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Disaster recovery: Beating hurricanes and costs with virtualization

Virtualization technology can do more than foster server consolidation. In this story, experts explain why virtualization is a cost-effective way to implement disaster recovery. Also, find out how a weather-threatened company put virtualization to work as a disaster recovery solution.

Weather-related disasters are a very real concern for many IT managers. In the search for fail-safe systems, some are making virtualization a part of their comprehensive disaster recovery (DR) plans.

In this article, Gartner Inc. analyst Tom Bittman and IT consultant Paul Winkeler explain why DR and virtualization can be a good fit. Also, Masco Contractor Services systems architect Ken Richmond describes the weather threats his company faces and how he uses virtualization to combat them.

The driving force for virtualization is consolidation, but disaster recovery is the second phase.
Tom Bittman
AnalystGartner, Inc.

Most early adopters of virtualization have used the technology for server consolidation. But consolidation is just the first phase in the growth of virtualization, according to Bittman, a vice president with Gartner in Stamford, Conn.

"The driving force for virtualization is consolidation, but disaster recovery is the second phase," said Bittman. "I would say about 70% of people who are deploying virtualization for x86 servers are also doing DR for the first time for many of their servers. That is a very, very big deal."

Virtualization can lower the cost of disaster recovery. "In the past, it has been expensive to get one server to replicate to the other because those two servers had to be basically identical for complete replication," said Winkeler, owner of Ohio-based PBnJ Solutions. "With virtualization, the hardware costs are cut because [you can] host several machines on one server."

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In the old scenario, one server was needed to back up one server. Now, said Winkeler, there may be two or three virtual machines (VMs) on the principal server, but many more VMs on each DR server. The number of VMs per server can be boosted at the mirror site, because they're not utilized as much. "They are just sitting there on standby," he said. "Previously, there was a lot of capital tied up in the backup site that wasn't really necessary."

Hurricanes speed through Daytona Beach

Returning to business as usual after disaster strikes is important for Masco Contractor Services, as demand for its building and contracting services increases. The Daytona Beach, Fla., business is threatened almost every year by hurricanes, according to systems architect Ken Richmond.

Richmond said Masco is using a product from SteelEye Technology Inc. to replicate data across a wide area network to a back-up site in Georgia. The virtualization component comes in at the remote site, where a VMware ESX server is used to virtualize a global name space. It is one virtual store of several files presented as a single file regardless of physical location.

Virtualizing the name space means Masco's critical applications, such as Citrix and print queues, which are dependent on the main file server, are all available immediately from the back up site in case of disaster, said Richmond, ensuring downtime won't be a problem.

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"Most of our contracting companies aren't in Florida, they are all over," Richmond said. "They are going to continue to do business. They can't wait for us while we are down for two weeks."

More DR via virtualization on the way

Bittman is seeing a slew of software vendors optimizing their DR-related virtualization products and forming partnerships to create new products. Within the next year, he said, IT managers will have many options for including virtualization in their disaster recovery plans.

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