Server and desktop virtualisation is now mainstream practice in datacentres and offers many advantages, financial and technical. But it also brings with it the requirement to look afresh at data backup.
That’s because virtualisation has added new challenges to the backup process. Where one physical server used to host one application, now many virtual machines (VMs) share resources (memory, CPU) in a box.
In addition, VMs are created, moved between physical resources and deleted with much greater rapidity than physical servers ever were, and keeping track of this to ensure that backups take place is a major challenge.
The leading edge of VM backup has gone through several stages. Initially, IT departments treated virtual servers like physical devices, backing them up via an agent on each VM.
Then there were backup methods built into hypervisors, such as VMware Consolidated Backup (VCB); these were inefficient and soon superseded. Now, we find hypervisor makers provide APIs that allow integration with backup software products to discover and back up VMs.
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Customers often use one or more of these methods, sometimes in conjunction with other data protection methods such as snapshots and continuous data protection (CDP).
In Turkey, there has been a significant increase over the last decade in the number of companies that have virtualised their servers. There were initial concerns over adoption but the technical and cost benefits have outweighed these for businesses.
According to IDC, the virtualisation rate in Turkey was 36.8% in 2013. The virtualisation platform market is dominated by Microsoft and VMware with 47% and 45% market share respectively. Citrix is an emerging player with a 3% market share.
Eczacıbaşı opts for Veeam
Eczacıbaşı is one of the largest industrial groups in Turkey, consisting of 41 companies. Its core sectors are building products, healthcare, pharmaceuticals and consumer products. It is also active in service sectors like finance and information technology.
Eczacıbaşı IT services has adopted virtualisation for all companies in the group, says Baris Furtinalar, cloud services team leader of Eczacıbaşı Group.
“Of the many advantages virtualisation offers, the most important aspect for us has been the huge cost benefit it yielded,” he says. “Although the project is still in progress, we have already reached the point we aimed at in terms of server consolidation and energy consumption.”
Before virtualisation, data backup at Eczacıbaşı relied on traditional file-level methods. Following virtualisation, Furtinalar says it has shifted to backup at the level of the host, the virtual machine as well as files associated with them.
He says: “In doing so, we can recover the whole machine or just a file within, depending on the situation.”
Eczacıbaşı has more than 500 virtual servers on VMware and Microsoft Hyper-V hypervisor platforms. It uses CommVault Simpana backup software but also specialist VM backup product Veeam plus VMware and Hyper-V replication.
Furtinalar plans to switch to Veeam completely and away from Simpana in the near future. “That’s because Veeam is designed for virtual environments, whereas Simpana is a more generalised backup product. Another factor is the cost, as the volume of backup increases constantly. So we take cost as one of the priorities in selecting products and Veeam’s competitive prices stand out.”
A key requirement, says Furtinalar, is the ability to recover data at different levels of granularity – “just a database or a file, or the complete virtual server embedded in a physical server”.
Anadolu uses backup and snapshots
Anadolu Information Services (ABH) started out as the IT department of Anadolu Group. In the early 2000s it was an outsourced IT provider offering project management, consultancy, application development and datacentre services.
ABH has carried out virtualisation projects since 2005 and today has more than 1,000 virtual servers. Datacentre manager Yakup Kadri Ünal says: “It is not only the service quality and the customer satisfaction, but also the impressive amount of energy savings, huge environmental impact and cost reduction we find very significant in using virtualisation.”
For virtual infrastructure, ABH uses mostly VMware, and to some extent Microsoft’s Hyper-V. For storage and servers it uses HP and EMC. “Because HP server systems are VMware-certified, these servers are easily integrated,” says Ünal. “The most important system in virtualisation is the storage system, so we require a high I/O rate and flexible systems, and EMC VNX series meets our needs.”
ABH uses Symantec Netbackup for physical server backup and EMC Avamar for virtual server backup. It carries out VM backups on a daily basis as well as snapshots of VMs to its secondary datacentre. Journalling lets it roll back to snapshots from up to four hours previously.
But, says Ünal, snapshots do not comprise a complete data protection method and need to be used in conjunction with true backup.
He explains: “There is a misconception that snapshots can be used on their own as a tool for secure data storage. But, unless snapshots are used with another backup tool, keeping them for a long period can be very risky and may result in complications such as lack of performance due to the strain on capacity as well complexity resulting from the accumulation of too many snapshots.
“Snapshots should be taken for short durations and as a priority for a short period of protection, such as when changes are made and there is a risk of failure during the system change.”