Selecting the best solution for any project, regardless of what it is, starts with asking the right questions. To select the best VMware vSphere backup solution, the process is the same. Begin with a list of questions to ask the provider. These represent the TOP 5 questions organizations should ask to identify the best vSphere backup solution for their environment.
Question #1 – What support options does the provider offer?
Listing and asking this question first may seem almost counterintuitive. Read any provider’s website and it almost always leads with all the latest and greatest technical features its solution offers. While this makes for a good read, organizations do not use every feature a solution offers.
However, organizations almost universally use the provider’s support after they acquire the product. It is no wonder they cite product support as the primary issue they care the most about.
Thankfully, most vSphere backup solution providers offer good and arguably even great support for their respective solution. Notice I use the word most. Notification options, the availability of support staff, and the methods of support can and do vary between providers. Lower levels and quality of support often surface with providers new to the space.
If considering a solution from a recent entrant into the VMware vSphere backup space, examine its support options first. Then ensure its support offerings match your internal requirements.
Question #2 – What third-party management integration options does the solution offer?
Backup has always functioned as a core IT operation. However, how organizations manage it has evolved in recent years. Organizations prefer not to dedicate a specialized individual or team to manage backups and recoveries. They more often want these tasks managed by an IT generalist, not a backup specialist.
This changes how VMware vSphere solution providers should look to deliver their solution. Minimally their solution should interface on some level with common VMware management solutions, such as VMware vCenter. Ideally, they can perform general backup tasks. These may include discovering unprotected VMs, scheduling backup jobs, monitoring backup alerting, and recovering files, folders, or VMs.
In evaluating vSphere backup solutions, quantify how it integrates with native VMware management consoles such as vSphere. Enterprises may also want to determine if it integrates with third party management consoles such as ServiceNow.
Question #3 – What vSphere guest operating systems does it protect?
Sometimes one forgets just how many guest operating systems VMware vSphere can host. A recent look at VMware’s Guest OS Compatibility Guide revealed it supports over 20 different guest operating systems. Further, multiple versions and releases of each guest OS exist with some supported versions going back decades.
To answer this question requires an organization first quantify all the different guest OSes running in their vSphere environment. Only after having this list can an organization make an informed choice about which vSphere backup solution, or solutions, to choose.
An organization may need to choose multiple solutions since newer backup solutions (under three years old) often protect the newest vSphere guest OSes. Conversely, established backup solutions more likely will offer backup support for older versions of guest OSes.
Question #4 – What recovery options does it offer?
Expectations for recovery of application, data, and VMs have become like everything else in our society of instant gratification. While organizations should not expect backup solutions to provide uninterruptible application access, many deliver instant recoveries. Instant recoveries generally mean one can recover a VM and the application hosted on it in 15 minutes or less.
However, it merits exploring all the recovery options these solutions offer. Some offer:
- Disaster recovery-as-a-service (DRaaS) where organizations can recover their entire environment.
- Options to host recoveries on their backup appliances until production hardware comes back online.
- Recovering VMs to performing testing and development on production applications and data.
- Organizations the option to recover and convert VMs to other VM types, such as those hosted in AWS or Azure.
Organizations have more recovery options than ever from which to choose. A new vSphere backup solution may well include options to address these new recovery needs.
Question #5 – What anti-ransomware features does it offer?
Backup software has become instrumental in helping organizations recover from ransomware attacks. Unfortunately, hackers also recognize this. As a result, they have made backup software and backups new attack vectors to increase their probability of success.
To counter these attacks, organizations should look for backup software features to help them repel and counter ransomware attacks. Anti-ransomware features backup software may offer include:
- Isolate or air gap backup data from production data. Getting backup data off network file servers helps prevent ransomware from finding it and then deleting or encrypting it.
- Two-factor authentication. Some ransomware attempts to access backup software using its default admin username and password. It may also obtain admin usernames and passwords on the dark web. Using two factor authentication prevents hackers from unauthorized access to your backup software.
- Lock backup data in object stores. Object Lock is a recently introduced S3 feature that prevents changes to data stored on object stores. Some backup solutions already support and use this feature to prevent ransomware’s access to backup data.
These questions do not represent a comprehensive list of questions that an organization may ask of a VMware vSphere backup software provider. However, comprehensive answers to these five questions will provide substantial insight into a solution’s quality. Thorough answers to all five of these questions as they relate to your organization minimally means the following. An organization can put this solution on its short list of candidates.
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