Backing Up the Virtual Machine

Server virtualization demands a multilayered approach to storage.

Boston's Suffolk University launched one of the first online MBA programs in 1999. Initially, the school used an application service provider to host its courses, but in 2004, it brought the program fully in-house, using an e-learning system from Blackboard Inc. in Washington. This meant changing the IT infrastructure to boost reliability.

"When you have an online program running in-house, you have to make sure the uptime is high enough so professors and students can do their jobs," says Praneeth Machettira, online technical director at Suffolk University's Sawyer School of Management. "Virtualization came in as a way to do disaster recovery."

The school used ESX Server from VMware Inc. in Palo Alto, Calif., to create a set of five virtual machines running on ProLiant servers from Hewlett-Packard Co. But although using virtual servers provided some redundancy, it wasn't enough. A standard backup application wasn't adequate either, because of problems with open files and CPU spikes. So instead, Machettira went with Double-Take from NSI Software Inc. to provide full replication in real time of everything taking place on the virtual servers.

"The typical load balancing, clustering and tape backup is not enough," says Machettira. "But by using a combination of virtualization and replication, when a server goes down, we can have Blackboard back up and running in three to five minutes." A Different Animal

Server virtualization is cropping up just about everywhere these days. According to IDC, more than three quarters of companies with 500 or more employees use virtual servers, and 45% of all new servers purchased this year will be virtualized. Once limited to mainframes and large Unix boxes, the technology is now moving into two- and four-way Linux and Windows servers.

But backing up virtual servers isn't like backing up physical ones. Backup software vendors are doing their part to develop tools that meet the challenges of these new environments, such as avoiding conflicts and resource bottlenecks when several virtual servers are trying to use the same hardware. And companies have found that they need to take a multilayered approach to achieve adequate uptime and reliability.

Companies have several options for creating virtual servers, including Microsoft Corp.'s Virtual Server 2005, SWsoft Inc's Virtuozzo and the open-source Xen, which is supported by XenSource Inc. Then there's the industry's 800-pound gorilla, VMware, which was bought last year by EMC Corp.

With the expansion in virtualization comes the need to back up virtual servers, and some users were concerned that EMC would try to use its ownership of VMware to promote its own backup products to the detriment of other vendors. But so far, that hasn't been the case. "I don't see a lot of politics in that area," says Andi Mann, an analyst at Enterprise Management Associates in Boulder, Colo. "They compete against and partner with the same companies."

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