Preservation of critical business data is essential to most businesses, especially small and medium businesses (SMBs). Whether protecting against loss of intellectual property (IP), financial data, healthcare data, etc., recovery of data otherwise lost due to hardware/software failure or disaster can mean the difference between staying afloat or going under in the wrong circumstances. Virtualization further compounds the need to have a sound backup policy by consolidating more workloads (read: more data) into a typically ever smaller hardware footprint.
SMB Backup Solutions
While some of these contain enterprise-level features, such as replication or clustering, they all sell for reasonable amounts of money for the typical virtualization-minded SMB. The contenders are:
Veeam Backup and Replication
Veeam Backup and Replication is an agent-free, disk-based backup solution for both VMware vSphere and Microsoft Hyper-V, though we’ll be focusing on it from a vSphere-centric point of view.
Some features include:
- Instant VM Recovery – This feature boils down to the ability to start a backup of a VM from the backup destination, saving the time to copy or stage a backup to production storage.
- U-AIR (Universal Application-Item Recovery) – Enables quick recovery of individual objects from applications such as Microsoft SQL, Exchange, or Active Directory.
- SureBackup – Automated verification of backups.
- On-Demand Sandbox – This feature allows the user to create an isolated test environment from any restore point.
- Instant File-Level Recovery – Instant file-level recovery from Windows and 14 other file systems
- Uses vSphere APIs for Data Protection – Using VADP, Veeam B&R can utilize changed-block tracking, only backing up changed blocks from the previous backup, thereby saving bandwidth and space.
To me, the killer features with Veeam Backup and Replication are U-AIR and SureBackup. U-AIR gives the administrator the ability to do complex restores, whether a single Microsoft SQL database, Exchange mailbox, or Active Directory object, through an intuitive user interface. SureBackup, with its automated verification of each individual backup, is an invaluable feature. Typically backups are verified manually on some kind of regular interval, but with SureBackup, it is done automatically and continually.
While out of scope for this article, as mentioned in the name of the product, Veeam Backup and Replication also offers the ability to do replication within the same product. This puts it ahead of some of its competitors’ basic offerings, such as Quest vRanger, which requires the more expensive Pro licensing for replication support.
Available in both physical (traditional) and virtual (Virtual Edition) implementation methods, EMC Avamar is a great solution for disk-based vSphere or Hyper-V VM backups.
Some features include:
- Client-side Deduplication – Deduplication happens before the data is sent over the wire, thereby reducing the amount of bandwidth used during backups.
- RAIN (Redundant Array of Independent Nodes) – For larger deployments (think Small/Medium Enterprise, e.g., 100+ VMs), multiple nodes can be used to provide high availability between nodes in a data store.
- Uses vSphere APIs for Data Protection – Using VADP, Avamar can utilize changed-block tracking, only backing up changed blocks from the previous backup, thereby saving bandwidth and space.
- Desktop and Laptop Backup – While a bit out of scope for the comparison here, it is a great feature. Features include non-disruptive backups, client-side dedupe, and user-driven backup and restore ability, to name a few.
- Avamar Virtual Edition (VE) – A virtual appliance deployed to each ESXi host in a cluster, using attached disk storage (up to 2TB).
Avamar is very much an enterprise-level product which has been extended down to cover SMBs. To me, this makes it advantageous from the scalability point of view. Tie-ins with other EMC products, such as Data Domain, ensure its place as a small business becomes a small/medium enterprise and backup needs grow over time.
For the longest time, vRanger was the dominant VMware-centric backup provider, excluding in-guest, agent-based solutions or VMware Consolidated Backup, both of which are cringe-worthy for their own respective reasons. Over the past few years, competitors have caught up and achieved feature parity. Despite this, vRanger remains an excellent solution, at least in its Pro version.
Some features include:
- Scalable Virtual Appliance Architecture (Pro only) – Supports clusters and increases scalability with central control.
- EMC DD Boost Support (Pro only) – Tie in with EMC Data Domain systems to provide faster backups.
- Active Block Mapping – Limiting backup data to active data within the VMDK
- Linux File-Level Restore (Pro only) – Individual file restoration from Linux guests
- LAN-Free Disk Transport (Pro only) – LAN-free backup using either Fibre Channel or HotAdd
vRanger Pro is a great product and should definitely be on your short list of backup vendors. Standard Edition; however, is so basic that it should only be considered if no advanced functionality is required. vRanger Pro, as mentioned above, also supports replication, so if that’s a requirement, vRanger Pro is definitely more than able to fill that role. vRanger SE, however, cannot.
Takeaways, Key Considerations, and Best Practices
Some takeaways, key considerations, and best practices moving forward:
- Decide what features are important for you, and buy only what you need. If you don’t have a requirement for clustering or deduplication, take that into consideration when making a purchasing decision.
- Know your regulatory or legal requirements around backup. If you are, by either regulation or law, bound to backup to tape, not all vendors will provide that functionality. Know your requirements for data retention and follow them religiously.
- Plan for growth. If you’re going to grow by an appreciable margin within the near future, that needs to be taken into consideration when making a purchasing decision.
- Plan for failure. Your systems will fail, and you need to be prepared for that. Always design with failure and your tolerance for failure in mind.
- Check your backups regularly. This should be a “preaching to the choir” bullet, but it isn’t always. Your backups aren’t valid unless they’re proven to be.