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Enabling data security policy hardware independent

Written by  Sergey Solomatin June 22, 2010

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Today, IT specialists have a wide range of options available to make the data security policy more composite and comprehensive. There are many tools and instruments presented for any level of demand on the IT market. Some of them are intended to be simple and convenient, others have to fit well into the larger enterprise infrastructures.

In this article, two important aspects of all-encompassing data security and management plan are described in more detail. First, I would like to discuss a hardware independent system recovery (HIR) and migration to virtual environments options. Even if you decide HIR is not your solution and do not attach much importance to it, HIR enables you to significantly increase a number of possible recovery, data migration and copying scenarios. In the light of the progress of modern virtualization technologies, HIR gets another great value – smooth system transfer between physical and virtual platforms.

Data Imaging and Virtualization

Creation of images is still the best way to get the maximum level of security for any computer data. It is the oldest and the most popular method of data backup. Despite the fact the technology principles are rather classical; the sector imaging continues its progress.

Nowadays, sector images are commonly used to protect important data and system as a whole. They make possible to store full software environments and system copies in one or several files. With the introduction of high-capacity storages in SOHO segment, imaging technologies break the limit of large enterprises sector and are now affordable to any PC user.

Sector imaging evolution yielded such methods and instruments as incremental and differential images, CDP, granular recovery, hot processing and much more. Another important technology is hardware independent restore that is one of this article’s topics.

Data imaging and virtualization intersect in many IT segments. Both of them come from the enterprise market and are now available everywhere, on any platform. Both of them operate by large containers with data. Recent developments have introduced a merging of the two technologies there more and more data management solutions support data imaging and data management in both physical and virtual realms.

Why is HIR important?

As everyone knows, Windows operating systems are very hardware sensitive. It means you can not copy a volume with OS (operating system) from one computer to another and run the system. It will not work, unless you have copied it to the exactly the same hardware platform. Windows significantly depends on the underlying hardware. As there are many PC-compatible platforms and all can be used to run Windows, transferring the system between different computers is not a trivial task.

Since the introduction of Windows 2000, all systems include several kernels, HAL and drivers that are used to support diverse hardware platforms. After the installation, the OS uses each of them, thus it will not run on the computer with a different hardware.

HIR means your system becomes functional again on a different computer after the restore. So you can easily recover, copy or transfer the whole environment to another hardware platform at any time and be ensured that all software is fully functional. There are many possible scenarios, where HIR is very useful; the most obvious are computer upgrade and migration to virtual environments.

Thereby HIR is an advanced powerful technology that significantly expands traditional scenarios of data imaging, copying and migration. This technology opens gates to a more mobile and flexible IT world, where different physical and virtual platforms exchange data, software and OS easily and rapidly.

Breaking Hardware Boundaries

HIR software realization is intended to help anyone to successfully recover the system on any hardware or perform migration to/from a virtual environment. Despite that the operation is very quick and easy to perform, it includes several background steps: system kernel configuration, proper HAL assignment, hardware driver installation.

The kernel and HAL configuration are performed automatically by the program. Hardware driver installation usually does not demand user actions. However, you can monitor and manage the driver installation process. Sometimes, it is important to install the particular version of a driver, or do not install the software at all.

During kernel configuration the program decides which version of the main system kernel should be used after HIR (for example, for single core processors or multicore CPU). Thus, HIR is able to transfer the software environment between relatively old machines and new one or from a powerful server to a single-core emulated virtual machine.

HAL substitution helps to transfer system between different motherboards with significantly diverse core internal technologies, such as memory support, power management and peripheral hardware support. This enables you to transfer the system from one platform to another without additional manipulations, for example from AMD to Intel.

Finally, the third stage is the driver installation. The HIR-enabled program can be tuned to automatically search and install drivers from different sources, such as Windows repository, remote locations and provided media. If it is installed successfully, you can finish the HIR operation. Otherwise, you will be prompted with the proposal to either skip the installation or provide the needed driver. Of course, it is entirely your decision whether to leave the hardware without driver and hope that Windows will boot or try to perform driver installation later with all needed software. The program always notifies about the hardware type and its name (if possible), or it will show the hardware ID, which can be used to search the needed driver over the Internet.

The program installs drivers for storage and network controllers. But it will show all hardware without the proper software support, so you can install all other hardware drivers manually. You have another option during driver installation; you can override all program logic and force driver injection from the provided catalog. The program will install the driver, even if the corresponding hardware is absent in the machine at the time of HIR or the program have its more recent version.

At the end of the operation the system becomes properly tuned, patched and configured. Most hardware drivers will be installed. Thus you will have the fully functional software environment on physical or virtual platform.

Migration to Virtual Environments

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Despite the fact, that virtual machines (VM) may be manually created from scratch and filled with data, this approach is very time and resources consuming. It involves system installation, software installation and data copying. Of course it is the only way if you want to create a brand-new machine, but if VM should contain software environment from the existing physical machine, the better option is to perform the operation of migration to virtual environment.

Many programs able to create virtual disk (VD) files based on data from existing physical computers. Despite that these VD can be attached to virtual machines and data can be read or written, there are few applications that are able to create VD with fully functional operating system.

Several software solutions are intended to help users perform migration to virtual environments. It is another important segment of IT where system adjusting is widely used. Basically migration process consists of several operations: sector data imaging, VD creation and system adjustment.

Sector imaging ensures that VD will contain all current data that is on the physical hard disk drive: partitions, volumes, files and folders with all corresponding logical structure. The data can be read in online mode without system and programs shutdown due to use of Microsoft Volume Shadow Copy Service or in offline with help of a special bootable media.

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The program can create VD using either a current image or a previously created archive. In both cases you will get VD of the needed format with the needed size and type. If you already have not-functional virtualized system, the program can perform only system adaptation, providing the possibility to put the system back on rails.

System adjustment operation essentially is the same as for images restore, the main difference is that you can specify the path to the special virtualization software toolkit, which includes all drivers for virtual machine hardware.

Quick and easy migration to virtual environments and back to physical machines alongside with system adjustment enables you with different useful scenarios. A virtual machine can be a temporary substitute for physical one during its upgrade or repair. Virtual disk files can be used instead of system archives in your security plan. Virtual machine on USB drive could be used on different computers to run the needed software and data anywhere and at anytime. Moreover, virtual machine is the best container for any software environment from obsolete and old computers that, for some reason, need to be used on modern new machines.

Conclusion

In this article were mentioned several technologies that help users successfully restore software environments on diverse hardware and transfer system, programs and data from physical computers to virtual machines. The modern solutions provide easy and functional instruments for both technologies with many features and possibilities.

Advanced data management technologies become more used in all IT segments. Their availability in the home-users segment grants new opportunities for creating new diverse and comprehensive data security policies including hardware independent restore, migration to virtual environments, system consolidation and old system conservation.

About the Author

solomatin-sergey.jpgSergey Solomatin has served as a technical specialist at Paragon Software Group's System Utilities department since 2005. He holds a degree in engineering at the Moscow State Institute of Steel and Alloys.