End-to-End Virtual Machine Backup

As of the end of last year, there are a new breed of virtualization backup tools now available, end-to-end backup tools. These tools will backup a virtual machine to tape using built in mechanisms instead of requiring scripting, or multiple backup tools. The question is: is this necessary? Should virtual machine backups be dropped to tape at all?

Backup to tape or some sort of removable media such as Blu-ray or DVD is a very common practice. Even I do this, but the issue remains, is this a satisfactory way to handle disaster recovery? I know, many are shaking their heads thinking that Tape is the best DR plan we have at the moment. However, there are often several problems with this:

  • Items written on one tape may not be readable on other tape devices of the same type
  • The Tape device in use may not be readily available for restoration
  • Use of Tape based encryption may not be decryptable on another device
  • Tapes often fail leaving you with either corrupt, missing, or no data
  • Tapes require very specific storage requirements to maintain their health

While Blu-ray and DVD are up and coming and do not have the same storage requirements as tapes, all the other woes still affect them. With Virtualization, there are other tools available to aid in creating backups, mainly replication. When we use standard virtualization backup tools (Veeam, Vizioncore’s vRangerPro, PhD Virtual’s esXpress, or what the vendor provides such as VCB and VDR) we store data either as full virtual disks or individual files on intermediary file shares. These intermediary file shares could then be dropped to tape, but more importantly we can setup for business continuity as well. This implies, we replicate the data to a hot site, cloud based storage for easy retrieval, or some other medium to aid in the fast recovery of our virtual machines.

I have seen customers copy their data to their backup server, USB disks, local to the virtualization host LUNs, hot site, and cloud based storage. These all try to handle business continuity issues. Restoring from tape and the backup server being one of the last things they do or try and only when there is a site and hot site failure.

There is a proliferation of data around the data center(s) and cloud using this type of method, which often implies more security requriements, specifically to encrypt the data. VMware is approaching the encryption problem by developing an encrypted virtual disk which is currently available in VMware Workstation 7. This technology is one that is missing from currently available production servers. Since virtual disk backups backup the entire virtual disk, the encryption goes with it. However, the keys would then need to be stored safely, perhaps using a directory server.

Encryption aside, proliferation of your data has its own issues and risks, and perhaps this is the major reason End-to-End virtual machine backup tools are useful. Such tools come from Acronis and Symantec. These tools in effect have included the scripting that was normally by hand into their products and thereby make a more robust product. While not as innovative as the front runners such as Veeam and vRangerPro, the use of existing technology is well tried and understood.

This new breed of virtual machine backup can lead to an interesting year for the virtualization backup companies. The traditional backup companies now have products that give them a foot hold. The question in my mind is will innovation or tried and true be the real winner? Only time will tell.

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