Big Backup Challenge Of Medium-Size Data Centers

Heavy on virtualization, but stuck with a legacy backup solution?

George Crump, President, Storage Switzerland

December 6, 2012

4 Min Read

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Data centers of all sizes struggle with securely and reliably protecting their data, but the medium-size data center might have the most unique set of challenges. These organizations tend to be heavily virtualized, have very dense virtual machines to host ratios, and be very dependent on their applications to drive the business. They also tend to be the tightest on IT staff and on dollars.

These organizations are often referred to as small- to medium-size businesses (SMB) or small- to medium-size enterprises (SME). I find both these terms too broad because they can range from a very small business with no servers to a relatively large business with dozens of servers. Also, many of the data centers in this group are local, state and federal agencies, so they don't typically fit the standard business mold.

In general the medium-size data center has dedicated servers, most of them virtual, performing tasks such as email, collaboration and file sharing. In most cases they have a database server running a few off-the-shelf applications they have customized to some extent. They have shared storage typically on iSCSI SAN or a NAS running NFS to host their virtualized images. This medium-size data center could also be a computing pocket within a very large organization that for practical reasons needs to manage its own IT resources.

[ Read Storage Virtualization Gets Real. ]

Although these organizations tend to struggle with the storage systems supporting their virtual infrastructure, data protection seems to be the harder problem to address. This is probably because they are not yet at the point where they are generating enough storage I/O requests to justify a larger, solid state disk (SSD)-heavy, enterprise-class system. In a recent test drive we showed that intelligently adding a little SSD could improve performance and these organization are fine with that.

Backup and data protection is another challenge altogether. Again these organizations are heavily virtualized, short on staff, and in many cases don't have a second site to replicate data for disaster recovery. They often have started with legacy backup solutions or the backup solutions that came with their operating systems. The problem is they are too heavily virtualized for these types of applications and could benefit from an application that is more virtualization aware. Enterprise backup applications do a good job of this but tend to be too complex and too expensive for this environment. As a result, many of these companies turn to virtualization-specific data-protection products.

There are three key things that the medium-size data center should be looking for when it comes to selecting a backup application for the virtualized market. First, can it afford the app? It really doesn't matter how great the features are if there is not enough budget to get the product. I suggest talking price first before downloading and installing anything.

Second -- and still before installing -- understand what the application's capabilities are for getting the data off site. This is especially important if you don't have a secondary site to send data to. Does the software product that you are considering have the ability to leverage a cloud storage facility to send data to? And if so, is this a service you can leverage your relationship with to use the cloud for other purposes?

Third, is the product easy to use and does it have the features you need to accomplish the task at hand? This part does require downloading and installing a trial of the product. The good news is that in the virtualization-specific backup space, downloadable trials seem to be the common distribution method. But this is also why the first two suggestions above are so important; you don't want to and probably don't have time to try every single product on the market.

Certainly there is more to selecting a backup solution for the medium-size organization, but the above is a good start. We discussed many of the remaining issues that need to be considered in our recent webcast The 4 Headaches of Backing Up The Virtualized SMB.

About the Author(s)

George Crump

President, Storage Switzerland

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 datacenters across the US, he has seen the birth of such technologies as RAID, NAS, and SAN. Prior to founding Storage Switzerland, he was CTO at one the nation’s largest storage integrators, where he was in charge of technology testing, integration, and product selection. George is responsible for the storage blog on InformationWeek's website and is a regular contributor to publications such as Byte and Switch, SearchStorage, eWeek, SearchServerVirtualizaiton, and SearchDataBackup.

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