Delivering availability for the modern data centre

Karen McCandless explores how Veeam can mitigate risk in financial services organisations by minimising downtime and enabling the Always-On Business

Delivering availability for the modern data centre

This article first appeared in the Summer 2014 edition of Finance On Windows

Financial institutions are modernising the way they run their business and their IT, with virtualisation and the cloud being major enablers of this modernisation. Virtualising data centres can lead to reduced costs and better use of infrastructure, but for many organisations their legacy data backup tools are not up to the job of enabling an always-on environment, especially with the added challenges of exponential data growth and shrinking backup windows. Many of these tools are expensive and complex, difficult to use and don’t have the necessary functionality in terms of data backup and recovery. Backups take too long leading to missed backup windows, data recovery time is slow and downtime lasts too long. As a result, organisations are looking at investing in new tools and software to avoid the major problem of system downtime due to inefficient data and system recovery.

Downtime can also have a major effect on customer relationships. Consumers want information at their fingertips and access to their money, whenever and wherever they are. With the rise of smartphones and tablets, they now have even less tolerance for downtime; they don’t accept excuses for why they can’t access their accounts, view their balance, transfer money and pay bills at any time of the day. If there is a downtime issue that affects them and it’s not handled correctly then they are likely to vote with their feet.

“You really see this demand for always-on availability when services go offline, as customers have come to expect 24/7 access to money and services,” says Doug Hazelman, vice president of Product Strategy at Veeam Software. “And people now have a platform to complain – they no longer have to write a letter to the bank or local newspaper, they can go to blogs or forums and very quickly gain a following of other dissatisfied customers.”

Consumers are also choosier about where they want to keep their money and who they want to do business with, with stories of outages and system downtimes having an effect. “It’s all about being an informed consumer,” says Hazelman. “For example, if there is a big storm that takes out a data centre, will I lose access to my money or is there another data centre the bank will fail over to keep the business running? Nobody wants their bank to go offline or to lose their data. There is a lot of pressure on financial institutions when it comes to data loss and downtime – when you’re talking about money, it’s a critical situation.”

These organisations have generally already spent a lot of money implementing technology to protect data and minimise downtime in their mission-critical systems, and they’ve had these systems in place for years. Hazelman explains: “They have multiple sites they can fail over to in a matter of minutes and the data is synched across these sites so they don’t lose important information. As this is the backbone of the business, they’ve spent millions of dollars to protect these systems because there is a lot to lose if they go down.”

But what about all the other – less critical – systems that financial services organisations use on a daily basis? “The way I see it is that there are the really important systems that run the business and then there are the other important, but less crucial, systems,” says Hazelman. “For financial institutions, it’s key that the mission-critical systems have a high-level of availability and almost no downtime. But the other systems can go offline for an hour and it doesn’t affect people’s access to money or cause major operational problems. With these systems, they don’t have a five-second recovery objective and they will settle for 20 minutes to an hour instead. While companies have already spent millions of dollars to protect their mission-critical financials systems, with these less critical systems, they are on a bit more of a budget.”

This is where global data protection technology provider Veeam comes in. The Veeam Backup & Replication solution provides image-level backups and replications to enable the recovery of virtualised applications and data, as well as reduce the likelihood of downtime or data loss.

“At Veeam, we provide a level of protection at that next layer down to minimise downtime, eradicate data loss and help enable the Always-On Business,” says Hazelman. “We take a look at the broader infrastructure within the data centre to protect the data in the different virtualised systems in place, as well as saving time and reducing risk. This involves backing up the data so the companies can access it when they need to recover it, although it will be on more of a once-an-hour timeframe rather than once a second like they use for mission-critical systems. It also covers replicating the data and servers to another site with our 2-in-1: backup and replication functionality, which provides a copy of a virtual machine (VM) in a ready-to-start state. This means that if a VM goes down, organisations can immediately fail over to a standby VM.”

Backing up the data is only one part of protecting against data loss; organisations also need to ensure they can successfully recover all the data that was backed up in the event of a problem. “We provide the ability to automatically verify the recoverability of backups through our SureBackup technology,” says Hazelman. “When an organisation has backed up its data, it can carry out a test restore then run the VM in an isolated environment and verify the recoverability of the data. The company then knows it has not only successfully backed up the data, but also has a good restore point if it needs to recover data. It’s all about mitigating risk, but also making sure that companies have the peace of mind in the event that something does happen.”

It’s not just minimising downtime and protecting against data loss where Veeam can help reduce risk at financial services organisations. If a company needs to update a system or install a patch or some new code, they don’t have to do this in a production environment, but can use Veeam technology to run it on a test system first.

“Our technology can take a backup of the production system, start it up in an isolated environment and test the patch or upgrade on a backup copy of the production data,” explains Hazelman. “This helps eliminate issues when deploying patches or making updates, as all changes are tested before being rolled out into production.”

Veeam also has a long history of working with Microsoft technology to help financial services organisations eliminate risk and protect important data. The company was the first vendor to support Windows Server 2012 R2 and it can also help store companies’ backups in the cloud using Microsoft Azure, as well as monitor their virtual infrastructure using System Center. “Microsoft technology enables us to provide a level of data protection through virtualisation that isn’t possible in the physical world,” says Hazelman.

As part of its commitment to using the best possible solutions out there, Veeam added Hyper-V protection in 2011. Hazelman explains: “We always keep an eye on the market and realised that with Hyper-V Server 2008, the platform had really matured so we started building and refining our support for it. Due to our experience working with Microsoft, we knew that the company would be a major player in the virtualisation space.”

And this is a strategy that seems to have paid off as, in 2013, the company saw a big increase in its Hyper-V sales. “Our Hyper-V business has been growing every quarter,” says Hazelman. “In terms of net new customers, we are adding them at a higher percentage rate of our business than other virtualisation technologies.”

Further extending its partnership with Microsoft, the company has added support for Microsoft Exchange and SharePoint recovery, as well as WAN acceleration, deduplication and replication in the latest version of its Backup & Replication solution. Hazelman concludes: “In v7 of our solution, we have added a number of new features that can significantly enhance financial services organisations’ data protection capabilities, taking modern data protection to the next level. At Veeam, we are continuing to make it easier than ever to protect virtualised environments with innovative new functionality that provides ever higher levels of security in the event of a failure.”

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