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Combo of cloud, virtual machine backups could facilitate DR plan

Having to provide for 500 virtual machine backups, Bit9 re-architected its backup process to incorporate the cloud, which could lead to a new DR plan.

Security software company Bit9 uses a combination of the public cloud and virtual machine backups to protect around 500 VMs, and its Director of IT Bill Suarez sees the combination as an eventual disaster recovery scenario.

As its virtualized infrastructure grew, in late 2012 Bit9 switched to Veeam Backup & Replication from a backup application that Suarez said was built for physical machines and "retrofitted" to work with virtual machines (VMs).

Suarez first saw a Veeam demo at a VMware user show, and was especially impressed by its Veeam Explorer for Microsoft Exchange that enables recovery of individual emails. "I thought, 'These guys have it figured out; they know where the pain points are,'" he said.

The next step was to bring in TwinStrata CloudArray virtual appliances that hold hot data in cache and send the rest to Google Cloud.

Veeam backs up data to the TwinStata appliance, which keeps one copy and sends another encrypted copy to the cloud. Bit9 has one TwinStrata appliance in its main office in Waltham, Mass., and another in an off-site data center. "Backup operations are controlled from the Veeam console and a proxy in the data center works through TwinStrata and sends data through our Internet connection to Google," Suarez said. "Data is stored once but goes to three places."

Suarez said Bit9 has about 18 TBs on the Google Cloud with 20 recurring jobs.

While TwinStrata software can handle primary storage, Suarez said he uses it mainly for backup and keeps most primary data and VMware ESX hosts on an EMC VNX5500 iSCSI SAN.

"When somebody needs a terabyte of storage real quick, I can set up a volume on TwinStrata, present it to whoever needs it, and then tear it down when they're finished," he said. "I acquired it for backups, but we get use out of it outside backups."

Suarez said Veeam came to his rescue twice in the first few months after he switched over. About two months after the installation, he said VMware "vCenter decided to corrupt itself," but he was able to set up Veeam's instant recovery  in about 10 minutes. It took about three hours to completely restore the vCenter VM, but "that was under the covers and vCenter was up and running the whole time."

Another time, a domain controller deleted a folder with the Group Policy Object (GPO)  and replicated the VM with the deleted folder to other domain controllers. Suarez said it took him only 10 minutes to restore the folder with the functional GPO through the Veeam console.

Suarez said those incidents -- along with a major news event -- prompted him to focus on cloud-based disaster recovery (DR).

"A few days after the [Boston] Marathon bombing last spring, police were tracking one of the suspects and closed down a few towns including Waltham," he remembered. "It got me to thinking, what would happen if we couldn't get to this facility because the entire town was closed. We have a UPS and auxiliary air conditioning, but what would happen if it were shut down for a week? That got us thinking about a business continuity strategy and what it would take to recreate all of our critical functions."

TwinStrata offers DR as a Service, allowing customers to spin up VMware-based vSphere servers in the cloud and recover a live copy of applications and data without having to rebuild servers. Suarez said Veeam could allow him to simultaneously replicate to multiple locations while making synchronous backup copies to another location. "Then we could spin up another TwinStrata VM and start recovering our infrastructure," he said. "We could have our email flowing again within a business day."

He said that scenario is under consideration for after the completion of Bit9's move of its data center to a new location.

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