Proven Practices for Proficient VM Protection Policy

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Virtual machines (VMs) can be pivotal for helping your business develop and test products, solutions, and processes, modernizing its technology stack, and migrating systems and infrastructure to the cloud.

If your organization’s virtualized environment is fully cloud-native, then the protection capabilities provided by the VM vendor should most likely suffice. However, recent analysis regarding cloud breaches uncovered that VMs with default security settings that are erroneously exposed to the internet is one of the most commonly exploited vulnerabilities.1

A vast majority of organizations store valuable data and run mission-critical applications in both on-premises and cloud-native VMs and more often rely upon multiple cloud VM vendors. These hybrid and multi-cloud virtualized landscapes, coupled with this common breach vulnerability, can put organizations at risk.

When designing and operationalizing a VM protection policy, consider following these proven practices to ensure your data and applications – the lifeblood of your organization – are safeguarded.

Select the appropriate type and method of backup

To devise an effective VM backup strategy, you must first understand the available types and methods of VM backups. Understanding how, when, and where you’re backing up each of your organization’s VMs is the keystone for any effective VM protection policy.

Unfortunately, VM backup types and methods are not standardized across each VM vendor’s native protection capabilities and the various third-party backup solutions on the market. Different vendors and products will have unique names for similar, if not outright the same, types of VM backups. Therefore, equipping data administrators with general information about the various types of VM backups makes deciphering the provided definitions from each VM protection product much easier.

The two main types of VM backups are:

  • Image-based backup: backs up the entire VM, including
  • the OS, files, and data

  • File-based backup: treats the VM like a physical machine and usually installs an agent on the VM to execute the backup

Plus, there are multiple methods to perform a VM backup:

  • Full backup: a complete backup of the VM’s OS, applications, and data
  • Differential backup: the backup is performed on only the data that has changed since the VM’s last full backup
  • Incremental backup: the backup is performed on only the data that has been changed since the last backup of any method
  • Snapshot: captures the state of the VM at a certain point in time, including all the data, memory, network interfaces, and power status

Full, differential, and incremental backups are stored as independent, self-contained files and thus are restorable as-is. Meanwhile, to execute a snapshot VM restore, you must rely on pre-existing files.

Optimize performance and costs

With baseline knowledge established, it’s paramount that each of your organization’s VMs is protected via the appropriate type of backup for its specific workloads and functional use. Utilizing different types of VM backups enables you to optimize your organization’s VM backup performance and costs. Certain types and methods of backups can be resource intensive with complicated operational configurations.

Aligning the ideal VM backup along with the proper storage targets and frequencies with each VM’s workload and location can help to reduce backup windows and increase virtualized system and application availability. In addition, each different type, method, and frequency you use to backup and restore each VM will incur various one-time and recurring storage, data transfer, and egress charges.

Using VMs and selecting a backup solution that offers optionality for types of VM backups is the backbone of any effective VM protection strategy.

Streamline migrations

A potential auxiliary component of protecting your VMs with the proper type and method of backup is the ability to streamline application or system migration initiatives. For instance, using the out-of-place restore capabilities that many full backup methods provide can help you easily convert virtualized on-premises file systems and applications into their cloud-based analogs. Maintaining pristine and regular VM backups can help your organization accelerate migration operations.

  1. 1.IBM, 2021 IBM Security X-Force Cloud Threat Landscape Report