A Virtual No-Brainer

What Is Virtualization?

In the computer world virtualization is the process of replacing your existing server hardware environment with an equivalent software environment.  This “tricks” the server into thinking it’s running on bare metal (your Dell or HP server hardware) when in reality it’s running entirely in a software environment that acts like server hardware.

This is accomplished by using a software layer with generic device drivers which allow your server to work without having to care about the specific server hardware.  In virtual-server-land the only thing the server itself still communicates with directly is the server’s processor(s) (CPUs).  Everything else is software emulating hardware – a “virtual” server.

Backup – The Hardware Server Way

Prior to virtual machine technology a server had to be running for it to be backed up.  Sometimes this could be a bit of a problem, especially if key files were “in use” as the server was writing to the backup – sometimes these files had to be skipped, especially in the case of databases which like to protect their data by locking files.  This had the undesired effect of preventing the backup software from backing up the entire filesystem or database.  Expensive add-ons were made available for most backup software suites which will allow “snapshot” backups of popular databases (example Microsoft SQL Server) but what if your database wasn’t that popular?  Was it being backed up properly?

This is the way we would did it in hardware-server-ville.  We try to get everything to backup properly including:

  • All Applications & Databases
  • The Operating System (Windows Server)
  • Security Patches Applied to Date
  • System State
    • Active Directory
    • Registry
    • System Files
    • SYSVOL
    • COM+ Class Registration Database

In reality the data gets backed up for sure – because that was the important part of your computing infrastructure.  The operating system and environment were backed up too.  If for some reason it wasn’t we’d still recover completely – it’d just take longer.  This was the part that sometimes cost more and sometimes cost less.

How could you be sure everything could be restored and function properly? We could’t be 100% sure.  How long would it take (how much would it cost) if they server itself had to be replaced?  It would depend.


VirtualBox has been in the enterprise for years.

Backup – The Virtual Server Way

There are many reasons why you should consider virtualizing your server infrastructure as soon as possible.  If we were to distill it down to it’s most basic form we could sum it up in one sentence.

Hardware is less expensive than labor

That’s not the only reason but it’s a big enough reason to begin gaining your return on investment as quickly as possible.  Hardware is going to continue to get cheaper while labor is going to remain expensive.

Here are some of the attributes that make virtual servers better than bare metal servers.

  • You can run many guest virtual machine servers on a single hardware host server.  Need another server?  Fire one up in software!
  • Once a server has been “virtualized” and shut down it is made up of flat computer files – just like Microsoft Word documents or Excel spreadsheet files.  Easy to backup – easy to encrypt – easy to check for corruption.
  • Virtual servers have “virtual disks” which can be as large as you like and yet take up only as much space as your actual data.  Think you’ll need a 1 Terabyte disk in your server?  Create it today – without using the space.

A virtual server can be brought down (shut off) and backed up entirely to tape and/or network attached storage – everything.  No file locking considerations, no files in use that can’t be backed up, etc …   The entire server, applications, installed security patches and data are backed up and portable.  If disaster warrants you replace your hardware we simply install the virtual machine software layer on the replacement hardware and the virtualized server just works.  Your virtualized server doesn’t care that it used to be running on Dell hardware (for example) but now it’s running on HP hardware … or any other hardware!

Other Considerations

HIPAA, Sarbanes-Oxley and other initiatives are requiring (or suggesting) that personally identifiable information (PII) is encrypted in the case of off-site backup.  Are you backing up all of your PII?  Do you even know where in your sever’s file system the PII is located?  Are you sure?

With virtualization there is no doubt.  We can encrypt the entire server because it’s nothing but a bunch of files.  Also, since the server is not running while it’s being backed up we can be sure we’ve got it all.  It can be fully verified.  We can do an entire server backup each night.


We’ve touched on a few reasons why virtualization should be on your mind – if not now very soon.  This technology is fully mature and in use throughout the enterprise today.  There are a lot of really amazing features of virtualization that we didn’t even mention!  Smaller businesses are beginning to adopt virtualization slowly.  You should be too.

Give Penguin Computer & Telephone Solutions a call.  We’d like to show you how virtualization can benefit your business.  You’ll save money on real peace of mind!


    backup_to_nfs.sh© Copyright 2010
 Penguin Computer & Telephone Solutions
Fri Mar 11 23:00:01 EST 2011 - begin backup
Fri Mar 11 23:00:01 EST 2011 - volume mount verified
Fri Mar 11 23:00:16 EST 2011 - backup-02252011.tar deleted
Fri Mar 11 23:00:17 EST 2011 - shutting down guest os
Fri Mar 11 23:02:11 EST 2011 - guest os safely shut down
Fri Mar 11 23:02:11 EST 2011 - sleeping for four hours - tape backup
Sat Mar 12 03:02:11 EST 2011 - tape backup should be completed by now
Sat Mar 12 03:02:13 EST 2011 - begin the NFS backup
Sat Mar 12 03:02:13 EST 2011 - datestamp prior to midnight
/var/lib/vmware/Virtual Machines/Windows SBS 2003 R2/
/var/lib/vmware/Virtual Machines/Windows SBS 2003 R2/Windows SBS 2003 R2-s132.vmdk
---------------- snip --------------------
/var/lib/vmware/Virtual Machines/Windows SBS 2003 R2/Windows SBS 2003 R2-s024.vmdk
/var/lib/vmware/Virtual Machines/Windows SBS 2003 R2/Windows SBS 2003 R2.vmx
/var/lib/vmware/Virtual Machines/Windows SBS 2003 R2/Windows SBS 2003 R2-s252.vmdk
/var/lib/vmware/Virtual Machines/Windows SBS 2003 R2/Windows SBS 2003 R2-s014.vmdk
/var/lib/vmware/Virtual Machines/Windows SBS 2003 R2/Windows SBS 2003 R2-s247.vmdk
/var/lib/vmware/Virtual Machines/Windows SBS 2003 R2/Windows SBS 2003 R2-s059.vmdk
/var/lib/vmware/Virtual Machines/Windows SBS 2003 R2/Windows SBS 2003 R2-s046.vmdk
/var/lib/vmware/Virtual Machines/Windows SBS 2003 R2/Windows SBS 2003 R2-s082.vmdk
/var/lib/vmware/Virtual Machines/Windows SBS 2003 R2/Windows SBS 2003 R2-s129.vmdk
Sat Mar 12 05:57:33 EST 2011 - sleeping for five minutes
Sat Mar 12 06:02:33 EST 2011 - restarting the quest os
Sat Mar 12 06:02:49 EST 2011 - sleep for two minutes
Sat Mar 12 06:04:49 EST 2011 - guest os is fully started
------- NFS backup directory contents ------
total 609G
-rw-r--r-- 1 nobody        nogroup       1.1M Sep  5  2010 PET105-BIOS_LX_01.04.04.BIN
-rw-r--r-- 1 nobody        nogroup       103M Sep  5  2010 VMware-server-1.0.10-203137.tar.gz
-rw-r--r-- 1 administrator libvirtd      102M Jun 18  2010 VMware-server-1.0.4-56528.tar.gz
-rw-r--r-- 1 nobody        nogroup        15K Sep  5  2010 VMware-server-2.0.2-203138-update-2.patch
-rw-r--r-- 1 nobody        nogroup       453M Sep  5  2010 VMware-server-2.0.2-203138.x86_64.tar.gz
-rw-r--r-- 1 nobody        nogroup        38M Sep  5  2010 VMware-vix-1.6.2-203138.x86_64.tar.gz
-rw-r--r-- 1 nobody        nogroup        61G Mar  1 05:58 backup-02282011.tar
-rw-r--r-- 1 nobody        nogroup        61G Mar  2 05:59 backup-03012011.tar
-rw-r--r-- 1 nobody        nogroup        61G Mar  3 05:57 backup-03022011.tar
-rw-r--r-- 1 nobody        nogroup        61G Mar  4 05:59 backup-03032011.tar
-rw-r--r-- 1 nobody        nogroup        61G Mar  5 05:57 backup-03042011.tar
-rw-r--r-- 1 nobody        nogroup        61G Mar  8 05:58 backup-03072011.tar
-rw-r--r-- 1 nobody        nogroup        61G Mar  9 05:58 backup-03082011.tar
-rw-r--r-- 1 nobody        nogroup        61G Mar 10 05:58 backup-03092011.tar
-rw-r--r-- 1 nobody        nogroup        61G Mar 11 05:58 backup-03102011.tar
-rw-r--r-- 1 nobody        nogroup        61G Mar 12 05:57 backup-03112011.tar
-rw-r--r-- 1 nobody        nogroup       4.6K Oct  1 11:39 backupedge.keys.tar.gz
-rw-r--r-- 1 nobody        nogroup       9.5M Sep  5  2010 firefox-3.5.3.tar.bz2
-rw-r--r-- 1 administrator administrator  17M Dec  7 20:27 recover_edge_cdrom.iso
-rw-r--r-- 1 nobody        nogroup        18M Mar  1 13:07 recover_edge_cdrom_03012011.iso
----- end backup directory contents ----
Sat Mar 12 06:04:50 EST 2011 - backup is complete
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