In its search for a virtual machine (VM) backup product, financial services business Royal London Asset Management (RLAM) has achieved almost instantaneous file-level restore and halved the time required to back up its virtualised server environment following its implementation of Veeam Software's Veeam Backup & Replication. The organisation rejected two other VM backup products -- Vizioncore's vRanger Pro and PHD Virtual Technologies' esXpress -- during a nine-month, £150,000 server virtualisation project.
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City of London-based RLAM embarked on its server virtualisation project in 2008 following a rapid period of business growth that saw a number of new applications added. The IT department had nearly run out of rack space and faced difficulties with cooling. So far, RLAM has reduced 30 physical servers to eight boxes with three of them running ESX hosts with 25 virtual machines (VMs) serving approximately 250 users.
At the end of 2008 the RLAM IT team began to look at data backup software packages for virtualised servers and tested three virtual machine backup products to work with VMware Consolidated Backup (VCB).
Paul Carpenter, RLAM's senior infrastructure support technician, said the firm's aim was to find an easy-to-use virtual machine backup product for VMware with reliable technical support. "By the time we'd virtualized, we began to look at backup. We use Tivoli to vault to the disaster recovery [DR] site and [CA] ARCserve for file backup, but we were concerned about being able to rebuild the VMs in case of a disaster and needed a tool to do this."
Virtual machine backup versus traditional backup
Virtual machine backup differs from traditional backup, and data protection products geared to virtual environments have only become available over the last couple of years.
The key difference is that with traditional backup products an agent is usually installed on a server's operating system (OS) to back up applications and data to disk or tape. In a virtualised environment, however, the virtual machine is a complete logical environment that includes an OS, applications and data, and it is treated as if it were a physical server.
While it is possible to install backup agents onto VMs, only applications and data rather than the OS are backed up; so if the virtual machine fails, it may be necessary to recreate it before the backup can be restored.
Veeam Backup & Replication cuts VM backup time in half
Carpenter's team was restricted in its choice of VMware-compatible backup products when it carried out its evaluation. "There weren't too many VMware backup products on the market at the time," he said. "At the time ARCserve didn't handle VMs and [Symantec] Backup Exec has only done so since then."
He considered VMware's VCB to be "scriptable but not very friendly to use," and said it lacked the GUI and additional features that other products provided. The RLAM IT team therefore evaluated three products to be used in conjunction with VMware Consolidated Backup: Vizioncore's vRanger Pro, PHD Virtual Technologies esXpress and Veeam Backup & Replication.
vRanger Pro was rejected on grounds of performance. "It was painfully slow and clunky. File-level restores took 10 times longer than Veeam, which is near instant," Carpenter said. "This was an important deciding factor." Veeam also took half the time that vRanger did to perform a simple virtual machine backup as well as to restore VMs.
As far as esXpress, it "was complex and overengineered, and there were no special benefits to it," he said.
RLAM chose Veeam Backup & Replication, which provides a user-friendly GUI and advanced features on top of VCB to back up all of Royal London Asset Management's VMware virtual disk file images (VMDKs) every night. The live images reside on a Hewlett-Packard (HP) StorageWorks 4400 Enterprise Virtual Array (EVA) storage-area network (SAN) with 4.5 TB of Fibre Channel (FC) disk capacity, and Veeam backs them up to an HP StorageWorks 2012 Modular Smart Array (MSA2012) SAN with 9 TB of SATA drives.
Carpenter said Veeam won out on performance, good technical support and an ongoing rapid development cycle. Use of the product has allowed RLAM to cut virtual machine backup time in half and reduce file-level restore time by 99%. The company uses Veeam Backup & Replication along with VMware's VMware Consolidated Backup.
What were the challenges in setting up Veeam Backup & Replication, and how did Carpenter's team overcome them?
"The Windows box [running Veeam] needs to be able to see the LUNs [logical unit numbers] used for VMSS [VMware Suspended State files – used for snapshotting] but not initialised or you lose everything," Carpenter said. "So we had to make a few tweaks there. VCB also needed to be configured and running, and you need to configure zoning on Fibre Channel to optimise the route into the SAN."