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While smaller companies may adopt virtual machines in greater numbers in 2011, they may not necessarily adapt their backup plans to match the changes in their environments.
That's a problem, says backup and recovery vendor Acronis, which recently took a deeper dive into the data from its January study on small and midsize business (SMB) disaster preparedness. The report found that SMBs will increase their deployments of virtual servers in 2011, with adoption jumping from 22% to 33%.
"We realized that these SMB customers for the longest time have been putting their [disaster recovery] plans in place and backing up their data through their physical servers, and that's where they focused," said Seth Goodling, virtualization practice manager at Acronis, in an interview. "When the virtualization trend kicked off, and the server consolidation trend kicked off, all of a sudden they're faced with another set of challenges. It's not necessarily the best way to back up your virtual environments, the way you've backed up your physical environments in the past."
Goodling points to higher confidence in the ability to recover from an IT disaster among SMBs that treat their virtualized environments with the same degree of importance as they do their physical systems. "It was the companies that didn't put quite as much weight in their virtual environments that lacked confidence," he said.
In some cases, it could a matter of process: More than 40% of U.S. respondents in the study said they don't back up their virtual machines as often as their physical ones. That could be the result of tight resources or a lack of executive buy-in -- or both -- but whatever the reason, it makes good sense to have consistent backup policies across all environments. (And if you don't have any recovery plan, there's no time like the present.) Acronis advises SMBs to give equal importance to virtual machines in their backup plans, applying -- and enforcing -- the same policies that govern the company's physical machines.
Awareness doesn't seem to be the problem: 73% of the companies surveyed agreed that virtualization "has either completely or partially changed the way the business manages its backup and disaster recovery." Rather, when costs and other factors motivate virtualization deployments, backup plans might take a backseat.
"All of a sudden, their SQL databases and their Exchange databases are being virtualized -- that's tier-one, mission-critical data for them," Goodling said. "Going to a tape-based system might not be the quickest, fastest, and most accurate way to recover that data."
So what's an IT pro at a smaller company to do when stretched thin across a complex infrastructure?
"The first thing would be that single pane of glass -- or a single solution that can manage and handle hybrid environments," Goodling said. Acronis' January survey found that the typical SMB had more than two backup systems when they were operating a mix of physical, virtual, and cloud systems. Some companies in the study had as many as five separate backup schemes, according to Goodling. Goodling's second piece of advice for SMBs: Your backup plan should plan for growth.
"It has to be scalable. Small businesses are not virtualizing everything from day one," Goodling said, noting that not planning for growth can add unnecessary backup and recovery costs down the line.
Acronis also recommends independent backups and frequent refreshes for each virtual machine, image-based backups, and agentless software for virtual servers that only requires a single agent per physical host.
Goodling believes that smaller companies sometimes move faster into new technologies without the extensive planning and testing that's often ingrained in large enterprise rollouts, which can lead to insufficient disaster readiness.
"SMBs may tend to jump into some of these things a little quicker without as much research, without looking at all the steps that need to be done," Goodling said. "They may be quickly virtualizing their environments, but they might not be as concerned about backing up those environments at the end of the day."