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How have disk backups changed in recent years?

Disk-based backup provides newer features that can speed and ease recovery. IT should take advantage of instant recovery and virtual lab capabilities.

Although disk backups were originally designed as a way of overcoming the challenges associated with rigid backup windows, they have evolved in recent years and offer capabilities that were previously unimaginable.

Trying to back up an ever-increasing volume of data within the confines of a static or shrinking backup window is not sustainable. Furthermore, nightly tape backups result in the creation of a single recovery point within a 24-hour period. If a recovery becomes necessary, all of the data that has accumulated since the creation of the most recent recovery point -- up to a day's worth of data -- could be lost. Disk backups protect data on an ongoing basis, thereby overcoming both of these limitations.

One newer capability is instant recovery for virtual machines (VMs). Modern disk backups commonly provide the ability to run VMs directly from the backup. If a failure were to occur, the failed VM can be brought back online immediately without having to wait for a restoration to finish. Instead, the restoration occurs in the background while the VM remains online and available for use.

Another feature found in some modern disk-based backup products is the ability to create a virtual lab. Virtual labs work similarly to instant recovery capabilities. The idea is that lab environments are commonly required for test and development purposes. Rather than manually constructing a lab environment that loosely mimics the production environment, the backup can spawn temporary VMs that act as exact copies of the production environment. Because these VMs run from the backup server, there is no need for the IT staff to deploy dedicated lab hardware.

Additionally, the ability to restore to anywhere is starting to show up in some of the more capable products for disk backups. A VMware VM, for instance, might be restored to another VMware ESXi host, to a Hyper-V host, to an Azure or AWS cloud, or even to physical hardware. In other words, a workload can be backed up regardless of the platform it runs on and can be restored to a dissimilar platform.

This was last published in July 2018

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