7 Tips for selection of a new backup tool for your virtual infrastructure

If an infrastructure is being virtualized it can be a good reason to evaluate the current backup tooling. Can the current backup tool be used or does it need to be upgraded or replaced. Make sure you start in time with the process of selection. A succesfull implementation of a backup tool needs time! Some tips:

1- perform an inventory of Recovery Time Objective (RTO) and Recovery Point Objective (RPO)
A backup solution is mostly selected by the IT-staff responsible for managing the infrastructure. That is server hardware and operating system. They are not always aware of how much time an application can be unavailable (RTO) after a disaster has occured before damage is done to the company. Also the amount of data that can be lost without getting in serious trouble (RPO) is unknown.
Make sure these are known. Sometimes even the business using the application is not aware of RTO and RPO. In that case make an average guess. Also check if Service Level Agreements exists for recovery time and data.
RTO and RPO is important to determine the backup technology and strategy.

2. Do an inventory of technical and functional demands.
Does backup data needs to be written to disk and/or tape? Is backup support for physical servers needed? Which operating systems and applications needs to be supported? What is the retention time of media. Match the solution to the virtualization platform in use. It does not make sense to use Microsoft DPM when VMware vSphere is used. DPM is not able to make image level backups of VMware virtual machines.
Determine the method to make sure backup data is stored off premises. This can be done by replication of data to a secondary datacenter, or replication to a provider. Or by collecting the tapes.

3. make sure the backup solution creates application consistent backups.
To create image level backups (a backup of the virtual machine meta data and the virtual hard disks) which can be restored without losing data, an application consistent backup needs to be made. That is, when the backup of the virtual machine is started, a signal needs to be sent to the application inside the VM to pause the database, truncate the transaction logfiles so the database is in a consistent state. Make sure the backup tool is VSS aware and verify this in a Proof of Concept for your applications!
Some more info here https://up2v.wordpress.com/2010/08/22/is-your-vmware-snapshot-application-consistent/

4. Make sure you understand the licensing model of the vendor
Some vendors try to lure a customer by offering starter packs. You get a number of licenses (for example agents for servers) for a low prices. When you need to add more licenses you pay a much higher price. Do you maths on the costs.

5. Do not compare apples with pears
Some vendors offer a whole suite of management solutions for a interesting price. You get DPM and SCCM and SCOM agents for a good price. Try to compare the price with a vendor only selling a backup solution and see what fits best for your organization.

6. Perform a Proof of Concept
Very important. Backup is your insurance for keeping the data  of the company in case of disasters. Download an evaluation version of the product, and test, test and test. Delete Active Directory objects and see how easy or difficult it can be restored. Delete a virtual machine and judge how much time it takes to be restored. Make sure the data is correctly restored. Are databases able to start? Rather spent a lot of time in the PoC and get to know the product really well, than finding out the product does not do what it is supposed to do during a recovery (when it is too late).
A Proof of Concept is also useful to see how well the vendor reacts to issues experieced during the PoC.

7. read reviews
Search the various forums on the internet for information on the backup tool you might purchase. Are there many issues reported? Does the vendor respond to issues? Do not believe the marketing stories but really find out how well the product performs. Make sure you check several sources as there are vendors who like to perform FUD and delete positive feedback on compatitors from their forum as Symantec did recently. 


About Marcel van den Berg
I am a technical consultant with a strong focus on server virtualization, desktop virtualization, cloud computing and business continuity/disaster recovery.

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