Tools for virtual machine-based disaster recovery

Customers who want to leverage their virtual machine environment for disaster recovery need a tool to get their data to the secondary site in a usable form. Find out which tools work in which environments.

In a recent article for SearchDisasterRecovery.com, "Disaster recovery strategies for virtual machines," Jacob

Gsoedl explained why virtual servers make sense as the basis for a disaster recovery plan.

And it's true: Server virtualization drives down disaster recovery (DR) costs, simplifies the planning process and enables the secondary hosts to be used for more than just replication targets. In fact, for you, the lack of obstacles to virtualization-based DR can mean the difference between a completed project and a quagmire that never advances to the implementation stage.

So while there's strong motivation to use server virtualization for disaster recovery, before you get started helping customers design a plan, you'll need a set of tools that ensure the data is at the disaster recovery site in a usable form and that provide some abilities to test the DR site. There are several tools to accomplish this; you need to select the best one for your customer's environment.

Channel Spin analysis
Advice for end users and solution providers

If your customer has a SAN or is planning to install one, the first option to consider is Site Recovery Manager from VMware. Site Recovery Manager essentially helps customers build a DR workflow by leveraging the capabilities in VMware and the replication capabilities of the customer's SAN storage system. But, the SAN system must support Site Recovery Manager. While even some low-cost storage systems like Dell's EqualLogic iSCSI array support Site Recovery Manager, many do not, and even if they do, the customer must buy two matching systems: one for the primary site and one for the secondary site.

If your customer can't afford SAN-based replication or doesn't even have a SAN but wants some DR functionality, they could look at using one of the virtual machine-specific replication tools like those from Vizioncore. Products like these allow replication of virtual machines at a very low price point. These tools also allow the replication to a different type of storage in the DR site, which can represent a big cost savings.

As an option to virtual machine-specific replication or Site Recovery Manager, you could use a replication tool that runs inside the guest VM or even as part of the application. Oracle, for example, can replicate data to another server. But both of these options can get expensive and be more difficult to manage because of the virtualized abstraction.

What about a small company that has a modest virtualized environment, maybe one physical host with four or five VMs, and no DR site? Surviving a disaster is just as important to that company as it is to a big company, but the small guys have fewer resources. Fortunately, virtualization helps here. Your small-business customer can leverage virtual machine replication by replicating via a tool from a company like Vizioncore to a hosting facility that provides a hosted virtual environment. For example, Houston-based iLand Internet Solutions will work with the channel to provide customers with a hosted virtual environment that they can replicate to. Companies like this have reseller programs established that allow storage solution providers to participate in several ways.

No matter the size of the customer, virtualization simplifies the DR process for both customers and solution providers. Setting up and monitoring the DR site is easier, and even testing of the DR site can now be automated. At its core virtualization brings simplicity because of its encapsulation, enabling effective management and monitoring and allowing you to see in a singe view how each virtual host is performing.

Here is Jacob Gsoedl's story on virtualization-based disaster recovery:

Disaster recovery strategies for virtual machines

According to Symantec Corp.'s 2008 annual Symantec Disaster Recovery Research Report, 35% of virtual servers aren't covered in organizations' disaster recovery (DR) plans. In addition, only 37% of those surveyed back up all of their virtual systems. The primary reason cited for insufficient data protection and disaster recovery of virtualized servers is a lack of resources. IT departments that are already stretched to their limits don't have the time to put workable disaster recovery plans in place for many of their virtualized systems. And the tools for protecting physical and virtual servers differ in many cases, resulting in higher training, labor and software costs. Notwithstanding the challenges identified in the Symantec survey, protecting virtual server data and virtual machines (VMs) is simpler and more cost effective than protecting physical servers.

Read the rest of Jacob Gsoedl's story on disaster recovery using virtual machines.

About the author

George Crump is president and founder of Storage Switzerland, an IT analyst firm focused on the storage and virtualization segments. With 25 years of experience designing storage solutions for data centers across the United States, he has seen the birth of such technologies as RAID, NAS and SAN. Prior to founding Storage Switzerland, George was chief technology officer at one of the nation's largest storage integrators, where he was in charge of technology testing, integration and product selection. Find Storage Switzerland's disclosure statement here.

This was first published in July 2009

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