Every day should be World Backup Day

Some Reddit folks hatched a plan to make March 31 World Backup Day. Maybe you missed it, but don't miss the point

A week or so ago, the folks over at Reddit threw together an initiative to transform March 31 into World Backup Day -- a day in which we'd be sure to make backups and test them. While the day is really more targeted at consumers who might not be backing up their personal data at all, we in the enterprise space could probably stand the reminder, too.

As I've said before, consistently ensuring that we have good, usable backups too often falls off the back of the truck -- pushed out by much more pressing firefighting or project work as a result of today's "do more with less" IT realities.

Making error-free backups in the first place is bad enough, but setting aside the time to perform thorough usability testing of them is more than many of us can fit into our schedules more than a few times a year. If you're in that boat, you're leaving yourself open to an enormous risk -- especially considering how complex some backup methodologies have become. Including deduplication and multiple tiers of backup hardware and software in the mix may make backups faster and ultimately less expensive, but that complexity often comes at the cost of reliability.

As a commenter on that blog entry said, "Personally, I think if you aren't going to ensure your backups actually restore, you might as well quit making them at all." I couldn't agree more.

That's one reason I'm always on the lookout for tools that not only make backups faster and more efficient, but also simpler and easier to test. Unfortunately, the field of backup products that can do this for you out of the box is surprisingly narrow. One really great example of this concept done well is Veeam's Backup and Replication backup software for VMware vSphere/ESX.

Veeam Backup and Replication is a purpose-specific tool built for backing up VMware-based virtualization environments. There are a number of other packages in this space, including Quest vRangerPro and PHD Virtual Backup (previously esXpress). Each of these three products approaches the task of backing up VMware VMs in different ways and have different price points, features, and gotchas associated with them. While none of them are perfect, it's safe to say that any of the three will at least get you good disk-based backups of your VMs (if not also provide site-to-site replication, deduplication, and a raft of other features).

One excellent feature Veeam has that others don't is the ability to do automated backup testing. Notice that I didn't say automated restores, but end-to-end automated testing. That includes bringing up backed-up VMs and running tests against them to make sure they boot and function correctly. While that capability isn't an excuse for you to never manually test backups again, this functionality can be worth its weight in gold if you're one of the many who simply doesn't have the bandwidth to perform manual tests as often as you'd like.

Veeam's approach to this problem is contained within its Virtualization-Powered Data Protection technology ("vPower" for short if you like snappy marketing terms). Essentially, vPower allows you to utilize the very virtualization infrastructure you're backing up as a harness for testing.

Let's say I want to test the backups of a virtualized domain controller, file server, Microsoft Exchange server, and Microsoft SQL server every day. Within the Veeam software, I'd combine these VMs into a collection called a Virtual Lab. When I'm building the Virtual Lab, Veeam will install a small appliance on one of my vSphere hosts, which essentially acts as a network gateway to a walled-off lab network (it's actually a diminutive Linux-based router/firewall).

If I decide I want to activate my Virtual Lab, Veeam will configure itself to offer up the four VMs that I selected via NFS, dynamically reconfigure the vSphere host to access that NFS datastore, add the backed-up copies of the VMs into the vSphere/vCenter inventory, and fire them up directly from the backup server. All of this is done without having to make space in the vSphere environment for a restore -- and it's nonpersistent, so the testing doesn't permanently affect the backups. It is definitely a bit slower than having the VMs running on a SAN, but for testing purposes it's perfectly usable.

As the Virtual Lab powers up, Veeam will perform basic testing against the VMs to ensure they're behaving properly. This can include simply making sure that the VMware Tools are running (which usually indicates that the OS booted properly) and that application-related TCP/IP ports are available, or pretty much anything else you can jam into a test script you write yourself.

The neat thing is that while you can fire up a Virtual Lab manually anytime you like, you can also schedule this testing to happen all on its own. Imagine that -- every morning you're greeted by an email that states that your backup was successful and a few hours later get an email to say that the test restore was also successful, all without having to actually do anything. With enough time, effort, and scripting glue, you could probably do that with just about any backup package worth its salt -- Veeam's software makes it nearly painless.

While I often use and happen to really like Veeam's software, I sincerely hope that this kind of functionality will become a de facto standard for all backup software. There's really no excuse for every day not to be World Backup Day.

This article, "Every day should be World Backup Day," originally appeared at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Matt Prigge's Information Overload blog and follow the latest developments in storage at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.