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Virtualization for Disaster Recovery, Building the Right Plan

  
  
  
  
  

Chris Sutherland Author: Chris Sutherland, csutherland@jackhenry.com

It is almost time for the annual PEC Educational Conference (March 6 - 9, 2012; Shameless Plug—don’t miss it!) and in preparing for the conference I found a few interesting facts on the subject of exactly how virtualization is catching on. So I thought we might revisit some of these findings and talk about why virtualization is a good choice for most enterprises.

Virtualization continues to be a hot topic in most IT circles and there are many reasons we see this trend growing, as shown in the chart below. In the finance and insurance industries, 44% utilize some form or another of virtualization and 82% plan to use more virtualization for newly acquired servers.  And the size of businesses may shock you as well. In those surveyed, 45% of small companies lead the way in virtualization, followed closely by medium and enterprise-sized companies at 37% and 35% respectively, and 35% of commercial-sized companies.

chart1

So why are these compainies choosing virtualization? Leading the way among reasons to accept and adopt virtualization are: the ability to reduce hardware costs, followed closely by disaster recovery (DR) improvements. There are so many reasons we could fill up several blogs entries with this information, but let’s focus on one—the ways virtualization can help you improve your DR effort.

chart2 resized 600

So how do virtualization (and VMware) help with your DR plans? First, you must define your plan (you do have one?) What are the most critical applications that need to be online? How long can you go without email? How long can you go without access to documents?  These are all questions that need to be determined when assessing your needs. Ask yourself this, “What would you do if your main location were suddenly gone?”

There are several tools available that give you different levels of support for your DR Site.  From backup replication to SAN replication you have the ability to meet your desired Response Time Objective for having your servers and application available to your employees.  Many factors should be considered when planning for your DR Site, such as the amount of data you have and need to replicate to the amount of bandwidth needed to make sure everything stays up to date. There are also tools available that will assist you with failover procedures for all of your systems, from changing the systems IP addresses to the order in which the servers will boot up and come back online.  With the proper configuration and tools you can accomplish the most important function of a DR Site; that is, test it so that you know when you need the site it will be working and working correctly, without affecting your production environment. That means that when a natural disaster occurs, even though we all hope it never does, you have a site you can trust.

So what have we concluded?  While no one wants to think about a natural disaster or what they will do if it happens to them, with a defined plan, replication of your data, and the proper tools, you can trust that you are well prepared. So, what is your plan for when disaster strikes?

 

Virtualization: Not just for testing anymore

  
  
  
  
  

ChrisSutherland  Author: Chris Sutherland, csutherland@profitstars.com

A question was recently asked of me as follows, “I am familiar with the concept of VM (Virtual Machine) which IBM invented back in the early 1970’s. How would using VM provide greater security? And why would a bank customer want this?”  

Let me begin my response by saying there are a number of good reasons to choose virtualization that make sense from a business standpoint (you can refer to my blog post, Is Virtualization the Right Choice for your Financial Institution?”) With the appropriate setup and VMware’s virtualization solution, you get a secure and robust solution that has both the technology and the processes to ensure that the high standard is maintained in all current and future products. VMware virtualization gives you the following:

• Secure Architecture and Design: Based on its streamlined and purpose-built architecture, vSphere (the VMware Hypervisor) is considered by many experts as the most secure virtualization platform.
• Third-party Validation of Security Standards: VMware has validated the security of its software against standards set by Common Criteria, NIST, and other organizations.
• Proven Technology: More than 250,000 customers – including all of the Fortune 100 as well as military and government installations – trust VMware to virtualize their mission-critical applications.

Because VMware uses what is called a “Bare-Metal Virtualization,” meaning that the hypervisor (virtual machine manager) resides on the physical server, there is no dependency on an operating system that could add a layer of insecurity as well.

Another point to consider is the “Thin Virtualization” concept. “Thin” virtualization was started with VMware’s release of ESXi 3.5 and continues to improve and dramatically strengthen security and manageability as follows:
 
• Reduced size makes the attack surface much smaller and reduces the potential for vulnerabilities.
• Independence from the parent partition or console based on a general-purpose Operating System means far fewer interfaces to exploit and less malware threats, which is especially important given the path of device drivers from the Virtual Machine to the physical hardware.
• Unstructured, console-based interaction from administration is replaced by authenticated and audited interfaces.

As an added point for securing the environment VMware has a security suite of software called vShield. The vShield Product Family is the foundation for trusted cloud infrastructures.  vShield enables adaptive and cost-effective security services within a single management framework. Three of the benefits are:

1. Reduce Complexity with Unified Security Policy Framework for the Cloud. vShield provides a comprehensive set of services for securing the datacenter at any level – host, network, applications, data and endpoints, in a single management tool integrated with vCenter Servers.
2. Secure Applications and Data with Adaptive Trust Zones. vShield allows organizations deploying cloud infrastructure to create adaptive trust zones that securely isolate applications with different trust levels and also quarantine applications that may have been compromised.
3. Accelerate Compliance and Automate Remediation. Exposure or leakage of such data – for example stolen credit card information – can cost an enterprise millions of dollars and/or harm its reputation. VMware vShield also provides organizations with the ability to identify sensitive business information and ensure it is protected. This includes over 80 pre-built templates for the most common standards of protecting sensitive data.

So what have we concluded? The reasons we have cited here, plus the fact that many companies (including financial institutions) are using virtualization in production environments lead us to the realization that virtualization is not only good for testing, but it is secure and makes sense in everyday production environments for business-critical applications, as well as servers.

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