Disaster Recovery in Virtual Environments

Arthur Cole

The coming year is shaping up to be one of transition for the enterprise. Organizations that have embraced virtualization primarily as a means to consolidate hardware systems are now poised to tap into the technology's other attributes.

For many, the next step in the virtual evolution will be disaster recovery. By decoupling data and applications from underlying hardware infrastructure, virtualization holds the promise of rebooting entire data center environments in what would have been impossibly short time frames only a few years ago.

One of the first things to recognize, however, is that disaster recovery mechanisms need not kick in only in the event of a catastrophic failure. Localized outages caused by system failure or human error are much more common and can hit the bottom line just as hard. That's part of the focus of Marathon Technology's new everRun MX Extend system, which combines fault tolerance and DR technology with CA's ARCserver replication system to create an end-to-end application availability system that kicks in during all types of outages. The system features localized failure protection as well as remote failover that by-passes compromised infrastructure.

Increasingly, though, recovery will have to extend beyond centralized data center systems and into the desktop infrastructure, which is rapidly becoming virtualized as well. Sanbolic Inc. now offers a software-based DR solution for Citrix virtual desktop environments. The package consists of the Melio 2010 SAN software along with application clustering technology that allows XenApp applications to automatically failover to remote sites. At the same time, the system provides for full visibility and management capabilities of servers, OS images and devices during an outage.

To some, the lack of adequate backup and recovery mechanisms is one of the main reasons why virtual technology has not made more significant inroads into the data center. Weeam Software contends that its Backup & Replication 5.0 system will provide the added functionality that will compel enterprises to place more critical applications onto VMware ESX and VSphere platforms. The system allows virtual machines to be run directly from compressed and deduplicated backup files, providing for instantly recoverable VMs and application data. Organizations can also set up an "on-demand sandbox" that can be used for troubleshooting, testing and development.

Regardless of the tools at your disposal, the basic steps in setting up and maintaining a DR regime remain the same, according to processor.com's Bruce Gain. That means prioritizing and organizing data in order of importance and conducting regular system and procedural checks to ensure all systems are go before they are actually needed.

While it's tempting to treat DR as a set-it-and-forget-it function, such a course could in fact lead to, well, disaster. Virtual systems offer tremendous potential to limit downtime and contain the fallout when the unexpected happens. But disaster recovery in virtual environments still requires a proactive approach to accommodate the needs of highly fluid data environments.

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