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An Easier Way to Verify a Hyper-V Server Backup and VMware Server Backup

Contributed Article by Joseph Hand, Senior Director of Product Strategy, AppAssure Software

Performing a backup is important for any server room, but all backups are not created equal, even if they have similar sounding names for their features. For instance, some "instant" recoveries offered by one vendor may not measure as fast as another that offers the same feature. Many claim continuous data protection, loosely applied to products that don't actually offer true continuous protection?

Testing and verifying is a gray area. Here's another gray area: verifying that your Hyper-V backup and VMware backup are working properly. If you really want to guarantee that a backup is recoverable when the worst happens, it has to be tested, preferably right after the backup is complete, especially when you're talking about mission-critical applications. Most database engines are, by their nature, transactional applications, so you need to be able to prove to yourself that an application backup, especially Exchange or a SQL-based application, is application aware, that it can see all files and transaction logs, and recover them together as a workable whole. To get this, you need a complete copy of all the data. To make sure you have that, you could shut down the application, but that won't make your users happy. That's why most backup applications use Microsoft Volume Shadow Service (VSS) as a basis, which requires that your operating system, database application and backup application are designed to work with it.

Verifying backups can take time. But even among the VSS-aware backup solutions, verifying VMware backup or Hyper-V backup can take time. It's not difficult to check that individual files or directories can be recovered, but files and folders represent only half of your recovery requirement. The other half is the actual machine and its application. To test your backup completely, you need to establish that an entire application is recoverable, especially if Exchange backup are involved or if applications are SQL Server-based.  The question is, how do you go about it? Just testing to see if a server's pulse can be detected offers no assurance that the application will run. You need application-aware testing to be certain.

Does manual testing work? Well, sort of, but it involves a commitment administrators may not have time to follow through on.  For example, one virtualization company offers guaranteed recoveries for virtual machines, but it isn't a utility that just runs. On the contrary, it requires an administrator to take about 10 discrete steps to ensure that a backup is recoverable that can take at least a half hour to set up. They include organizing an isolated environment with a proxy server, assigning significant disk and CPU resources, and writing custom scripts that will be used to verify that the VM backup is recoverable. You'll also have to check that the account within which the scripts are running has permissions, and determine whether your Windows firewall permits remote connections. While this labor-intensive approach does work, it requires what one blog poster describes as a "deep dive" commitment to run through all the steps for each application you're sworn to protect. To be fair, one can keep each process running once it's set up, but the negative consequence is a permanent resource commitment that could prove costly to maintain.

How about a more automated option? If the previous scenario doesn't sound too appetizing, you're not alone.  Clearly, you're more likely to carry out recoverability testing if the process happens without your intervention. That's the thinking behind new administrator-friendly approaches that effectively automate recoverability testing of VMware backup or Hyper-V backup in VM environments and for testing physical server backups. These up-and coming approaches are far less resource intensive, but best of all, they require little more administrative intervention than a few check-off mouse clicks to set up. After all, one is more likely to commit to - and stick to - a testing regimen that doesn't require one to to lift a finger to make it happen.

Did this article appeal to you? Share your comments below. 

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About the Author

Joseph Hand is the Senior Director of Product Strategy at AppAssure Software, focusing on virtualization for AppAssure's VMware backup and Hyper-V backup platforms and how they can work together to leverage technology to solve today's problems facing the modern day enterprise.
Published Monday, February 20, 2012 6:09 AM by David Marshall
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