Using Virtualization to Anticipate and Solve Today’s and Tomorrow’s VMware Virtual Machine Backup Problems

To understand a specific company’s technology, sometimes you have to do more than just understand the company behind the product, you have to understand the philosophy of the company behind the product. That was probably what impressed me the most when I recently had a briefing with Fadi Albatal, FalconStor’s Director of Product Marketing. Yes, we went over FalconStor’s new HyperTrac Backup Accelerator for VMware feature, but what really piqued my interest was how HyperTrac fits into FalconStor’s overall data protection methodology and why FalconStor’s customers can anticipate further innovations like this in the future.

First off, what HyperTrac does and why it matters. As everyone is aware, backing up VMware virtual machines is a pain in the backside. Putting backup agents on every virtual machine is time consuming and a difficult process to manage. Scheduling backup jobs so they do not conflict requires the skills of Houdini. Then, even if you do all of that perfectly, there is always the possibility that the backup job taps too many server or network resources and negatively impacts other production jobs running on virtual machines on that host ESX server.

VMware Consolidated Backup (VCB) solves some of these problems by taking a snapshot of images of specific virtual machines on that ESX server. Using VCB, companies can create hot backups of virtual machine on this physical ESX server. It may negate the need to install and configure a backup agent within the virtual machine and it alleviates the impact of backup on other virtual machines running on that ESX server.

But VCB creates a new problem – the VMware ESX host needs to maintain snapshots during the backup process and commit changes that occurred during the backup to the virtual machine after the backup of the snapshot is complete. This may not sound like a big deal, but my sources tell me that VMware still does a lousy job of managing its VCB snapshots as it still is in its 1.x release. One VMware guru even told me that, unless the previous VCB snapshot is deleted before the new VCB snapshot is created, the entire VCB snapshot process can fail — though I have not been able to confirm this.

It is these types of issues that FalconStor HyperTrac Backup Accelerator for VCB addresses. It installs on any server with VCB and creates a standby virtual machine on a separate VMware ESX host dedicated to backup processes. HyperTrac then uses FalconStor thin snapshots to present VMware snapshots as the source data for VCB backup processes.

Now a savvy IT administrator may say, “Aha! I thought I might have to virtualize my storage infrastructure to realize these benefits.” But this goes back to the story behind the story that I mentioned at the outset of this blog as to why organizations need to understand the philosophy and foundation on which FalconStor’s IPStor software was built.

The executive team at FalconStor originally came from Cheyenne Software which was the originator of the ARCserve backup software. After Cheyenne Software was sold to CA back in 1996, the executive team did not abandon the concept of data protection but recognized that a new paradigm was starting even then to take shape in enterprise data centers.

Specifically organizations were creating vast amounts of data in distributed environments. To efficiently manage and protect all of that data, organizations would eventually need to virtualize their storage infrastructure so the FalconStor’s IPStor software platform was born. Upon this advanced data services platform, FalconStor builds storage management and data protection solutions that address the different challenges of data protection and recovery. And that would include FalconStor NSS, the storage management and virtualization solution that features HyperTrac.

FalconStor recognized even then that virtualization was going to sweep the data center for a number of reasons. It afforded better utilization of existing resources (network, server, and storage); it created a consistent image of the data; it offered a consistent way to manage the data; and, virtualization affords a means to offer the advanced data protection features that using virtualized disk could offer. This leads us right back to why it is fairly straightforward for FalconStor and its users to introduce new features like HyperTrac into its virtualized infrastructure.

FalconStor’s new HyperTrac Backup Accelerator for VMware was the focus of a recent press release. However the real story here is that companies serious about redesigning their backup infrastructure need to think about broader issues than just tactical issues like completing their backups more quickly. Instead they need to put in a foundation that allows them to quickly and efficiently introduce solutions to whatever problems emerge without requiring them to re-architect their entire infrastructure. Because FalconStor NSS virtualizes the entire storage infrastructure, it puts companies in a position to accomplish that exact objective.

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