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A review of VMware disk-to-disk backup apps: Veeam, Vizioncore, PHD Virtual and VDR

Learn about the features in the newest disk-to-disk backup products for vSphere.

When VMware released vSphere this year, many improvements in enterprise data storage handling were included that provided direct benefits to data backup and replication recovery applications. One of these is a new API specifically for data protection that third-party applications can use to provide better integration and increased efficiency. The new vStorage APIs provide some great benefits for backup and replication applications and many vendors have already started using them in their products.

Here's a look at some of the vendors that have disk-to-disk backup products for vSphere and how they are leveraging these new capabilities in their products.

Veeam Backup and Replication

Veeam Software's release of version 4.0 of its Backup & Replication product has many improvements over its previous version 3.1 release. Version 4.0 takes full advantage of the many storage-related enhancements that VMware made in vSphere. Changed Block Tracking (CBT), a VMware feature, is the most notable enhancement that uses the new vSphere APIs. CBT greatly reduces the amount of time it takes to perform incremental backups. Also, Veeam takes advantage of the improvements to thin-provisioned disks that were made in vSphere; version 4.0 no longer has to search for empty disk blocks during backup operations.

Other new features in Veeam Backup & Replication 4.0 include the following:

  • A new compression algorithm that helps reduce the space needed on the backup storage device by an average of 30%.
  • Leverages the vStorage APIs to allow direct access to VMFS volumes on a storage area network (SAN) without having to go through a VMware Consolidated Backup (VCB) proxy.
  • Supports hot-add of running virtual machine (VM) virtual disk files to the virtual appliance VM to directly access them through the storage layer without traversing the network. Hot-add allows the virtual appliance virtual machine VM to add the read-only snapshot disk of the VM being backed up while it is running.
  • A new Enterprise Management Server allows distributed enterprises to manage multiple Veeam Backup & Replication installations from a single Web console.
  • A new safe snapshot removal technique. This new snapshot removal technique prevents the snapshot commit operation (performed when the backup is complete) from having a negative effect on the VM, which sometimes causes application timeouts.
  • Support for running PowerShell scripts to automate actions and change settings.
  • Ability to create full-image copies of powered on virtual machines for other environments or for ad hoc backups.

Also notable with Veeam Backup & Replication is their built-in block level, inline data deduplication feature. Veeam also has a replication feature built into its backup product. And because of the new Changed Block Tracking feature of the vStorage API, Veeam is able to achieve near-continuous data protection (CDP) due to faster replication cycles. The new version fully supports vSphere and supports backup and replication of ESX & ESXi hosts (except for the ESXi free edition). Veeam is the first third-party vendor to update their product to fully embrace the vStorage APIs and the many benefits that it provides.

Vizioncore vRanger Pro DPP

Vizioncore Inc. released its next generation of vRanger Pro Data Protection Platform (DPP) this year with version 4.0, which was nearly a complete rewrite of their previous vRanger Pro 3.3 version. Shortly afterwards, Vizioncore released another update: version 4.1.

While vRanger Pro 4.0 does have support for vSphere, it does not take advantage of the vStorage APIs. Additionally, vRanger 4.0 does not support VCB or the paid versions of ESXi due to their reliance on the ESX Service Console to perform backups. Furthermore, vRanger 4.0 does not require an agent running permanently on the Service Console to function but instead copies an engine at runtime over SSH to the Service Console and removes it once the backup or restore operation completes. Nor does it support any type of data deduplication but this is planned for a future release.

However, there are many positive features in vRanger Pro 4.0, which include the following:

  • Support for running PowerShell scripts to help automate tasks such as calling a tape backup job to sweep the vRanger Pro backups files to tape after a backup completes.
  • Support for not reading or compressing white space (empty disk blocks) in a VMs virtual disk file for faster backups.
  • Image-level restores use a single DataStream that consists of only the blocks needed for recovery so that no time is wasted reading, sending, uncompressing or writing blocks that are just going to be replaced by a newer incremental or differential file.
  • Inline data validation, which ensures that during recovery of VM images, each block performs a checksum to ensure the data is read, uncompressed and written correctly.
  • Centralized multi-data center management allows for remote management capabilities of backup traffic between the ESX and the storage target, eliminating the need to install clients at each data center.
  • Uses a direct to target architecture so backup traffic goes directly from the ESX host to the storage target removing proxy bottle necks in the backup traffic pattern.

While vRanger 4.0 may be lacking in some areas, the future looks bright for it. The upcoming version 4.2 that will be released later this year will include support for the paid versions of ESXi, leverage the new vStorage APIs and support VCB. Looking beyond version 4.2, the next big release will be version 4.5 which will be in beta early next year. With version 4.5, Vizioncore expects to support deduplication and also the new CBT feature of the vStorage APIs. Another feature that will also come in a later release is a new technology that Vizioncore is patenting called Active Block Mappings. This new feature allows vRanger Pro to not back up blocks from deleted files inside the guest file system. When files are deleted inside a guest OS, the disk blocks still contain data and are not zeroed out. Most image-level backup applications today will still back up those blocks because they are not aware that the blocks contain data from deleted files. Active Block Mappings will help reduce the time and space needed for both full and incremental backups. For more on this new feature, see this post.

PHD Virtual esXpress

PHD Virtual Technologies released version 3.6 of esXpress in July 2009 as a follow-up to their previous 3.5 version. The new 3.6 version is similar to the 3.5 version but includes support for vSphere. Since July, there has been several incremental releases, the most recent being 3.6.7. esXpress currently does not support the new vStorage APIs in vSphere, but this feature will be in the 4.0 release, tentatively due out later this year. With the 4.0 release, PHD Virtual Technologies expects to leverage the CBT feature, as well as the other benefits that the new APIs provide. esXpress supports block-based inline destination deduplication by using a dedupe appliance that is essentially a small VM with a Web and database server that writes to a back-end target datastore.

Additional features in esXpress include the following:

  • Multi-user instant file-level restore for both Linux and Windows.
  • Leverages small virtual backup appliances (VBAs) that are powered on during backup operations to offload I/O from VMs and access snapshots of VMs directly, regardless of the type of storage they reside on.
  • Can throttle the disk I/O used by VBAs during certain time periods to ensure the host resources do not become constrained during backup operations.
  • Centralized management of all deployed VBAs using a Web-based console that can be integrated into vCenter Server.
  • Backup files are portable and can be installed without the need for any installed backup software.
  • Backups can be encrypted before they are sent to local storage target or a remote disaster recovery (DR) site using standard encryption or optional 256-bit encryption.

esXpress also has a built-in replication feature that can perform an automatic restore of a virtual disk file onto a VM at a disaster recovery site or, when using the dedupe appliance, incremental real-time updates can be made to VMs at a disaster recovery site. esXpress is a mature product with some good features and a strong deduplication engine. It will be even better once esXpress starts taking advantage of the vStorage APIs.

VMware Data Recovery

VMware Data Recovery (VDR) was released as part of vSphere as VMware Data Recovery version 1.0. It is included for free in the Essentials Plus, Advanced, Enterprise and Enterprise Plus editions and delivered as a virtual appliance. Since its initial release, VMware Data Recovery released two updates to it (1.0.1 and 1.0.2) that contained only bug fixes and no new features. With the recent release of vSphere 4.0 Update 1, VMware has also released VDR 1.1 that includes a new fully supported Windows file-level restore client. VDR takes full advantage of the vSphere API and the CBT feature, which reduces the time and CPU resources needed to perform incremental backups. In addition, VDR uses the new hot-add feature to add source virtual machine disk files to the VDR appliance without using a network connection so the data can be streamed directly to the destination disk. VDR also has built-in block-based inline destination deduplication to reduce the amount of data that is stored on the target disk.

Additional features in VMware Data Recovery include the following:

  • A centralized management console that installs as a plug-in within vCenter Server.
  • An easy-to-use wizard driven workflow that lets you create, configure and schedule backup jobs through an intuitive wizard.
  • Full vSphere awareness to monitor VMs that are moved by HA, VMotion and Distributed Resource Scheduling, so scheduled backups are not disrupted.
  • Supports Volume Shadow Copy Service (VSS) to enable consistent backups of virtual machines running Microsoft operating systems and applications.

VMware Data Recovery 1.1 addressed one big area as support for Windows file-level restores in the previous version was experimental and done via a command-line utility. Now VDR 1.1 includes a Windows file-level restore client which provides a new GUI for restoring individual files, Linux clients however must still rely on a CLI for this. In addition, VDR 1.1 includes many under-the-hood changes focused on performance, operational and ease-of-use improvements. While VDR may not be as feature-rich as some of the more mature third-party backup applications, it's still a solid performer that is good for smaller environments with basic backup requirements. For a more detailed look at VMware Data Recovery, read my tip on installing and using VDR.

Below is a summary of some of the major features that each vendor currently has in its product. This does not include any future releases.

Feature VMware VDR 1.0 PHD Virtual esXpress 3.6.7 vRanger Pro DPP 4.1 Veeam Backup 4.0
vStorage APIs support X N/A N/A X
Changed Block Tracking support X N/A N/A X
Direct access to SAN w/o VCB X N/A N/A X
Hot--add virtual disk support X N/A N/A X
vSphere support X X X X
ESXi support X N/A N/A X
VI3 support N/A X X X
Built-in deduplication X X N/A X
Data compression X X X X
Multiple concurrent backups X X X X
Requires Service Console agents N/A N/A X N/A
Requires vCenter Server X N/A N/A N/A
File-level restore X X X X

All of these are solid data backup and recovery products; however, there are differences in their pricing, architecture, capabilities, features, performance and support. If you're looking to implement a disk-to-disk backup solution for your VMware environment, I would highly encourage you to give each one a try first to see which one is the best fit for your needs and environment.

About this author:
Eric Siebert is an IT industry veteran with over 25 years experience covering many different areas but focusing on server administration and virtualization. He is a very active member in the VMware Vmtn support forums and has obtained the elite Guru status by helping others with their own problems and challenges. He is also a Vmtn user moderator and maintains his own VMware VI3 information website, vSphere-land. In addition, he is a regular blogger and feature article contributor on TechTarget's SearchServerVirtualization and SearchVMware websites.

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