2012 Data Protection Concerns

Data Protection is still an issue with many small businesses and smaller enterprises who virtualize; Specifically around the Data Protection Process and eventually where to store the data. When I speak to people they are struggling with whether or not to place the data on tape, blu-ray, into the cloud, or other disks. Medium and Large Enterprises already have such policies in place, but like everything else, when they virtualized the policies may have fallen by the road side and now need to be recovered, dusted off, and put into practice. The choice of where the data will ultimately reside when disaster strikes is an ongoing discussion in the virtualization community.  Ultimately, Data Protection is just that, protecting the data from loss, destruction, and allowing for quick recovery.

If your virtualized backup tool is limited in scope the ultimate recovery solutions may not be available.  If our policies state that data will be ultimately backed up to tape and transported off site or to another site, use of virtualization backup products should not hinder this and to be frank many of them do not. But we forget as virtualization administrators that there is a bigger issue at stake than the immediate availability of our data, that data protection is ultimately about recovery from failure, either on a small scale or a large scale. So we use tools that allow us to access our data quickly, then maybe other tools to move that data into a cloud, but do we go to tape anymore?

For some companies we do, but the virtualization backup tools require a third party to integrate with tape devices, and a few (such as VMware VDR) require us to design our data protection process so that the data gets to another location which can then be used to finally go to tape but is often a two step process instead of an integrated solution. This is why products from Quantum (vmPro 4000) and Symantec (NetBackup) look so appealing as they understand that ultimately Data Protection is about getting the data from a remote source if there is a full disaster, which still implies tape or blu-ray. We have not yet fully gone to storing our critical, private, and sensitive data into a cloud yet. We may trust Iron Mountain and others, but ultimately the data is still kept on site.

While Veeam Backup, Phd Virtual, Quest, and others make data readily available if something is lost and also replicate data these products are still missing tape based data protection, which means that we still need to architect a total solution to fit in with our current policies. Granted, eventually those policies will change and for some organizations they already have, but while tape is claimed to be dead, there is an awful lot of work going into denser and denser tape devices and media to make multi-terabyte backups a reality to a single tape

So what it boils down to is that no matter what tool you choose for data protection it must either work seamlessly with an existing tape backup service or must make its data easily accessible to such a service.  Veeam and Quantum (Pancetera) do this by presenting a filesystem that could then be mounted to a tape server. This is one approach to the problem. Acronis, Quantum’s, and Symantec’s solution it to integrate virtualization specific backup into their own products. Veeam, PhD Virtual, Quest and VMware VDR require your architecture to support presentation of filesystems using NFS or to mount and use CIFS shares so the existing tools work as expected.

Quantum and Symantec are the bigger players, and Pancetera gives Quantum in roads into those already using backup tools such as Tivoli. Even so, I see a need for backup vendors to provide solutions that work and integrate together, because ultimately we still use tape and must be able to restore a VM from such a device in case of a disaster.

We will not see tape disappear anytime soon, which means those virtualization backup vendors that count on disk to disk and replication into the cloud should also provide easy to use mechanisms to get data onto tape, whether that is by integration with well known tape backup vendors or by providing the features those vendors can use.

So what brought this on? In our own labs we replicate data from storage device to storage device on a regular basis, however, when one of the large storage devices also went down the data was in effect inaccessible for recovery. Tie this to our recent network failures where the network and therefore any cloud replication source was inaccessible leads me to believe that tape is here to stay. Not just for piece of mind, but to fit with current policy and procedures. Eventually, you will have to do a Disaster Recovery from scratch when there is no network and just bare metal.  This  discussion does not target large Enterprises as their policies and procedures are usually fine. Even so the virtualization backup tools still need to fit into those policies and procedures, which in many cases eventually means tape and other physical media backups.

This also begs the question, if the cloud is inaccessible to do restoration in a Katrina style disaster, how would you recover your data from SunGuard and other cloud providers? How would you get the security certificates you would need to even talk to those services? All this is also part of your disaster recovery plan?

2012 should be the year we review our DR plans to ensure they will work.

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