What Does Virtualization Mean for Backup?
Downtime can be enormously expensive for small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs). After a massive data-loss event, such as a ransomware attack or server failure, an organization’s entire operations can be disrupted. Businesses can lose the ability to conduct transactions. Employee productivity can be stalled. Customers can be lost. According to one survey, more than 37% of SMBs said they lost customers and 17% lost revenue due to downtime.
Being able to rapidly recover data after a disaster is crucial for these businesses. And ideally, with the right data backup system, businesses will have multiple recovery methods available to them, allowing them to use the quickest and most efficient restore option for their situation.
Virtualized backups have become a game-changer for business continuity, allowing organizations to near-instantly restore a protected machine, including files, applications and operating systems.
While virtualization itself is not a new concept, smaller organizations have yet discovery the crucial role it can play within BC/DR.
Let’s explore how virtualization works and what it means for backup.
What is virtualization?
It’s is a computing technology that effectively transforms hardware into software, allowing you to run multiple operating systems as virtual machines on the same physical hardware.
If you’ve ever used remote desktop software to control another computer from your own device, that’s a very basic form of virtualization.
But let’s unpack this a little further.
We already know that computers are made up of several components, including CPU, memory, storage and network. At a typical organization, most users only use a minimal percentage of these resources on their individual computers. As a result, these unused resources go to waste. So for many businesses, it makes sense to convert their vast IT physical resources and put them to work as virtual resources.
Again, this revelation isn’t new. Virtualization has been around since the internet was in early development. The difference is, until relatively recently, this idea was largely only used with supercomputers. However, as the technology has progressed alongside increases in bandwidth, virtualization has become a feasible option for SMBs as well.
How does virtualization work in backup?
Backup virtualization is a process that allows businesses to temporarily establish a restore point as a virtual machine (VM). For instance, they can turn isolated servers, storage and networks into virtual resources.
VMs run independently while sharing the resources of the host machine. These pooled resources are able to be divided into many virtual environments – a business can determine what it needs and go from there.
This process, referred to as creating hypervisors, can be likened to loading an entire operating system directly onto a computer, giving instant access to every single file, folder and application on that system. This can be done on one machine or multiple ones that have networking capabilities.
In terms of business continuity, this is huge.
Through virtualization, businesses can instantly regain access to any mission-critical systems after a catastrophic data-loss event, even if the actual full data restore will take much longer. This enables them to continue operations until they can permanently restore any machines affected by a disruption.
Additionally, some BC/DR solutions, like the Datto SIRIS, continue performing backups in the virtual environment, capturing any changes to data, until the full restoration is complete. As a result, all data is completely up-to-date when everything is brought back online.
Example disaster scenario
Let’s say a ransomware attack has infected your local servers and individual PCs across the network. Everything has come to a standstill.
In the case of Datto’s systems, you do have some other recovery methods available to you, such as Rapid Rollback. This allows you to effectively “undo” any widespread file changes, without the need for a full restore.
If a full restore is needed, that will likely take some time, depending on how much data you have. With backup virtualization, you don’t have to wait. By virtualizing the protected machine, you can instantly access the critical systems you need to keep core operations running.
Benefits and drawbacks
Downtime is not the only problem businesses can experience during a disruption. Losing valuable data during the interruption can also lead to significant problems. Any business wants to avoid this at all costs – especially when new data is involved that cannot be recovered because it wasn’t there before the disruption occurred (i.e. file changes made in the virtual environment). This is why it’s so important to make sure the backup process continues when virtualization is being employed.
It’s also important to understand virtualization is not intended to be a permanent solution. However, it can be a good option that enables businesses to keep imperative processes running until access to their systems can be permanently regained. Here are some benefits and drawbacks to the virtualization strategy.
Outside of backup, a primary benefit to utilizing virtualization is cost savings and infrastructure efficiency. Virtualization maximizes existing hardware resources, eliminating the need to spend money on additional equipment, since businesses simply turn to resources they already possess. It also keeps costs predictable and generates a higher level of efficiency for in-house equipment already operating, cutting down operational costs. Finally, less physical space is necessary since no additional equipment needs to be sandwiched into an office or other workspace.
Within BC/DR, the key benefits of virtualization are:
- Faster access to protected machines
- Ability to virtually restore not only files, but also operation systems and software
- Near-instant data recovery
- Continuity of mission-critical systems and operations
- Reduced or eliminated downtime
Backup virtualization adds a layer of protection that gives businesses the peace of mind they won’t lose access to their most critical systems, even in the worst data-loss scenarios. As long as their backups can be booted as virtual machines, they can be back in business in mere seconds.
In the general sense of virtualization, there are typically more benefits than drawbacks, but there are a few potential disadvantages to consider. For example, depending on the systems being deployed, businesses might find:
- Limitations with what they can do, because not every application or server will work correctly within a virtualization environment.
- Increased risk when relying on one physical host to run several other important applications/servers if an incident would take the primary host offline. (Businesses will want to have a strong disaster recovery plan in place to account for this possibility.)
- The risk of a data breach when relying solely on virtualization can be higher.
- Within backup, virtualization is not the best recovery method for every data-loss scenario. Typically, it’s only necessary when you want fast and full access to a protected machine. For smaller amounts of data loss, file/folder-level restore will typically still be your best option.
Cloud vs. local virtualization
The Datto SIRIS allows you to perform the virtualization both locally or in the cloud. There is also a hybrid option, which intelligently uses resources from both the cloud and local device for optimal performance.
Here’s a quick breakdown of each:
Local virtualization uses your on-site hardware to power the virtual environment. In the case of Datto, the virtualization is powered by your local Datto backup device. You can create a Rescue Agent that will continue to consistently perform backups even when restoration of the primary machine is occurring.
In most cases, local virtualization is your best bet for speed, performance and simplicity. It ensures that your virtual environments run smoothly with minimal application hiccups, while also simplifying the restore of the original protected machine.
Cloud virtualization relies primarily on off-site hardware to power the virtual machine over an internet connection. Within BC/DR, cloud virtualization offers a crucial extra layer of protection for scenarios in which local devices are not accessible.
For example, if your local infrastructure is destroyed in a fire or entirely infected with ransomware, you can still fall back on cloud virtualization to virtualize backups that are stored in the cloud. In the case of Datto, the cloud virtualization is entirely powered by Datto’s cloud resources.
While Datto’s cloud virtualization is known for solid performance, you’ll typically get better results from the local virtualization, which is why the cloud is typically only recommended if the local device is not accessible.
Hybrid virtualization is another option available on the Datto SIRIS and ALTO for small businesses. With the hybrid method, the virtualization relies on both the local machine and the cloud and automatically connects to the VM through a secure VPN tunnel. It’s another good choice for when local virtualization is not an option.
When to use virtualization
Backup virtualization should be used anytime a business needs fast and full access to a protected machine. This way, SMBs can access the data and systems they need while the restoration process is underway.
As part of their disaster recovery planning, businesses should also periodically perform virtualization tests (locally and in the cloud) to identify any issues before an actual disaster occurs.
Request a demo
To learn more about the backup virtualization and other recovery methods available on the Datto SIRIS, request a free demo or contact our business continuity experts at Invenio IT today. Call (646) 395-1170 or email us at success@invenioIT.com.