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What To Ask at VMworld

There will be a blizzard in San Francisco next week. After the VMworld show opens, there will be a flurry of new products released and other innovations announced for the VMware environment. Every year some truly useful products and innovative developments are launched at VMworld. And every year, those gems can be hard to spot because of the flurry of other announcements and activity around the show. While VMworld is an excellent event for the VMware community, it can be a bit overwhelming.

I've used this blog to educate readers about some of the consequences that different product features and configuration approaches have on virtual system performance. I've focused on identifying potential problems and system limitations and how to spot the functionality that truly differentiates solutions while providing real value in day-to-day operations. When you're at a show like VMworld, and every booth you pass is promoting something that is the latest, greatest, fastest, cheapest or easiest addition to the VMware environment, it can be easy to lose sight of what's really important. To help you evaluate data protection offerings, I've put together the following questions to ask vendors.

These questions get beneath the surface of product marketing and will help you see if the solution you are discussing is truly different, valuable and a good fit for your virtual environment. Most questions relate to data protection solutions, but some of the principles can be applied to other product categories. All the questions and guidance are based on past posts, so browse my archive for more information on any of these topics.

Do You Support ESXi?
If the answer is no, go immediately to question 1A: When will you? This will likely be a big topic at the show, and VMware may provide more details about its end-of-life plans for ESX (although it is already known that 4.1 is the last version). ESXi is clearly the future, so organizations that are on the ESX platform need to think about their migration and future product compatibility.

If vendors do have ESXi products, probe them about how consistent the performance is compared to their ESX versions and if there are additional system requirements. Sometimes users need to change configurations or add process steps so the new software can match the functionality and performance of the old. Compatibility is also an important consideration. If you plan to continue using ESX before moving to ESXi, but want to add a third-party solution into your ESX environment now, find out if the new software you are considering is compatible with both environments. Be sure to find out the cost to upgrade and what else might be required.

Does Your Data Protection System Play Nice with Dedupe Solutions?
Integrating data deduplication solutions with virtual backup and replication software is a great combination. When operations are sequenced and configured correctly, you can make backup images 20 to 40 times smaller and enjoy the corresponding reduction in required bandwidth and storage. To maximize the effect of using virtual backup and replication with data deduplication, you must be able to turn off the encryption and compression features in the dedupe solution.

Backup and replication systems lose their ability to skip over duplicate blocks and white space if the target has been encrypted and compressed. Backup and replication solutions provide their own encryption and compression, and the resulting images can still be compressed and encrypted by the deduplication solution, which results in the smallest possible file. Therefore, you want a dedupe solution that gives you options for how compression and encryption are handled.

How Strong is the Recovery?
When looking at backup and recovery solutions, don't overlook the recovery aspects. Most attention tends to focus on backup speeds and methods since systems are usually backed up much more often than they need to be recovered. When recovery is required, it is often for an individual VM or even a specific file (if the recovery solution supports this level of granularity), rather than the entire system. Therefore, it is advantageous to have a solution that creates archives for each VM in the environment rather than a single archive for the entire backup job. That way, you can easily recover the VM or VMs you need, without having to restore the entire archive.

However, you shouldn't overlook what it would take to recover an entire virtual environment, as that scenario could come up, and the recovery process takes much longer with some solutions than with others. See if solutions support simultaneous restores or if VMs must be recovered one by one. While you're at it, ask if the solution supports simultaneous backup and recovery. That isn't usually a requirement during large-scale restores but comes up in day-to-day situations where a VM might need to be recovered while a scheduled backup is running.

At VMworld you'll be hearing a lot about what vendors offer, and you'll need to decide if the features are things you really need. Think of some of your own questions in advance; that way you'll be prepared when the VMworld blizzard hits. With preparation, you can glide through the show while others get bogged down in the flurry of promotions and product announcements.

Posted by Jason Mattox on 08/24/2010 at 12:49 PM


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