realized. He assumed file and print servers were the most virtualized, but found that Web and MS SQL servers were numbers one and two. “How are you going to stay relevant if you don’t support virtualization?” he asks.

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