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Who Actually Is Responsible For Virtual Backup?

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As the trend towards virtualisation in the SMB market grows, Acronis’ David Blackman explores the importance of virtual backup management

The virtualisation landscape has changed for the better for SMBs. The technology required is no longer just a viable option for enterprises with ample budgets and vast resources; it’s now available to companies of all sizes.

With an increase in the number of available virtualisation options, and analysts including Gartner and IDC predicting growth in the sector – 2012 is set to be the year that virtualisation becomes a reality in the SMB space.

Virtual benefits

There are many reasons for an SMB to virtualise its servers: it helps reduce capital and running costs; it allows organisations to be more flexible and nimble in response to market changes; and, as every environmentally-aware company knows, helps reduce the data centre’s carbon footprint through lower power and cooling requirements.

But with the growth in virtualisation comes the explosion of virtual machines as more servers are consolidated. Protecting and managing the data against failure or loss becomes a priority. Unfortunately parts of the market are slow to adapt with some traditional backup vendors still using the same physical backup tools for their customers’ virtual environments. This is the wrong approach. The virtual environment has specific needs, which means the backup solution used should be designed for it.

As virtualisation leads to larger volumes of data to manage, the need to spend more time on backup processes increases, which in turn puts more pressure on already busy backup windows. It also impacts capacity requirements, as more storage volumes are needed to store the data.

Since virtual machines are running as files on the host OS system, performing online backups can be difficult. Virtual machine (VM) images can be large and unwieldy to manage and can cause network bottlenecks. In addition, if a physical server fails, it will affect all of the virtual machines and application interdependencies running on that particular piece of hardware.

Who’s in charge

The responsibility for backing up and restoring that data has become an issue of internal politics, especially in the mid to top end spectrum of the SMB space.  The most likely rivals for ownership are the virtual administrator, the storage specialist and the database manager. As more people deploy applications and production machines throughout their networks, additional collaboration is needed to manage the data through its lifecycle.

Conflicts will arise as the different individuals try to execute different goals, not one of which compliments the other. So whose job is it to protect, secure and recover data? If you make it everyone’s job, it becomes no one’s responsibility.

Everyone wants to control the data, from the database managers to virtualisation administrators. In time, we will see some consolidation and it will shift back to the storage administrators to manage data and backup centrally. But for now, the most important decision is to make sure all digital data, whether it resides in a physical or virtual environment, is protected.

Once you have determined who will manage and protect the data, the next most important step is to find out what needs to be backed up, how often it needs to be backed up and establishing the necessary windows in which to schedule backups without resource contention.

It is essential that companies take their virtual backup and disaster recovery strategies seriously and make sure they factor in a backup and recovery plan from the very start, in order to avoid the risk of losing data. The best way to do this is to work with a third party who can advise you about the best solution for your needs and then work with you to migrate your data to the new environment.

Research released by Acronis in early 2011, asked SMBs about their current approach to backing up their physical and virtual environments and over half of organisations said they used a separate backup application for each different server environment. Three-quarters (74 percent) then went on to say their preferred approach was to use a single backup application for their virtual and physical environments.

By using a solution that bridges the differences between the physical and virtual worlds, you can take maximum advantage of both, while supporting their business continuity objectives.

Virtualisation is fast maturing into an effective means of optimising IT infrastructures, and the protection of data in virtualised infrastructures should be a key consideration in each virtualisation rollout.

Backing up virtual machines need not be complicated. Choosing a data protection and disaster recovery solution that allows companies to manage both physical and virtual environments under the same framework can really simplify the process.

David Blackman is the General Manager of Northern Europe and MEA at Acronis.