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Protecting virtual servers gets smarter

Backing up VMware virtual machines has been a clunky process to date, but a handful of new products coming next week should address this issue.

Backing up virtual machines, notably VMware Inc.'s ESX Server, is about to get a lot more sophisticated as companies, including NSI Software Inc., Asigra Inc. and Vizioncore Inc., announce products to improve the backup of virtualized server environments.

Today, backing up VMware's ESX Server is a fairly clunky process, according to users.

"At best we can back up the whole server as a block of storage, and then we can only recover the whole thing, not data from individual partitions," said a VMware user at a nationwide department store, who preferred to remain anonymous. He said that while it is possible to run a backup agent on each virtual machine running on the host, as you would in a traditional backup environment, this is bad news for CPU performance, especially if you have 10 or more virtual machines on a single host.

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NSI has taken strides to address this issue with its Double Take (DT) for Virtual Systems product to be announced next week. DT for Virtual Systems uses NSI's replication technology to provide byte-level replication within each virtual machine, providing a much more granular recovery process.

The software can also run at the host level, but right now only supports Microsoft's Windows Virtual Server. "We are working with VMware and may eventually provide host-level replication [for ESX Server]," said Bob Roudebush, director of solutions engineering at NSI.

"The ability to protect virtual machines separately, depending on their importance, means that users can get more granular on the recovery side for VMware …It's a step forward in the maturity of the VM environment," said Brian Babineau, senior analyst at the Enterprise Strategy Group.

A single DT for Virtual Systems license supports up to five virtual machines running on the same host and costs $7,995 with one year of maintenance.

DT for Virtual Systems also allows for multiple physical servers to be monitored by and failover to a single server running multiple virtual machines. Using DT, the application data from each server is replicated to the appropriate virtual machine on the target, reducing hardware costs and increasing operational efficiency, according to NSI.

It's not the only company cashing on the VMware tidal wave. Asigra's Televaulting software already enables users to back up virtual machines on a server from one vendor and restore the data to hardware from a different vendor, but it's expected to announce file-level backup for VMware soon, sources say.

Also on the VMware trail, Vizioncore announced esxRanger, which allows users to perform a bare-metal restore of virtual disks. EsxRanger Professional, out this week, gives users tools to log backup times, monitor compression, check on the status of backups and record the location of virtual machines on different storage LUNs, the company said.

According to Karthik Rau, senior director of product management at VMware, version 3 of ESX Server, expected the first half of 2006, will improve the backup capabilities of the product with a feature called "consolidated backup." He said the company is working on "integration modules" with all the major backup vendors that will allow access to virtual files and virtual disks in an "off-loaded server so as not to consume cycles on the host." Rau said companies like NSI could then replicate that data to a second site for disaster recovery purposes.

VMware currently has approximately 20,000 users and according to analysts, in 2005 10% of all new x86 workloads were deployed on an ESX Server.

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