As an Intronis solutions engineer, I get the privilege of working with MSP technicians with a variety of skill sets. They, in turn, work with business and institutional customers with a variety of business models and technical proficiencies.
This means no two calls are the same. An Intronis ECHOplatform demo that I conduct for a large, regional MSP is a totally different experience from one that I conduct for a small, local VAR. I love it.
But large or small, just about everyone I work with these days asks for our recommendations on how best to back up virtualized environments. Does hypervisor-native backup remove the need for file and folder backup? What mix of cloud and premises-based storage is best, and what kind of data goes where?
These questions can seem overwhelming. Fortunately, there’s a simple approach I’ve formulated over the years to provide comprehensive protection of a business’ virtualized IT.
I call it the 3-2-1 approach. Here’s how it works.
1. Protect and archive your file data
Backing up files and folders associated within virtual machine (VM) environments is Number 1. Why? Simply because for many people it’s the most familiar backup technique out there. Conceptually, it’s also the most simple.
You can work with your customers to configure these backups as on-premises or cloud-based, but backing up to a local device offers both fast restores and the ability to archive file data at scale. Good file and folder backup platforms make long-term retention simple and enable companies to automate revision policies, providing the ability to save files daily for, say, seven years before automatically overwriting them. This offers businesses the flexibility to revert to point-in-time data captures in the wake of corruption or other unplanned incidents without potentially long download times.
2. Protect business-critical applications
Number 2 is protecting business-critical applications, the lifeline processes that companies depend on to generate revenues, prevent loss, and otherwise keep afloat. The risks of extended downtime for these applications are devastating — and potentially lethal — for your customers.
The people I talk to usually support applications built on Microsoft SQL or Microsoft Exchange server, which run in VMware vSphere or Microsoft Hyper-V VMs. With this protection scheme, you want to protect business processes, not just data. The right approach for doing this is to back up VM images in a way that lets you spin up new instances of these applications onsite within minutes after a failure. The best of these solutions use a hybrid approach, applying storage and server resources on premise to take over from failed production systems, and cloud connectivity to enable remote monitoring and administration.
Standing up these solutions is a bit more involved than setting up cloud-based file-and-folder protection, but it’s not rocket science for IT solution providers. Your role is to understand the business critical role and data churn rates associated with these applications, and to implement solutions to meet the required recovery point objectives (RPOs) and recovery time objectives (RTOs).
You can start off by configuring backups to run every one to four hours and to maintain 14 days of backup data, and you can make adjustments later. Retaining two weeks of data offers the flexibility to revert back to specific points in time while managing a reasonable cost for storage. Of course, this balance point can vary widely from application to application. Work with your customers to understand their unique requirements so you can properly plan and resource their solutions.
3. Back up VM data in the cloud
Number 3 is to protect VM data off-premises. Because your customers want to save point-in-time snapshots of production environments — with their rich mix of structured, configuration, and state data — image-based backups are the way to go. As with the hybrid local-cloud backups you configure for business-critical applications, I generally recommend maintaining 14 days of backup data. Every customer and every workload is unique, so work closely with your customers to tailor backup settings to fit their needs.
This practice will help you and your customers safeguard applications against site disasters in much the same way that cloud-based file-and-folder backups safeguard data. Saving VM data to the cloud will give your customers the additional flexibility to recover VM data to alternate sites where they can resume operations out of harm’s way.
The Magic of 3-2-1
You might be wondering why I call this the 3-2-1 approach. Why the countdown? I’ve found that many folks in both the solution provider and SMB camps are most comfortable talking about file and folder backups. The problem is that they essentially start and stop at 1.
Each time you do this, however, you’re short-changing your customers and your own business. The 3-2-1 approach begins with Number 3 and works back to 1, starting with the more strategic conversation about protecting your customers’ most vital digital assets and then progressing naturally to the backup techniques they’re already familiar with.
The 3-2-1 conversation delivers real value to your customers — and a competitive edge for your business. It puts you in the driver’s seat as a trusted advisor, but it also gives your customers just enough wiggle room to stay engaged with you. So even if some customers prefer to put off protecting business-critical applications and VMs as a first step, you’ve already had the larger conversation with them. The idea is to get them to acknowledging the value of protection strategies 2 and 3, even if they’re only ready to sign up for strategy 1 today.
With time and experience, they’ll eventually come around.
Once you’ve had the 3-2-1 conversation with a customer or prospect, all future discussions about VM and application protection will be seen as follow-ups instead of as sales pitches. This makes the 3-2-1 approach a strategic tool for you to truly partner with your customers to fortify their IT and strengthen their businesses.