Storage Virtualization And Backup: Hyperconverged Infrastructure (HCI)

Information held in a virtualized storage system may require occasional backups – on-site, in the cloud, or both. In this article, we’ll be looking at the circumstances favoring one option over another, and the conditions affecting safe and reliable backups from a virtual storage area network (vSAN) or other virtual environments created using a hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI).

Hyperconverged Infrastructure And Backups

A hyperconverged IT infrastructure combines storage, computing, and networking into a single system. Multiple nodes may be clustered together, creating pools of shared storage and computing resources. Hyperconverged infrastructure or HCI is designed to be more flexible and easier to manage than traditional enterprise storage. 

HCI is typically adopted by organizations looking to rationalize their virtualization environments. As backup is one of the most complicated aspects of virtualization, these enterprises depend on HCI to simplify matters.

Elsewhere, HCI primarily serves to reduce the complexity of enterprise hardware deployments, for organizations that use a more traditional approach when backing up data.

Hypervisors And Backup Options

Hyperconvergence platforms usually include a hypervisor for virtualized computing, software-defined storage, and virtualized networking. This is the software that allows one or more virtual machines (VMs) to operate directly on underlying hardware. With a hypervisor, a single host computer can support multiple guest VMs through the creation of virtual pools that allow for shared storage, memory, or processing power.

Many HCI systems are collections of hardware on which you can run your favorite hypervisor. Some include a built-in hypervisor from the HCI vendor. These tend to be less expensive than traditional hypervisors, especially if you take advantage of their native data-protection features. 

There are also HCI vendors that offer open source hypervisors, rather than external or proprietary systems. For customers, this reduces the total cost of ownership (TCO) while still allowing for integrated data protection.

Virtualized Storage And Integrated Data Protection

Due to a limited amount of input / output (I/O) resources, the backup and recovery of data from virtual servers can be even more complex than for traditional hardware. HCI vendors offer integrated data protection as a way of simplifying these processes for their consumers. 

The most common technique is to take snapshots: instantaneous “images” of the state of a system at a given time. Snapshots are taken at the storage level, with some form of integration into the hypervisor, so that the operating system knows what to do when an HCI snapshot is taken.

The entire process may only take a few seconds – but this in itself doesn’t constitute a backup. Snapshots only create a virtual copy of the file system. This image relies on the original storage volume for a complete restore, so snapshots must be replicated to another system in order to provide complete backup and recovery. Once the data packets specific to that snapshot have been replicated to another system, you have a complete backup of the latest version of all the virtual machines in the snapshot. 

Integrated data protection features facilitate this replication process. They may be used under various conditions. For example, some organizations replicate a secondary copy of their virtualized storage configuration to another HCI system inside their own data center, while some prefer to send the copy directly to the cloud. Others may maintain both on-site and off-site copies of their systems, storing secondary copies on a local HCI system and also replicating those copies to the cloud. 

Enterprises using storage virtualization for mission-critical data and applications generally prefer a two-pronged approach. Relying solely on a local installation of data protection software may be catastrophic if a bug or major glitch is encountered. So it’s best to have at least one copy of the data on some system other than your own. 

Some HCI vendors with integrated data protection offer services that replicate their customer’s virtual machines into the cloud and spin them up on demand, for disaster recovery (DR) purposes. Organizations reluctant to trust sensitive information to a third party may opt for redundant storage by supplementing the integrated data protection features with a more traditional backup approach, such as tape drives or disks.

Protecting Your Data With StarWind

StarWind Virtual SAN runs as a native hypervisor component or in VM, and doesn’t require any deep storage and network administration or UNIX management skills. A typical system administrator with minimal experience in Hyper-V, VMware or Windows can install, configure and maintain VSAN operations. 

StarWind iSER, a protocol designed to improve iSCSI, completely eliminates the problem of network bottlenecks and latency issues, providing higher bandwidth for block storage transfers. It allows achieving maximum performance in cluster systems, which makes VM migration, data and VM replication even faster and easier to implement. 

Log-structured Write-Back Cache (LSWBC) is a caching technology tailored for intense virtualized workloads. By effectively combining fast memory like flash or RAM and a tiny portion of your storage, this feature optimizes the way that data is written to the underlying storage. As a result, all your applications always get the resiliency and performance they need.

StarWind’s hyperconverged infrastructure also protects your software-defined data center through the provision of storage appliances for primary and secondary (tier 2, 3, backup) purposes, Virtual Tape Library (VTL), etc. Sizing, application, and data migration services are included with every appliance.

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