Supporting virtualization in the midmarket

 

The virtualisation phenomenon is in full swing, and one could reasonably wonder why Essentials 2010 took as long as it did to integrate virtual machine technology into its core. Quibbling aside, in Essentials 2010 Microsoft has added virtualisation hand-holding for the IT generalist: There are wizards to perform many common VM-related tasks, including building new virtual machines from scratch and importing existing VMs into the Essentials management console, with support for both Microsoft's VHD format and VMware's folders. Templates can be used when creating VMs to achieve consistent performance and "spec'ing" of your VM farms, and a tool that intelligently decides the best host for a particular VM is included as well.

Converting existing physical machines to VMs, a process known as P2V, can be handled from within the Essentials 2010 console. And once the VMs are created and placed, and the Essentials agent installed on them, they can of course be managed and monitored like any computer on the network. You can also live-migrate VMs as well (that is, move a virtual machine from one host to another without any downtime).

System Center Data Protection Manager 2010

This package delivers unified data protection for Windows servers and clients in the form of backup and recovery. DPM 2010 provides strong protection and supportable restore scenarios from disk, tape and cloud in a scalable, reliable, manageable and cost effective way. Admittedly, it's a heavy solution, especially for the lower and middle bounds of the midsize market. It's not a simple Windows backup system, because it requires server and client elements; also, it's not inexpensive, and it requires some time to deploy. But if you anticipate growth in data, users or computers, it's worth a look.

The traditional backup medium is tape, but backing up to tape is very expensive, as is storing all of the tapes, rotating them and paying IT staffers to do this. Backing up to disk (via SAN or another method) is ultimately much cheaper than tape, and that's what DPM provides, although DPM can also help archive rarely updated data to tape for record retention purposes. The newer backup method has distinct advantages cost-wise over how things have been done in the past.

 

What DPM does

DPM can back up and restore data from the following properties via a lightweight agent:

  • Exchange
  • SQL
  • SharePoint
  • Dynamics
  • Virtual Server
  • Hyper-V (both the separate product and the Hyper-V role within Windows Server 2008 R2)
  • File shares
  • The Active Directory system state
  • Windows OS clients

The backups can be configured to occur every 15 minutes, with data being transmitted via the agent directly to the DPM server machine. From there, the DPM server can archive up to 512 disk-based snapshots for fast recovery from problems, and also manage record retention on tape-based media through customisable policies. New to DPM with this release is the ability to replicate to other DPM servers for fault tolerance, and the availability of an online cloud backup service from Iron Mountain that can be closely integrated with DPM 2010.

Microsoft's Data Protection Manager
DPM's "Create New Protection Group" wizard. This helps identify machines that require the same levels and methods of backups, such as "all servers" or "all client machines."

I'm not necessarily against the agent approach, as it affords a few capabilities that would probably not be available without the agent, such as advanced monitoring and logging, as well as some interesting features, like the ability for laptop users to instantly retrieve incremental backups.