Storage Virtualization And Backup: Strategic Considerations

Storage virtualization and the software-defined environments of virtual machines present particular challenges for administrators and business managers building a backup strategy for their IT assets. In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the options available, and some of the issues to consider.

The Need For Backups

Reliable and up to date information is the life’s blood of practically every industry, today. With on-site or cloud-based data playing key roles in eCommerce and other aspects of business, it’s essential that this information stays readily available, and free of corruption.

With organizations for whom storage virtualization or process emulation are core business components, this is especially important. Crucial customer records or operational data may reside in software-defined storage. And if it’s deleted or loses its integrity, valuable opportunities and revenue may be lost. Likewise, for software developers, loss of information from virtual machines may hamper or even kill off new projects, and enhancements to existing applications.

Having verified and easily accessible duplicate copies of vital data sets is the answer to all of these concerns – which is why some form of regular backup procedure is now a business necessity. Making sure that working copies of your vital files and applications are available from a safe repository is also vital to restoring your systems in the event of a security breach, environmental catastrophe, or similar event – a process known as disaster recovery or DR. But there are specific challenges and considerations to be borne in mind, when dealing with virtualized storage or emulated environments, and the hyperconverged infrastructure which so often underlies them.

Assessing The Need

The following factors should be considered, in evaluating the need to back up a virtual machine (VM):

  • The nature of the workload on the VM.
  • How critical is that workload?
  • The data change rate for the workload. For example, information in a database will change more often than the data on a web server.
  • Scheduling, and the required or available backup windows.

Understanding The Virtual Storage Environment

Traditional backup solutions often assume that the virtual machines making up a virtualized storage environment are physical servers. This puts unrealistic demands on the input / output (I/O) capacity of the host system, particularly during enterprise or system-wide backup operations. In an environment that’s governed by a hypervisor (the software that allows one or more virtual machines or VMs to operate directly on underlying hardware), backup tools must support features such as block-level incremental backups, and changed block tracking.

Knowing The Available Options

In a typical virtual server environment, there are three standard options for taking backups:

  1. Backup of files on a virtual machine (VM): Traditional backup techniques copy programs and application data, but won’t necessarily capture the entire state of the VM. These methods can cause many server environments to limit the number of VMs they place on a single server, decreasing the overall value proposition of your server virtualization. A better approach is to do an off-host backup facilitated by native tools such as VMware Consolidated Backup (VCB) on VMware ESX. This will minimize the impact of the backup process on a virtualized server. The proxy server used in performing the backup works with a VM snapshot or virtual disks, eliminating the need for the physical server or VM to participate in actual data transfer.
  2. Backup of a VM: Taking a snapshot or “moment in time” system image of a virtual machine is the first step in capturing its state prior to backup. Third party software such as integration with the Volume Snapshot Service (VSS) on Windows may then replicate this snapshot image to another system, to provide complete backup and recovery of the virtual machine state.
  3. Backup of a hypervisor console: Most of the leading third party backup software solutions integrate with VCB to offer off-host backup features. This method has the least impact on server or workload performance, and allows your VMs to remain in a transaction-consistent state throughout.

Safeguarding Your Data With StarWind

StarWind Virtual SAN runs as a native hypervisor component or in VM, and doesn’t require any deep storage and network administration or UNIX management skills. A typical system administrator with minimal experience in Hyper-V, VMware or Windows can install, configure and maintain VSAN operations. StarWind products offer flexible hypervisor and OS-specific software defined storage (SDS) choices to simplify multi-tenant configurations or during potential hypervisor switch. Options include Microsoft Hyper-V, VMware vSphere, Red Hat KVM, and Citrix XenServer.

StarWind’s hyperconverged infrastructure also protects your software-defined data center through the provision of storage appliances for primary and secondary (tier 2, 3, backup) purposes, Virtual Tape Library (VTL), etc. Sizing, application, and data migration services are included with every appliance.

StarWind ProActive Support uses advanced AI analytics, to predict failures before they even occur. This saves you from endless infrastructure monitoring, allowing you to focus on your business instead.

To download the StarWind software products, visit the StarWind Software web page. An installer link and the license key will be sent to the e-mail address you specify.