On May 12th, 2008 VMware announced that nine storage replication vendors have tested and certified their technology with VMware’s long awaited Site Recovery Manager (SRM) offering. SRM is an important step forward in DR (DR) preparedness because it automates the process of restarting virtual machines (VM) at an alternate data center. Of course, your data and your VM configuration files must be present at the alternate site, hence the necessary integration with replication vendors. SRM not only automates the restart of VMs at an alternate data center, it can automate other aspects of DR. For example, it can shutdown other VMs before it recovers others. You can also integrate scripts for other tasks and insert checkpoints where a manual procedure is required. This is useful if you are using the redundant infrastructure at the alternate data center for other workloads such as application development and testing (a very common scenario). When you recover an application to an alternate site, especially if your redundant infrastructure supports other workloads, you have to think about how you will repurpose between secondary and production workloads.  You also have to think about the entire ecosystem, such as network and storage settings, not just simply recovering a VM.

Essentially, VMware wants you to replace manual DR runbook with the automated recovery plans in SRM. It might not completely replace your DR runbook but it can automate enough of it. So much so that DR service providers such as SunGard are productizing new service offerings based on SRM.

Automating more aspects of the DR process is critical to improving DR preparedness. Companies make enormous investments in technology to facilitate DR but they rarely test their capabilities. According to Forrester survey data, 23% of enterprises never conduct a full DR test and only 40% conduct a full DR test once a year. SRM can help companies conduct more frequent tests because automation can reduce the time to execute a test as well as the risk. Forrester believes that frequent testing is the only way to truly prepare for DR.

SRM isn’t free but it’s not exorbitant. It can be purchased a la carte or bundled with other VMware software. The bottom line is that companies are already using server virtualization to improve DR, they’re just doing it manually. In fact, it’s now the number one motivator for virtualization adoption. To some extent, SRM is almost late to market with the needs of customers. Forrester recommends that companies evaluate SRM as part of future purchases and consider purchasing a la carte licenses for existing environments.

By Stephanie Balaouras

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