Using a virtualization-specific backup solution in a production environment significantly simplifies the restore process, especially for servers that are difficult to restore, such as those running Microsoft Exchange Server, SQL Server, SharePoint, or Visual Studio Team Foundation Server. Because the backup solutions essentially perform an image backup of the virtual machines (VMs), restoring a VM is as simple as restoring the VM's disk files on the host and starting the VM.

I recently tested Veeam Software's Veeam Backup & Replication, which supports both VMware ESX and Microsoft Hyper-V servers. It comes in two editions: Standard and Enterprise. Both editions include backup and replication (local or remote) functionality. Table 1 summarizes the features included with the Standard and Enterprise Editions. The Enterprise Edition costs around 30 percent more than the Standard Edition, but I think that the features in the Enterprise Edition are well worth the additional cost, especially if you run applications such as Exchange, SharePoint, and SQL Server. You can upgrade from the Standard Edition to the Enterprise Edition by paying the difference in price.

Licensing

Veeam Backup & Replication's licensing is based on the total number of physical CPU sockets you have on all your ESX or Hyper-V hosts. If you have six or fewer CPU sockets to purchase for your entire company, you can buy Veeam Essentials, which is sold in two-socket bundles. However, a company can only buy up to three two-socket bundles. If you have more than six total CPU sockets on your ESX or Hyper-V hosts, you must purchase Veeam on a per-socket basis. You have two options. You can purchase Veeam Backup & Replication as a standalone product or as part of the Veeam Management Suite, which includes Veeam Backup & Replication and Veeam ONE (Veeam's monitoring, documentation, and business categorization application). Veeam Essentials also includes Veeam ONE.

Components

Veeam Backup & Replication consists of several components:

  • Veeam Backup Server. This is the main software that schedules and performs the backups.
  • Veeam Backup Enterprise Manager. This software provides centralized management of multiple Veeam Backup Servers. You need only one instance of Enterprise Manager to manage multiple servers.
  • Veeam Backup Search. Used in conjunction with Microsoft Search Server, Veeam Backup Search is used for offline system catalog crawls and searches. If you have more than 200 VMs, you'll have much faster search results with this software when the file to restore might be located on multiple backups.

From this point on, I'll concentrate on the main features of the Veeam Backup Server component running in a VMware environment.

Installation and Configuration

Although you can install the Veeam Backup Server software on a VM, I suggest that you install it on a dedicated physical server because when the software is running, it places a significant load on the server. Veeam suggests a server with at least two cores and 4GB of memory if you plan to use a local SQL Server instance. If you're using a remote SQL Server instance, you can configure the server with 2GB of memory.

The installation of the Veeam Backup Server software is straightforward. Because the backup server must communicate with either a vCenter server or ESX host, the backup server should be placed in the same network as the vCenter server or ESX console network. Ideally, this should be a separate dedicated management network that's isolated from other VM traffic.

Before you run the installation program, you should verify that valid entries exist for all vCenter servers, ESX hosts, and the backup repository (which I'll discuss shortly). These entries can reside either in a DNS server or local HOSTS file on the backup server. Make sure that all resources (vCenter servers and ESX hosts) can be resolved.

For me, the installation of the Veeam Backup Server went very smoothly. When you run the installation program, make sure you have at least 10GB of free space on the drive on which you install vPower NFS. This technology enables running VMs directly from backup files.

After the software is installed, you need to create the backup repository. This is where the backup files, copies of VMs, and metadata for replicated VMs will be stored. The backup repository can be DAS on a server, NAS, NFS storage on a Linux server, or Just a Bunch of Disks (JBOD). I also recommend that you back up the backup repository to some type of offline media, such as tape. I typically run a full backup of the VMs over the weekend and run incremental backups to disk during the week. After the daily backups are finished, I run a separate backup job to tape.

When planning for disk space, make sure to account for the total amount of disk space that your VMs use, plus space for the incremental backups. Veeam does a good job with compression and deduplication of the backup images to save space, but to be on the safe side, I recommend purchasing at least 1.5 times the amount of storage on the host or cluster. More storage lets you keep more backup history on disk, without having to restore from tape.

Backups

Once the Veeam Backup Server software is installed and the backup repository is in place, you can create the backup job. To do so, you can use the Create Backup Job wizard, which you launch from the initial backup screen that Figure 1 shows. For testing purposes, I configured a full backup on Saturday, with incremental backups Sunday through Friday. If desired, you can have email notifications sent when the backup job has finished. To do so, you just need to specify an SMTP server and the recipients' email addresses, separated by semicolons.

Figure 1: Initial backup screen
Figure 1: Initial backup screen 

In the past, I struggled with other virtualization backup solutions when trying to back up Windows Server 2008 R2 VMs running Exchange and SQL Server on a VMware vSphere 5 host with Virtual Machine File System 5 (VMFS5) storage groups. I had to contact technical support multiple times to get the backup jobs working, with sometimes clunky workarounds. In stark contrast, I was able to get Veeam Backup & Replication working on the first try, without contacting technical support. It was fast, reliable, and stable.

For my tests, I installed Veeam Backup Server on both a VM and a physical server running VMware vCenter Server to compare the performance. The VM was running Server 2008 R2 configured with four virtual CPUs (vCPUs) and 4GB of memory. When backing up the other VMs on the same ESXi host, the CPU utilization stayed close to 100 percent. Throughput was good, running about 70MBps during a full backup. The host was an HP ProLiant DL380 G7 with two six-core CPUs and 64GB of memory. The backup repository was on the local VM's hard drive. This standalone ESX host had eight 300GB Serial Attached SCSI (SAS) drives configured as a RAID 5 array.

The physical server was an HP ProLiant ML370 G5 with 40GB of memory and two quad-core processors. The backup repository was DAS, consisting of eight 146GB SAS drives configured as a RAID 5 array. CPU utilization averaged at 60 percent, but throughput was noticeably lower at around 48MBps during a full backup. The slower throughput was probably due to the fact that the data was transferred over a single Gigabit Ethernet link.

Veeam supports restoring individual files from a .vmdk image backup. However, Windows VMs with dynamic disks aren't supported. If you have VMs with dynamic disks, you can either migrate the data to a basic disk or convert the disk from dynamic to basic using a partition utility such as EaseUS Partition Master. Before you perform any type of conversion, make sure to get a good backup of the disk to prevent data loss in case a problem occurs.

A No-Fuss Solution

A backup solution should work every time with no fuss. I was so impressed with Veeam Backup & Replication that I replaced my existing virtualization backup solution with it. In addition, I now recommend it to my clients as the preferred backup solution in a vSphere 5 environment. I can't think of a stronger recommendation than that.

 

 

Veeam Backup & Replication 6.0
PROS: Basic installation is simple; backups worked reliably every time
CONS: Getting the Virtual Labs to install and work for granular restores of Exchange, SQL Server, SharePoint and other web applications when the ESX server has a dedicated management network was tricky and required a call to Veeam Technical Support
RATING: 5 out of 5
PRICE: Cost based on the total number of CPU sockets and version; for example, costs $1,300 per two sockets for Veeam Essentials Enterprise Edition (includes Veeam Backup & Replication and Veeam ONE; is for companies with six CPUs or fewer) and $1,099 per socket for the standalone Veeam Backup & Replication Enterprise Edition (for companies with more than six CPUs) 
RECOMMENDATION: If you have ESX or Hyper-V hosts running production VMs, you need this product. In my opinion, it's the best backup solution available for ESX or Hyper-V.
CONTACT: Veeam Software • 678-353-2140

 

SIDEBAR: What’s New in Veeam Backup & Replication 6.1

At press time, Veeam had released Backup & Replication 6.1. Here’s what the new edition adds to the functionality described in this review.

• VeeamZIP -- Ad-hoc backup of a running VM for operational, archival, or portability purposes. For example, admins can now back up a VM before applying patches, create an archive copy of a VM, or copy a VM to a remote test lab, all without powering off the production VM.

• Instant file-level recovery -- Users can now restore individual guest files directly from an image-level backup.

• Quick migration for VMware -- Migrate a running VM to any host or data store, even if you don’t use clusters or shared storage.

• vPower and instant VM recovery for Hyper-V -- Enables IT to boot and run a VM directly from a compressed, deduplicated backup file, in a matter of minutes, so businesses can continue without disruption during the restore of the VM back into the production environment.

• SCVMM 2012 support -- Extends support for System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2008 R2 to System Center 2012 Virtual Machine Manager. SCVMM support streamlines discovery and ensures protection of VMs managed by SCVMM.

• Updated UI and additional enhancements -- The updated UI (enhanced based on user requests and Veeam R&D innovation) is an evolution, not a complete redesign. Current users will still be able to use all their existing jobs and settings; the workflow for the wizards hasn’t changed.

Also, Veeam Backup & Replication 6.1 introduces a new free version: Veeam Backup Free. This free mode supports Hyper-V and vSphere, and is a successor to Veeam’s first free product, FastSCP. It provides a subset of the functionality in the full version of Veeam Backup & Replication, including VeeamZIP, and VM and file recovery.