Systems Administrator JON VOSS says that before Veeam, Hillsdale College IT ­experienced several ­difficulties backing up VMs.

Oct 07 2013

4 Tips to Help Colleges Back Up Virtual Machines

Software from Veeam and established players such as CommVault, EMC and Symantec offer easy backup for virtual environments.

Sometimes a product comes along that answers a market need at just the right time. And while virtual backup doesn't get the kind of press that smartphones or tablet devices may attract, as organizations extend their virtual environments, virtual backup solutions have become a must-have tool for IT professionals.

Just ask Jon Voss, a systems administrator at Hillsdale College, a liberal arts school in Hillsdale, Mich., with more than 1,400 students.

Before Hillsdale deployed Veeam Backup & Replication 6.5, the IT staff experienced several difficulties when backing up its virtual machines, Voss says. Hillsdale's 14 VMware hosts run 100 virtual machines with an EMC Clariion CX4 storage area network. Backups are made across two remote sites — one about four hours from Hillsdale, the other on campus.

"The backup software would crash a lot, and it would take two to three days for us to figure out what was wrong," Voss says. "The agents would also fail, and the vendor would give us a patch and tell us to run it for a couple of days."

As the backup server failed, it needed to be rebooted. Frequently, the backup software didn't respond well after a reboot, Voss says. The result was that the old software required a lot of extra manual configuration that took up precious staff time and reduced overall network performance. When it became difficult for the team to manage storage, it was the final straw.


The percentage of organizations that plan to increase or maintain their server virtualization budgets and, in conjunction, reassess their data protection strategy

SOURCE: "Infographic: Data Protection Priorities and Challenges" (Enterprise Strategy Group, June 2013)

Veeam's backup solution restores virtual machines the way a Windows PC does during a System Restore. Once Voss set up his data repositories, he set a backup schedule and let the software do the rest.

"We save three to four hours a week by not having to troubleshoot the old environment," he says.

Jason Buffington, a senior analyst with the Enterprise Strategy Group, says that many IT organizations, upon rolling out virtual environments, have discovered they need an easier and more reliable way to back up their virtual machines.

"A few years ago, companies like Veeam came out with something really unique, but the traditional players are starting to catch up," Buffington says. "Veeam stays competitive by offering features such as backing up tape and Microsoft Hyper-V environments and adding acceleration across the WAN."

Here are four best practices to keep in mind when deploying virtual backup.

1. Use Source-Side Deduplication

Buffington says VMware's "changed block tracking" feature enables IT managers to update and back up only the disk sectors that have been altered and not the entire virtual machine. Voss uses the feature at Hillsdale, and it integrates well with Veeam, he says. "Every time Veeam updates a snapshot, it will compare it to the previous snapshot and only copy the changes. That saves time and makes backup more efficient."

At the University of Baltimore, changed block tracking also helps Server Operations Manager Rod Harrison's team to minimize backup time, which is especially helpful during full weekend backups or incremental backups during the week.

2. Support More Than One Hypervisor

Most organizations started out by supporting only one hypervisor, but Buffington says that will change as they delve deeper into virtualization.

"Most organizations will run a mix of VMware, Microsoft Hyper-V and Citrix," he says.

Baltimore uses mostly VMware vSphere for its servers and VMware View for desktop virtualization, Harrison says, as well as Quest Software's vRanger as a virtual backup tool, since it supports both VMware and Hyper-V environments. While the software gives them the option to run the Microsoft platform, "supporting Hyper-V is not really on our radar at this time," Harrison says.

3. Get a Management Tool

Administrators should look for a tool that delivers a strong management experience. With more than one hypervisor, especially, Buffington says organizations need a management tool that helps them integrate different environments. Even if an organization uses only one hypervisor, Voss advises choosing a product with a strong management tool. He uses the Backup Enterprise Manager in Veeam, which he says gives him greater visibility into his backup operation.

"It gives me storage reports and lets me see an overview of my backup jobs," he says. "Plus, the management console in Veeam supports only one user, so if your organization needs support for multiple users, you'll need to install Enterprise Manager."

4. Handle Post-Process Applications

When a backup is complete, there needs to be an executable that tells the system to resume normal operations. "IT managers will want that to be as integrated as possible," Buffington says.

<p>Scott Stewart</p>