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Data protection implications when migrating to Windows Server 2008

Some of the enhancements to Windows Server 2008's OS will require an update to data backup solutions or processes to ensure that servers and data are being adequately protected.

Microsoft recently introduced Windows Server 2008. It tightened up its security model and introduced a new transactional file system and clustering architecture to improve enterprise scalability. Some of the enhancements to the operating system will require an update to backup solutions or processes to ensure that servers and data are being adequately protected. Here's what's new and what you'll have to look out for.

Microsoft standardized on the use of Microsoft Volume Shadow Copy Service (VSS) snapshots to back up and recover all Windows Server 2008 services, as it guarantees complete protection for the platform. A VSS snapshot of an active system is a point-in-time copy of the volume. For many Windows services (Active Directory, Hyper-V, Terminal Services, IIS, etc.), Microsoft exposed its VSS Writer interface, enabling ISVs to integrate their solutions with VSS. However, using the VSS Writer interface may necessitate some reengineering for backup vendors that previously used their own snapshot capability.

Migrating to Windows Server 2008 has several implications for data protection, making the need to upgrade your backup solution more than likely.
Microsoft also introduced Server Core, which is a minimal server installation (its footprint is reduced significantly as Microsoft removed a number of services in the interest of tightening security). Server Core has a limited set of roles: Active Directory, Domain Name System (DNS), Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP) services and File Server. It doesn't support .NET or application installs, so you can't use a backup application to perform a local backup. Backup vendors will need to develop scripts to communicate between Server Core and the backup engine to perform backup and recovery through a command line interface or end users will have to execute a remote backup from another system.

The clustering platform has new features for configuration, testing and troubleshooting that make implementation easier. Cluster migration and remote management are new, and Microsoft has eliminated any node distance limitations by giving users the ability to change heartbeat timeouts. The drawback here is that backup applications relying on old clustering APIs may "break," so backup vendors will have to reengineer with the new APIs.

Microsoft is embedding its bare-metal hypervisor (Hyper-V) in Windows Server 2008 and will make Microsoft Windows Server 2008 Virtual Server available later this year. Hyper-V promises to be a low-cost and low-risk way for organizations running Windows to implement server virtualization. Backing up live virtual machines will require backup vendors to support the Virtual Server VSS Writer, which creates a volume shadow copy of the live virtual machine. Microsoft Windows Backup 2008 can interact with the VSS Writer, but it is more limited in features than other solutions in the market.

Microsoft replaced the NTbackup utility supplied in previous versions of Windows with Windows Backup 2008 -- available at no extra charge. The new backup uses VSS and block-level incremental backup (after the first full backup, only the changes since the last backup are captured) to back up a full server, selected volumes or the system state. Backup of an individual item isn't possible. Recovery of individual items (folders, files, applications, system state) or an entire volume is available, as is a whole server recovery when restoring to a new server with no operating system installed. Windows Backup also supports all Microsoft applications and multiple target media types, including shared folders, disk, removable hard disk drives and DVDs, but not tapes. And, backups created by the NTbackup utility can't be recovered by Windows Backup 2008.

Windows Server 2008 brings some evolutionary improvements and some revolutionary changes. Migrating to Windows Server 2008 has several implications for data protection, making the need to upgrade your backup solution more than likely. Keep these considerations in mind as you evaluate and plan your move to the new platform.

About this author: Lauren Whitehouse is an analyst with Enterprise Strategy Group and covers data protection technologies. Lauren is a 20-plus-year veteran in the software industry, formerly serving in marketing and software development roles.

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