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Storage admins grapple with virtual data protection at VMworld

Storage admins are struggling to adapt their backup and DR processes to virtual servers. The problem is that data protection and storage issues are afterthoughts in virtualization rollouts.

LAS VEGAS – Although data protection and disaster recovery have been hot topics for administrators attending VM world, the sad truth is that in most organizations, backup and larger storage issues are still catching up to the server virtualization wave.

Until recently, according to Ron Oglesky, service director for virtualization at GlassHouse Technologies, storage has been treated as an afterthought to storage virtualization projects, although it's often the most expensive element of VMware rollouts. "Virtualization is a tremendous foundation for data protection reinvention, but few consider the storage ramifications up front," he said.

In many companies, management orders virtualization rollouts to cut costs without considering storage. As a result, Oglesky said, snapshot space, VMDK space and storage requirements all skyrocket. And then, he notes, "management says, 'Now let's talk about DR,' and meanwhile, backups haven't even changed yet."

Virtualization is a tremendous foundation for data protection reinvention, but few consider the storage ramifications up front.
Ron Oglesky
service director for virtualizationGlassHouse Technologies
A survey conducted by Symantec on VMworld's show floor backed up Oglesky's claims. When Symantec asked 127 attendees about their backups, 41% said they were still using two or more backup products to protect physical and virtual servers, while 30% reported that backup success rates on virtual machines are still below 60%.

Furthermore, 57% of the respondents said they also require two backups for single file and full image backups, and nearly half were not using data deduplication in a virtual environment. And 10% of those polled said they were not aware that data deduplication is an option within a virtual environment.

Storage admins shares virtualization lessons

At a VMworld session on Tuesday, storage administrators divulged the lessons they had learned from designing new backup and disaster recovery environments for virtual server data. Like many backup scenarios, these lessons often include reducing reliance on tape with data deduplication.

Daniel Lewis, manager of network services for the University of Southern California's Marshall School of Business, said that at first his organization stuck to agent-based tape backups of individual virtual machines after deploying VMware. Although Marshall pared its onsite retention time for backups to a week, its IT staff was running out of power, space and man-hours for changing tapes.

"There were still concerns over tape loss," Lewis said. "We had to get out of the tape management business, and SAN replication was too expensive."

Bringing in data deduplication appliances from Data Domain boosted onsite retention to six weeks, while shrinking disk backup space from a rack and a half to 3U, Lewis said. The business school has one Data Domain DD565 unit at the main campus and another at a disaster recovery site in Arizona. The primary box stores 50 TB of accumulated backups in 5 TB of disk space, while the Arizona site stores about 125 logical terabytes in 5 TB of actual space.

Lewis found the bandwidth throttling feature in Data Domain's replication software necessary for multisite replication with limited bandwidth. "I've tuned it as far down as 700 KBps," he said. "There was a couple hours' lag, but it got across." Lewis has already discontinued sending tapes offsite with Iron Mountain and is in the process of phasing out tape entirely.

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Carlos Gonzales, enterprise systems and security manager for Thornburg Mortgage, also uses Data Domain, but continues to do monthly full backups to tape "until everyone's comfortable" with the data duplication box. His company also uses Data Domain replication and bandwidth throttling to get 12 TB of backups across the wire and 214 TB between the cross-replicated systems has been compressed down to 3.9 TB on disk.

Despite consolidating and simplifying their backup and disaster recovery hardware environments, Lewis and Gonzales said they use Vizioncore vRanger for snapshots on top of their base backup application.

Lewis runs Symantec Backup Exec 11d and is considering upgrading to 12.5, which can do single-pass snapshot backups of both system information and file-level user data. He's struggling between updating vRanger, which will increase his support costs, or updating Backup Exec, which he said has been "painful [to upgrade]."

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