With the rate of virtualised servers being added to IT environments, organisations are facing new challenges in how to adequately protect data and ensure its recoverability without backup operations limiting the performance of the host machines.
Despite advances in backup and data protection technologies, the proliferation of virtual machines means that there is an increased need to align the business and IT requirements of data protection to achieve optimal efficiency, minimise risk and increase satisfaction to both users and the organisation.
Here I offer the following 5 tips to organisations looking to overcome the challenges of data protection in virtualised environments.
1. Planning and Internal communication is needed to ensure VM protection
As organisations continue to increase the ratio of VMs to host machines, the challenges of backup and recoverability in virtualised environments are only going to increase in scale. To prepare for growth, organisations that are adopting virtualisation need to map out their backup and recovery needs of those virtual machines. Whether the backup responsibilities fall on the same group that manages the virtual environment, or the roles are separate, a protection strategy needs to be put into place so that no data is overlooked. Consistent communication is key, as new VM’s can be deployed without the involvement of the backup admin.
2. Track performance at all levels to identify bottlenecks
Data protection of VMs introduces potential performance issues not seen when backing up physical servers. Performance issues can occur at CPU, I/O and network levels and intensify as the number of VMs per host increase. While many management applications today show CPU and I/O performance, none do so with a lens on data protection activities, and therefore cannot tell the user if backups are impacting performance, or conversely if there will be enough resource available to perform backups. Effectively tracking performance throughout the entire data protection service management process will give a better understanding of how bottlenecks might be preventing successful backups.
3. Monitor and manage the amount of capacity being used by snapshots and backups
Considering on average one third of all capacity consumed across an organisation is used for data protection, effectively managing how much capacity snapshots and backups are consuming can potentially help reduce capacity use and capital costs. Whether manually or with the help of a third-party solution, having accurate up to date knowledge of how your VMs consume storage and how much capacity is being used by snapshots is vital. Having insight into snapshot utilisation in every datastore down to the file level will help organisations determine what capacity can be reclaimed, freeing up resources.
4. Minimise additional administrative costs associated with protecting VMs
While virtualisation can help reduce the capital costs of servers and operational expenses of powering additional physical servers, there are some additional administrative costs associated with protecting VMs that organisations must be aware of for budget and operational planning purposes. If an organisation uses separate applications to protect virtual and physical servers, there may be an increased burden placed on the IT team. Managing multiple heterogeneous backup applications has long been a challenge, even for specialised backup groups within an organisation.
As was mentioned in Tip #1, it is critical to map out which applications will be used to backup VMs and physical machines, and determine who is responsible for managing the backups. Often, multiple IT groups will use disparate data protection technologies to protect the same VM (the application team implements snapshots while the backup team continues to backup with a traditional solution, or even a specialised product integrated with the VM API).
This can result in overprotection which results in consuming excess capacity and makes it difficult to find the proper recovery point. Coordination among the teams can help reduce administrative costs and reduce time to recovery. Simplifying the complexities of managing the disparate systems will help keep administrative costs to a minimum while capitalising on current technology investments.
5. Implement a solution that addresses the specific needs of data protection management in virtual environments
With virtualisation backup vendors focused on addressing the complexities of backing up virtual instances, the ability to supply in-depth reporting and proper analysis on backup success, recovery point availability, capacity consumption and performance issues have largely been ignored. With protecting virtual instances becoming a top concern and the challenge of managing both snapshots and backups on the rise, a solution that addresses virtualisation with an emphasis on the DPSM model can ensure operational excellence.
There has been minimal attention paid by vendors in addressing the issues of backup and restore success, performance, and capacity use in traditional backup environments, let alone virtualised ones. By understanding how backups are being done within a virtualised environment, organisations will have a clearer path to overcome the inherent challenges they face in ensuring that VMs are properly protected and readily available if needed. A solution that follows the tried-and-true method of the DPSM model to help users reduce costs, improve customer satisfaction and achieve operational excellence is the ideal way to overcome the challenges of backup in virtualised environments.