Going virtual? Don’t get physical

When it comes to backing up—and restoring—virtual servers, don’t rely on the same system used to back up physical servers.

virtual-servers-backupAs college IT departments look to wring as much value as possible from their budgets and infrastructure, server virtualization has become almost de rigueur. While the benefits of virtualization are now well documented, maintenance of this new environment is less understood—and comes with its own set of challenges.

Central among these is the question of how virtualized servers can be efficiently backed up and restored.

Among IT departments that have recently made the transition to a virtualized environment, a common approach—or mistake, as some would see it—is to use the same backup process for their virtual machines (VMs) as for their physical servers.

“A lot of educational institutions have gone from a largely physical data center to a highly virtualized one, but they haven’t changed their backup processes,” confirmed Doug Hazelman, vice president of product strategy for Veeam, a Swiss company that focuses on management solutions for modern data centers. “By using agents and those types of things, they are still using backup processes designed for the physical infrastructure. Because of that, they’re seeing their backup times increase, even as customer demands are also increasing in terms of availability.”

This is exactly what Red River College in Manitoba experienced when it first virtualized the server setup at its three main Winnipeg campuses. “With physical servers, backup had been fairly easy because we had tape drives on most of our devices,” said Darren Toews, acting senior technical analyst. “We didn’t have any dedicated storage devices to host disk-to-disk backups, so we started off by just running Windows backups on the VMs themselves, backing those up to a file share on a server and then backing that up to tape. It was an inelegant method.”

While the system worked, its limitations became quickly apparent as the number of VMs grew. “The backup process created a lot of network traffic, and the backup windows were always really, really tight,” recalled Toews.

Recognizing that its approach was unsustainable, Red River searched for a way to automate and shorten the backup process—and to provide rapid recovery of failed VMs.

(Next page: The power of snapshots and reporting tools)

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