The Trouble With Virtual Disaster Recovery

Embracing virtualization helps cut costs, but will it lead to trouble when there's a massive systems failure?

By Richard Adhikari | Posted Aug 26, 2008
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As enterprises virtualize their data centers to cut costs and consolidate their servers, they may be setting themselves for big trouble.

According to the latest disaster recovery research report from Symantec (NASDAQ: SYMC), based on surveys of 1000 IT managers in large organizations worldwide, 35 percent of an organization's virtual servers are not included in its disaster recovery (DR) (define) plans.

Worse yet, not all virtual servers included in an organization's DR plan will be backed up. Only 37 percent of respondents to the survey said they back up more than 90 percent of their virtual systems.

When companies virtualize, they need to overhaul their backup and DR plans; the survey found that 64 percent of organizations are doing so.

"That's no surprise, because virtualization has had a huge impact on the way enterprises do disaster recovery," Symantec senior product marketing manager for high availability and disaster recovery Dan Lamorena told InternetNews.com.

So, why is it virtual servers are being left out of DR plans or, if they're included, aren't being backed up? That's because enterprise IT just does not have the right tools to back up virtual servers.

The biggest problem for 44 percent of North American respondents was the plethora of different tools for physical and virtual environments. There are so many that IT doesn't know what to use and when.

Another 41 percent complained about the lack of automated recovery tools. Much of the disaster recovery process is manual, although VMware recently unveiled a tool to automate the run book.

Another 39 percent of respondents said the backup tools available are inadequate.

Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ); IBM (NYSE: IBM); CA (NASDAQ: CA) and smaller vendors such as ManageIQ, Avocent (NASDAQ: AVCT) and Apani offer tools to manage both the virtual and physical environments. And companies like Hyperic are bringing out new tools.

However, virtual server management tools, being relatively new, are not as sophisticated as their counterparts for the physical environment. Also, they have not been around long enough for users to be familiar with them. For example, provisioning (define), or setting up, virtual machines from physical ones and vice versa can also be a problem, and tools for this have only recently emerged.

"Virtualization makes some aspects of backup and disaster recovery more difficult," Symantec senior product marketing manager for NetBackup Eric Schou told InternetNews.com. "IT shops are still struggling with the steep learning curve."

Porting over solutions from the physical environment won't work, Schou said. "IT shops need to get solutions that are finely tuned for virtualization," he added.

DR Isn't So Hot Either

Judging from the results of the survey, IT is still not as familiar with DR as it should be. DR testing is a mess.

A whopping 30 percent of respondents said their DR tests failed. That's better than the 50 percent failure rate in 2007, but it's still pretty scary.

For 35 percent of the respondents, the tests failed because "people didn't do what they were supposed to do," Lamorena said. This means that much of recovery is still a manual process, and companies must begin looking at automation, he added.

Another cause is that tests are not run frequently enough. That's because "when you run a test, it disrupts employees and customers," Lamorena said. He added that 20 percent of the respondents said their revenue is impacted by DR tests, so "the tests cause the same pain to their customers as if they had a real disaster."

Finally, the survey found that top-level executive involvement in DR planning has fallen. "Last year, the C-level involvement on disaster recovery committees was 55 percent; this year, it's 33 percent," Lamorena said. C-level executives are CIOs, CTOs and CEOs.

Lamorena finds the reduction in top-level involvement disturbing because it could lead to more problems with DR. "That's a huge drop, and we've been thinking about this day and night," he said. "What's alarming is, companies may be getting a little lax and don't think they'll be affected by a disaster."

Article courtesy of InternetNews.com

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