Category: Backup

Quest for VM Backup Solution

This goes along with my last post around the time VMworld 2011 where I was in dire need of a new backup solution for my virtual machines.  I figured I would share some of the good, the bad and the ugly as my journey for finding a new backup vendor continues.

First off I will say I have been using PHD (formally esXpress) for about four years now. Back in the day I had great relations with the staff there, great support and overall had no issues with the backup software. Piece of mind is key for me knowing that backups will run fine and allow me to keep my weekends free from unnecessary work.  Over the past few years, esXpress was bought out, members of the staff have changed and from my viewpoint on things, their support and customer service has dwindled.  We have been stuck using an outdated version to keep the Full/Delta model running with encryption for a good couple years now. That had worked for a while but the last version was pretty buggy, they really didn’t support that version much longer and support calls in to them were met with various “well you can disable this feature and it should work fine” when the feature they wanted you to disable was allowing simultaneous backups, crucial part for keeping within the backup window.  All those factors caused us to rethink our backup solution.

The first criteria was that the solution could encrypt the backups for us, allowing us to offsite tapes without encrypting the tape as a whole.  The only solution I saw that fit that was Acronis.  We currently use them for our desktop imaging and albeit a few bugs and hiccups here and there, it works pretty well. On top of that being able to integrate the bulk backup solution to the same management window I thought it was a perfect fit.  At VMworld 2011 they released vmProtect to go along with their Backup and Recovery 11 product.

Acronis vmProtect 6

Good – Easy to setup, allows sandbox restores to test backups, encryption built in (AES 256), easy creation of jobs

Bad – No centralized jobs / management.  Can’t simultaneously backup VM’s per appliance.  Would have to create multiple jobs with certain VM’s and run it at the same time to get “simultaneous” backups.  I will be honest after hearing about single VM at a time per job, I stopped testing right then and there as it wouldn’t cut it for me.

Overall – Acronis seemed to actually put together a pretty good backup solution in my mind with vmProtect.  It was pretty easy to setup, configure and get going with your backups.  A web interface that was very GUI oriented made it visually easy to see what was going on and configurations that were made.   While it lacks larger scale features that could drive an administrator insane (no simultaneous backups), for SMB’s with a few hosts or a small SoHo it could be a great fit.

Acronis Backup and Recovery 11

This is the product I was testing prior to vmProtect came out and after VMworld 2011 after a couple long discussions with other attendees and staff at the Acronis booth.  At VMworld, I was pretty set that Acronis was going to be my solution from what I had seen on their page, initial testing and experience with their workstation side of things.  After that point, things just went downhill for me and ABR 11 Virtual Edition.

Good – Encryption built into the backups, nice centralized management, multiple VMs backing up per appliance (up to ten I’ve been told).

Bad – This list may get a little long as my experiences over the past three weeks haven’t been the best. The setup seems pretty easy, but in the end it isn’t easily upgradable as they have released a patch or two recently. A red flag went off in my head at VMworld as even one of the technical guys said it was a pain to setup, but once it was up and running it worked fine.  Software glitches, if you searched for Acronis errors there are other reviews from past versions of the product, and also on their own forum boards which are littered with negative comments in regards to them adding features but not fixing major flaws in the system.  Licensing server is pretty cumbersome especially when they only release a 15 day trial which makes you continually add licenses in, gets pretty cluttered pretty fast.  No clear documentation on access rights, what is needed where.  I can’t tell you how many times I would test a backup, move it to a larger backup job, even clone the backup job to keep the settings only to have it error out due to access is denied messages.  Connecting directly to the appliances and running the backup there would work but not from the management console running the same job.  Personally I was working with an account rep, who I have no gripes with, but the process made getting support when I needed it hard as they would want me to write the problem to the account rep, who would forward it to the support person, then the support person would write back to the account rep and who would forward it to me.  The few webex’s we did he would troubleshoot the error messages by going directly to the appliances and the backups would work there, but later that night would try to run the job from the management console and it would fail.

Overall- In the end this solution just didn’t fit our needs.  We were looking for a newer solution that was reliable and well known. I felt I would be switching one unstable product for another and that is something no one should do when it comes to disaster recovery items.  There are just too many downsides, too many negative comments on their own forum boards and other blogs to continue making a square peg fit in a circular hole.  While I know there are a good handful of people that have it up and running successfully in their environment, after three weekends of trying to switch over and never having a successful full backup I’m choosing to look other places for a new solution.

It is all a question about which path to take.

Planning storage is a simple thing,  you go to your Storage Admin’s and say, I need x amount of LUNs of this size please for my ESX servers and they NO, we only do xGB size LUN’s, or they breath thought their teeth like a motor mechanic or plumber and say, Storage doesn’t grow on trees you know, we don’t have much left, are you sure you really need all that space, etc.

But I digress. 🙂

Continue reading “It is all a question about which path to take.”