Q&A with John Maxwell of Quest Software
VSM: We’ve clearly reached the point where virtualization has, for all intents and purposes, become the norm in most of today’s data centers. With that being the case, why is it that so many companies still seem to struggle with backup and recovery of their virtual environments?
JM: That’s a great question, and it’s one more and more organizations are beginning to ask themselves. As you noted, virtualization has become the norm for most companies, especially those in the SMB space, where we’re seeing an ever-increasing number of companies reach the inflection point where more than 75 percent of their infrastructure is virtualized, based on Quest’s own surveys.
As for why organizations tend to struggle with virtual backup and recovery, I think, in many cases, it has to do with the fact that most of the primary benefits of virtualization, the things that make it so attractive to organizations from an efficiency and cost-savings standpoint, also create significant challenges from a data protection standpoint. So, as you’re moving your server virtualization initiatives forward, and reaping the benefits in terms of optimal resource utilization and increased agility, you’re also creating backup challenges that didn’t necessarily exist in the physical world, and, as a result, many organizations struggle.
VSM: Let’s expand upon that. What are some of the most common and critical challenges associated with backing up and recovering in a virtual environment?
JM: There are probably three that stand out. First and foremost, in a virtual environment, it’s often a challenge just to make sure all of your VMs are actually protected. Virtualization enables IT to quickly and easily create new machines. On one hand, this agility is a good thing, and it’s one of the chief benefits of virtualization. But, on the other hand, now you have to make sure all of these machines are protected. In some cases, you may not even be aware that a certain VM exists. So, if you’re using backup software that requires you to manually identify and install an agent on every new machine – which many legacy solutions still do – then clearly, that’s an uphill battle.
Then you have to consider the impact that the backup has on the VM itself. As I noted earlier, one of the benefits of virtualization is that it enables you to better optimize resource utilization within your production environment. Again, that’s a good thing, but it now also means that you have little, if any, cushion for your backup in terms of resource usage. So you either need to run the backup in the virtual machine itself, which may impact the applications and data being protected, or you have to run backup and replication in a dedicated VM, which can require multiple steps to move data, and is not the most efficient means to backing up virtual data.
And, perhaps most importantly, there’s the challenge that comes with recovering critical data from a VM backup. Most backup solutions, even some of those specifically architected for the virtual environment, tend to fall short in terms of their cataloging and search capabilities. What this means for the sys admin and end user is that you have very little visibility into the backup itself, and it becomes difficult, if not impossible, to conduct those granular, item-level recoveries that are so critical. Instead, you’re faced with needing to restore the entire VM in order to access just a single item from an application running on it.