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Backup and storage problems plague virtual infrastructures

New York — At his Interop keynote this week, Microsoft’s Robert Wahbe said IT shops in 2011 are running 10.7 million virtual servers, compared to 7.8 million physical servers. Sounds great for virtualization, right?

Not so fast. Wahbe also said only 20% of physical servers in data centers are virtualized. That suggests there are still major deployment roadblocks, and the two biggest are storage and backup, speakers said in an Interop session. Administrators aren’t taking advantage of the best storage options for virtualization, and they’re stuck on old practices such as thick disks and overprovisioning, panelists said.

“You’ve got to get storage right if you’re going to get virtualization right — and especially if you’re going to get cloud computing right,” said Michael Dortch, research director at analyst firm Focus.

What can we do about storage?

Getting storage right is no easy task. EMC senior vSpecialist Ed Walsh said virtualization admins should use solid state drives (SSDs) to improve storage, because they offer high I/O performance and reduced capacity requirements. As storage has evolved, admins can now use 10 GbE and auto-tiering to boost storage performance, he said.

Another common problem is head-butting between the storage and virtualization teams. In VMware shops, new vCenter Storage APIs and plug-ins can help storage admins better manage VMware storage and increase visibility, Walsh said.

Backup best practices

When it comes to backup, we’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: Virtualization admins need to get with the times. Many customers still use physical backup tools for virtual backup, but you can’t back up all your virtual machines on agents at one time, said Doug Hazelman, Veeam vice president of product strategy. Image-level backups such as snapshots get better results, he said.

Eric Burgener, Virsto Software vice president of product management, also touted the benefits of thin provisioning over using thick disks. Some people are wary of thin-provisioned disk performance and manageability, but thin provisioning can provide flexibility and more efficient capacity utilization.

Virtualization admins should also watch out for storage overprovisioning. Burgener said lots of customers overprovision storage because vendors may offer a discount, but it’s often unnecessary.

Before you can build a private cloud, you have to master virtualization. And with the challenges that still remain, virtualization admins should consider changing some of their backup and storage practices.

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