Identifying a virtual machine backup software solution that delivers on the intangible new features that a small and midsized enterprise (SME) needs to backup and recover its virtualized environment is easier said than done. The DCIG 2013 Virtual Server Backup Software Buyer’s Guide identified and evaluated over 20 virtual server backup solutions with more than 150 different features. The trick for SMEs is to identify which of these 150 features match their specific needs and then select a backup software solution that delivers on them.
The five features that SMEs specifically need to verify that the backup software offers include:
1. Available as an Appliance. Making the backup software available as an appliance (physical or virtual) may sound almost tangential to the entire topic of SME selecting the right backup software for its environment. But as a former system administrator who has worked for both small and large enterprises, I often first spent weeks if not months sizing and acquiring the right hardware (servers, operating systems, networking and storage) to host the backup software. Then once the hardware was acquired, I spent additional time installing and configuring the hardware and backup software
Having the backup software available as a physical or virtual appliance reduces the time required to put the backup software into production to as short as an hour or less. A physical appliance only needs to be powered up and connected to the network. Installing a virtual appliance only requires that its Open Virtualization Format (OVF) file or package be installed on an existing hypervisor.
2. Comprehensive VMware vSphere Support. Say all you want about putting in place a single backup software solution but the need for it to provide comprehensive support for VMware vSphere remains a prerequisite.
Most SMEs will use VMware in some capacity and many will initially start out with it. While they may over time deploy other hypervisors to protect applications in testing and development, SMEs tend to give vSphere the initial nod for hosting their production applications since it is the most proven and well-known hypervisor.
A specific point of vSphere integration that organizations should look for in backup software is its support for the VMware APIs for Data Protection (VADP) and its Changed Block Tracking (CBT) option. Once CBT is turned on, vSphere tracks changes on a VM disk with minimal performance impact to the VM. Then when a backup occurs, the backup software communicates with vSphere to get a snapshot of what blocks of data have changed since the previous backup. Since vSphere has a record of these changes, the time it takes to backup an individual VM is reduced to seconds. Further, it minimizes the need to put a backup agent on each VM which simplifies backup administration.
3. Full Featured Backup Technology. SMEs looking to protect their entire environment (virtual or physical) using a single backup software product need one that offers the right set of features to address their specific needs. This is where products that started out protecting physical environments but have evolved to also protect virtual environments actually have an edge.
Granted, they need to offer support for the other hypervisors such as Microsoft Hyper-V and Red Hat Linux that are starting to find their way into SME environments. But these solutions also are more likely to offer support for physical and/or guest operating systems such as Mac OSX, Novell, and Sun Solaris in addition to the standard Linux and Windows operating systems that nearly every provider supports.
4. Robust Management Functionality. SMEs may only have a few staff to manage their entire IT infrastructure. In their roles they are usually forced to remain IT generalists who rarely if ever have time to become product specialists. As such they need a solution that requires no training, and is self-managing once it is setup and deployed with an interface that is easy to access and features that are easy to use.
For instance, every organization faces the ongoing task of protecting new virtual machines (VMs) as they are created. As part of simplifying the protection of these VMs, backup software should automate the ongoing detection and configuration of VMs for backup. This ensures the entire virtualized environment remains fully protected over time.
Application recoveries go hand-in-hand with managing backups in virtualized environments. One of the more pleasant aspects of virtualization is the ease in which SMEs can recover applications. This ease of recovery puts a heightened focus on having application consistent backups so SMEs may restore them in support of initiatives such as disaster recovery or testing product fixes or upgrades before they are applied on production VMs.
5. Robust Replication. Fast VM restores are only part of what SMEs expect a new backup software solution to deliver. Virtualization also makes it much easier to replicate and recover data offsite. This aspect of virtualization opens the door for SMEs to check off a “To-do” that has been on their wish list for many years: a viable disaster recovery plan. However this is only possible if the backup software provides a viable replication solution.
On the surface, different backup software solutions may sound alike in terms of their ability to copy or replicate backup jobs offsite. The differences emerge in well how they execute on that process. Simply copying all of the data in a single backup job to another site may work but will not meet enterprise-class disaster recovery needs. The backup solution should enable customers to schedule multiple full, incremental and differential backup jobs for replication in order to meet disaster recovery requirements. In addition, additional features are needed to ensure that the replication job is done efficiently and completed in a timely manner.
The backup software needs to provide replication that monitors available WAN bandwidth and adjusts the flow of data being replicated. Further, to minimize both the amount of data being replicated and how much WAN bandwidth it consumes, it should only do byte-level data replication, replicating only data that has changed since the completion of the previous replication job.
To read about all of the criteria that small and midsize enterprises should consider when making a virtual server backup software buying decision and which product may be best suited for your environment, download the NEW DCIG Head-to-Head Product Report, (Note: this link will take you to a sponsor’s site.)