Data Center Watch: Know Your Virtual Applications Are Protected

There is an interesting phenomenon going on in the data center today.

As more and more mission-critical applications move into production virtual environments, backup administrators are spending a lot more time ensuring data is truly protected.

Understandably, the overall focus in the data center is on the internal customer, standing-up applications and services to end-users in minimal time, and ensuring service-levels.

But, how do you protect your virtual applications?

What you need is data protection for backup and recovery that is automated and standardized and just as efficient as your server and storage deployments for service delivery.

The Data Protection Problem – and Other Headaches

Data protection is a challenge in physical deployments and is compounded in virtual environments.

First, in physical environments, data silos result from having multiple ways to protect data—and to provide for disaster recovery (DR). However, without a single view, there is no visibility into the overall protection environment.

Additionally, inefficient manual efforts are used in an attempt to collect and unify data, and then do analysis through spreadsheets, further compounding the pain. Alternatively, some turn to scripting, including for DR which is expensive, time-consuming, and does not cover all elements in the environment.

Add virtual deployments to the mix and the data protection challenge gets worse.

For example, just because you applied a backup policy to a specific virtual machine on one server does not mean that the same policy applies when the virtual machine moves to another server.

Putting in manual effort to track all the backup virtual machines does not help you if someone else changed a setting on a server or added or moved a virtual machine without communicating the change to you.

The net is uncertainty for data and application-level recovery. In fact, some analysts report that about 40% of organizations surveyed cite the difficulty of validating backup and recovery success as a major challenge in their current data protection environments.

So the question becomes one of managing data protection across multiple technologies and backup needs.

Characteristics of a Good Solution

Similar to my last post about managing the exploding growth in storage, having the confidence that your virtual applications are protected requires both new technologies and new ways of thinking.

Effectively managing data protection for backup processes across virtual environments requires unified monitoring of systems to report and analyze usage and dependencies, and to ensure compliance with internal governance and external regulatory requirements.

A good data protection management (DPM) solution provides end-to-end visibility and intelligence.

Key characteristics of a good DPM include:

Automation: A solid DPM solution should provide automated real-time monitoring and alerting, and performance analysis that spans across the backup landscape, contributing to increased scalability and growth trend and capacity planning.

Flexibility: The increased visibility afforded by a DPM solution should also mean greater flexibility in enabling management and tuning of backup processes to meet availability backup windows. With DPM, you should be able to assess the success and failure of backup and recovery jobs and identify gaps in data protection processes to improve backups.

Efficiencies: Leveraging DPM, you should also be able to automate and standardize data protection management to realize performance improvements, improved troubleshooting response times, consistent fulfillment of audit requests, and improved resource utilization.

Who Uses DPM and Why

EMC does a good amount of innovation and product development as you know. And with it, considerable effort also goes into taking the pulse of the market to see what our customers need.

Looking at the market, we see that organizations with greater quantities of data are more likely to use DPM solutions than those with less storage. About two-thirds of the users of this technology have more than 500TB on hand. This fact would seem to indicate that DPM solutions go hand-in-hand with rapid data growth and the corresponding growth in storage.

DPM users are also much more confident that their data is protected than non-users. I would be too if I had a complete view of my virtual topology.

But why do they really use data protection management solutions?

Well, it seems the primary reasons for using a DPM solution in addition to data protection are to support compliance and audit requirements, and to do capacity planning and trending.  And, as you might imagine, it’s real-time monitoring and alerts followed by performance analysis that rank highest on the value features list.

What’s an example of a DMP solution?

A good example of a data protection management solution is EMC Data Protection Advisor.

Data Protection Advisor is the secret sauce in EMC backup and recovery solutions such as Data Domain, Networker, Avamar, and more. It provides backup administrators with all the information they require about their environment so they can make informed decisions.

Data Protection Advisor provides a single view of the entire virtual infrastructure (and physical infrastructure too) through automated data collection for monitoring and alerting, capacity planning, reporting, and more.

At its core, an analysis engine gathers data via supported APIs from backup solutions, replication technologies, virtual environments, tape/virtual tape library storage, SAN, and NAS, and the business applications protected by the infrastructure.

A DPM solution is only as good as its analysis engine.

But, Data Protection Advisor is not the only alternative. Separate analytics packages and various stand-alone and integrated reporting options are out there. But, several tools would most likely be required, adding to the challenge of achieving a unified view of your virtual infrastructure.

When considering a DPM solution, you really should consider standardizing on one tool to provide a comprehensive view of your backup environment and to minimize your training needs and tools.

Other Considerations to Ensure Success

A recurring theme here at Managed View is changing roles and skill sets and the personal transformation that accompanies getting the most out of new technologies.

While a data protection management solution provides the tools, a new approach to administering backup is required to be effective.

Backup administrators need to bust through the traditional silos and approach data protection as a service assurance responsibility.

Instead of competing for available network bandwidth, backup admins need to work across silos, locations, and peer groups to ensure all data is properly protected and recoverable.

Only with a service-level mentality will you get the most out of your data protection management solution—and really know your virtual applications are protected.

About the Author: Mark Prahl