Solution provider takeaway: Learn about providing disaster recovery backup services within virtualized infrastructures, from preparing to offer the service to crafting the actual disaster recovery plan.
Data backup for disaster recovery in a virtualized environment can be a complex endeavor. That's because when the load on processing and storage is dynamic, it's hard to predict from instance to instance what exactly is running, where it is running and which virtual machines (VMs) need to be maintained. In such an environment, the best alternative is to back up dynamically as much of the processing and data assets as possible on a continual basis. Unlike environments where routine backups can be expected to capture most of the necessary data, a virtual environment often embeds data in a virtual machine that runs infrequently. As a consequence, the virtual machine itself requires backup.
This, however, is not as simple as backing up flat data. The virtual machine must include timing and identity information that allows the customer to determine if the image is the most recent one, what it requires to execute and what licensing and security requirements it is likely to have. Such archival and backup requires a healthy dose of metadata that allows the backup to exist in context.
Preparing for virtual disaster recovery backup services
If you're interested in providing disaster recovery backup services in a virtualized environment, the first step is to acquire expertise in virtualization technologies and to build the necessary support infrastructure to manage such technology. Experience with hypervisor technology is a must, as is a deep understanding of the methods for managing virtual machines in a very dynamic processing environment. You should also have experience implementing security in a virtual environment.
If you want to offer disaster recovery backup services on top of the initial implementation and hardware/software sales, you'll need to acquire management technology that has the capability to explicitly manage a virtual machine environment. Tools such as VMware's VirtualCenter and HP's ProLiant Virtual Machine Management are examples of such VM management technology. Remember that in a virtualized environment, when a failure occurs in a processing engine, the processor can be virtual. As a consequence, disasters in a virtual environment can occur both logically as well as physically. If a virtual machine runs amok or fails, data corruption can extend well beyond the local processor. Recovery operations can be very complex in such cases, and basic network and application management is not sufficient for virtual issues.
It's also important to understand that backing up data in a virtualized environment will likely require a considerable amount of bandwidth at the customer site if off-site storage is in use. It may also require storage arrays sized to manage the fluctuating amounts of data -- much of which can be unpredictable.
Pitching virtualized disaster recovery backup services
The secret sauce for all of this is to lead with professional disaster recovery backup services and build a virtualization-specific disaster recovery plan for the prospective customer. Such a plan must account for the fact that much of the customer's existing infrastructure may not be virtual. Disaster recovery planning may need to include a mix of simple archival and data backup and more complex backup aimed at virtual computing complexes.
The disaster recovery plan then becomes the roadmap for deploying technology in support of the customer. As the customer becomes more highly virtualized, the solution provider's computing assets can be more closely coupled to those of the customer. The ultimate result could be a nearly complete outsourcing arrangement where the customer maintains minimal dedicated computing infrastructure, with most of the computing and storage occurring off-site at your facilities. A well-articulated disaster recovery plan leaves such options open as the customer's needs change.
The bottom line is that virtualization provides real benefits in terms of computing efficiency, but makes disaster recovery backup complex. You can offload the complexity from the customer and leverage that to provide high-margin disaster recovery backup services, increase sales and enable a continuing relationship. But you first must gain and maintain the expertise necessary to support customer disaster recovery planning as well as the technology necessary to manage the disaster recovery environment.
About the author
Mike Jude, a senior analyst at Nemertes Research, is an expert in business process analysis and optimization. He is also co-founder of Nova Amber, a consulting firm specializing in business process implementation and technology.