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New approaches: Instant VM recovery, flat backup, hybrid cloud backup

Find out if these recent backup technologies -- snapshots and flat backup, hybrid cloud backup and instant VM recovery -- are right for your organization.

The days of nightly tape backups are rapidly disappearing, and today's backup administrators have more choices than ever when it comes to backing up their systems. Some of these options, such as continuous data protection, have been around long enough that most IT pros are probably familiar with them. However, there are some other relatively new and highly innovative approaches to backups that might be less familiar. This tip discusses snapshots and flat backup, hybrid cloud backup and instant VM recovery.

Snapshots and flat backup

Snapshots have existed as a data protection mechanism for quite some time. Conventional wisdom has long held that snapshots should be used as a convenience feature, not as a backup replacement, but this is starting to change.

There are a number of reasons why snapshots have traditionally been discouraged as a data protection mechanism. For instance, snapshots typically reside on the same storage mechanism that they are intended to protect. If something were to happen to that storage mechanism, then the snapshots would likely suffer the same fate as the data that they were intended to protect. In addition, snapshots were not previously application-aware, and rolling back a snapshot of an application server without application awareness can cause data corruption and a number of other problems.

Snapshots are beginning to become a viable data protection mechanism. Some vendors have begun to build application awareness into their snapshot mechanisms. More importantly, snapshots are starting to be treated as a part of the backup process rather than an alternative to it.

Since snapshots are vulnerable to data loss just like the data that they are protecting, some vendors have begun using flat backups to protect snapshots. The basic idea behind a flat backup is that snapshots can be used as the first line of defense in a data loss event. If data is lost, the data can be quickly recovered from a snapshot. However, if a data loss event is significant enough to damage or destroy the snapshots, then those snapshots can be recovered from backup.

Flat backups are about more than just backing up your snapshots. One important concept that differentiates a flat backup from traditional backup is that snapshots are copied to a secondary storage location without the use of backup software or a media server. Furthermore, the snapshots remain in their native format, which means the snapshot files can be used as is.

Hybrid cloud backup

The term hybrid cloud backup tends to be a little bit misleading because it conveys the idea that the backup is either designed to protect a hybrid cloud or it depends on a hybrid cloud. In reality, a hybrid cloud backup has little to do with a hybrid cloud. The term could probably be more accurately described as a hybrid backup that leverages the cloud.

Both cloud backups and local backups have their advantages and disadvantages. Local backups, for instance, are fast and reliable, but can be expensive to implement because of the hardware requirements. More importantly, local backups are vulnerable to data center-level disasters. If the data center were to be destroyed in a fire, a local backup would be destroyed along with everything else.

Cloud backups are a good alternative to local backups because they allow data backups to be stored securely off-site without the hassles of shipping removable media. The disadvantage, however, is that bandwidth limitations cause recoveries from the cloud to be slower than recoveries from a local backup.

A hybrid cloud backup is designed to capitalize on the best aspects of the two techniques. A backup is created and stored locally, but replicated to the cloud. That way, an organization can have the speed of a local backup with the protection of a cloud backup. This protection is usually achieved through the use of an appliance that acts as both a virtual tape library and a gateway to the cloud.

Instant VM recovery

Instant VM recovery has been around for a few years and is one of the best backup solutions available today.

Instant VM (virtual machine) recovery has been around for a few years and is one of the best backup solutions available today. Traditional restoration operations tend to be slow, and an organization may not be able to tolerate waiting for the restoration to complete. As the name implies, instant recovery allows an organization to recover from a disaster without the wait.

Instant VM recovery is based on the idea that many organizations use disk-based backups to protect their virtual machines. Since the disk-based backup system remains online at all times, instant recovery can be achieved by running a virtual machine directly from the backup storage. When doing so, instant VM recovery uses snapshots to ensure that the backups remain unmodified.

Once the backup virtual machine is running, workloads are redirected to the backup VM. This redirection is not permanent. The original VM is recovered in the background. Once the recovery process is complete, the original VM is once again used.

It is worth noting that although most of the major backup vendors offer an instant recovery feature, they do not always refer to the feature as instant recovery. The vendors all seem to have their own names for the feature.

Although backup technology remained relatively unchanged for decades, there has been an unprecedented level of backup innovation in recent years. Technologies such as flat backup, hybrid cloud backups and instant VM recovery are allowing data to be recovered in ways that have never before been possible.

Next Steps

Tips on using instant VM recovery for your backup

Leave behind traditional backup, focus on instant recovery

Data protection innovation includes flat backup

This was last published in November 2015

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Which technology do you prefer: flat backup, hybrid cloud backup or instant VM recovery?
Personally I like the instant VM recovery. I have been through a few bad disaster recoveries and this seems like a good alternative to the headaches.
It's really annoying when vendors all use different names for the same feature. I understand, it's so they can say, "We're the only ones who offer xxx!" but it makes it tough to compare products. I suppose that's the idea.