Marathon's Virtualization Tool Simplifies Disaster Recovery

Marathon's everRun VM holds appeal for CIOs who need to protect critical business applications running in VMs, without the cost and complexity of traditional high availability products. In one plus, the software doesn't require a SAN.

Disaster recovery continues to be an enterprise IT task where virtualization shines, and if Marathon Technologies' new product is any indication, that task will continue to become more affordable.

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Marathon, which made a splash at the fall 2007 VMworld show with a preview of its everRun VM product for high availability and disaster recovery, will formally announce the product today; it's available in beta form and will ship in April, the company says. The product can be added to the XenServer Enterprise Edition license for an extra $2000, with no limits on the number of VMs running inside that server, Marathon says.

As Burton Group research analyst Chris Wolf noted recently, more CIOs are looking for high availability (HA) solutions now, since virtualization has moved beyond test and development work and into the realm of key business applications. If those apps are running in a VM, the last thing IT would want is a slowdown or outage for business users. The higher profile the app, the greater the need for a high availability solution for VMs. "VM high availability will be a significant concern in 2008 as virtualization technology improvements allow more high-end enterprise applications to run inside virtual machines," Wolf says.

Marathon is betting that its product will appeal in particular to midmarket CIOs, some of whom have had a hard time justifying the cost of traditional high availability/disaster recovery solutions, many of which require the added expense of a storage area network (SAN) and staffers with specialized SAN skills. Another competitive point: VMware's high availability solution also requires a SAN. Marathon's product can use direct connect attached storage, which is a plus for CIOs who don't have a SAN and dont want to pay to install and maintain one.

The everRun solution may also appeal to IT leaders in larger enterprises who value simplicity of administration with regards to disaster recovery. Marathon estimates that an IT group can get everRun up and running to protect a server full of VMs in about 30 minutes, whereas traditional clustered high availability solutions can take days or weeks to set up and install. The product also automates fault and policy management, saving IT staffers' time on these chores.

And with what Marathon calls geographic fault tolerance capability, you can set up many VMs at one data center site (or several sites) to have automatic fault tolerance with another geographic site; this would keep production apps running in VMs up and running even if one location experienced a natural disaster such as a flood.

The only hitch for some IT shops at this point: Marathon's product works only with the Citrix/Xen virtualized server architecture, not marketshare-leader VMware's. Microsoft Hyper-V support is planned at a later date, but no VMware support is on the drawing board, according to Marathon (which cites its ability to get its product to market faster and ensure proper performance with the Citrix/Xen architecture, among the reasons for this decision.)

Where the Software Lives

On a physical server running VMs, the everRun software sits below the virtual machine layer and just above the hypervisor. That's interesting since many tools sit in the VM or in the OS, says Michael Bilancieri, director of products for Marathon. There are several advantages to this approach, he says, including the Marathon software having direct line of sight to I/O activity, so that in case of trouble, the software can redirect application traffic from a VM without the apps going down for users. Also, the product provides agnostic support for any Windows applications and even legacy apps on the VMs, without the need for customization.

Today's everRun VM solution offers component-level fault tolerance (protecting against any I/O failure, such as a dead hard disk). Later this year, Marathon will ship everRun VM Lockstep Option, providing system-level fault tolerance, designed for scenarios where you lose a whole server for any reason, for example, if you lose a building in a fire. This will essentially be an add-on solution to everRun VM, the company says. Customers will be able to set the desired level of protection VM by VM, to keep costs down for VMs that dont need the highest level of protection.

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Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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