Virtual machine backup in Benelux: When to choose specialist software?

Specialist software has changed the game in virtual machine (VM) backup. Benelux organisations talk about their dedicated VM backup tools

Server virtualisation is widely deployed in most organisations. Research firm Gartner estimates that, by the end of 2014, 71% of all servers were virtual.

Before server virtualisation took off, there had been little innovation in backup methods. 

But the shift to virtual environments made a great impact on data protection and big changes in backup products have occurred. In particular, the rise of specialist virtual machine (VM) backup products – while existing backup products have built in VM backup functionality.

But companies soon discovered drawbacks when using traditional backup methods with virtual machines, says Ad van Leeuwen, client technical professional at IBM Netherlands.

“A virtualised environment is very dynamic; it changes a lot,” he says. “Using old tactics can lead to contention problems when a large numbers of VMs are scheduled for backup at the same time.”

Old tactics primarily mean approaches where backup software places an agent on every server, whether physical or virtual. On a physical server with many virtual machines, that means the many VMs contending the same amount of network bandwidth and likely I/O blender effects.

Read more about VM backup

  • Virtual machine backup is a vital task for IT departments. But pitfalls abound: We look at the top five issues encountered in VM backup.
  • VM backup drops off as DR motors on: What’s behind the survey figures?

The dawn of off-host virtual server backup

But specialist suppliers, such as Veeam, PHD Virtual and Quest, discovered how to exploit the advantages of virtualisation for backup, recovery and data availability purposes.

“A virtual machine is a piece of software and that means you can back up and restore the whole VM on a different server in minutes,” says Boudewijn Aelbers, senior manager of pre-sales in Benelux for VMware.

This provides the possibility to encapsulate a virtual server in a single file. Combined with the snapshot capabilities of the hypervisor, the possibility for off-host backup was born.

Snapshots are used as the source of the backup, but then post-processing occurs on these image-level backups to store changed data in a format that can be used for easy and fast recovery. Veeam, for example, can extract individual files, Exchange emails, SharePoint documents, SQL databases and Active Directory objects from the image-level backup. 

After this, traditional mainstream backup suppliers changed their strategy. By connecting backup software to hypervisors via APIs provided by virtualisation suppliers, they also started to provide off-host backup.

So, suppliers of mainstream backup software have followed the lead of the specialist VM backup providers. Now there are specialist backup software products and those from the incumbents, including Symantec, CommVault, HP, EMC, IBM Tivoli Storage Manager.

Case study: Tape support vital for Vancis

Vancis is a Dutch ICT service provider. From two datacentres in Amsterdam it offers datacentre, cloud and managed services to customers.

VM backup is used to support customers who use the cloud computing platform. “Most of our customers don’t even think of backup when starting a project. It’s the last concern on their list,” says Patrick Taphoorn. “Luckily we do care. Without noticing, we can back up customer VMs with a snapshot.”

These snapshots are sent to IBM Tivoli Storage Manager (TSM). “There are good reasons for using TSM,” says Taphoorn.

“It’s a complete solution we can use to support customers with a virtual environment and customers using physical servers. TSM works with all kinds of storage too. Tape support was a very strong requirement because it’s cheaper than disk storage. When we were looking at VM backup suppliers, they didn’t all support that yet.”

Choosing between general and VM backup

But why would an organisation choose specialist VM-only backup or traditional backup software with VM backup capability?

Most companies – particularly large enterprises – still have a mix of virtual and physical server environments and it is clearly advantageous to use a single enterprise-wide backup product for protection.

Also, VM-specific products often have limited support options. They are usually geared towards disk, for example, so if customers want to back up to tape, incumbent products are usually the only option.

“We chose Tivoli Storage Manager (TSM) from IBM because of its tape support,” says Patrick Taphoorn, of Holland-based managed IT service provider, Vancis.

But specialised backup products were built for virtualised environments and are very well suited to “greenfield” 100% virtual environments.

Ronald Ooms, vice-president, north-east EMEA at Veeam Software, says: “Veeam is specialised for highly virtualised modern datacentres. But, if a company mainly uses non-virtualised servers, a solution for physical environments might be more suitable – and they most likely already have a solution.”

“If your company chooses a VM-specific application, you must be prepared to deal with at least two separate backup and recovery processes during your modernisation phase to becoming highly virtual.”

GGZ Friesland gets Veeam for 100% virtual IT

GGZ Friesland provides mental health services in the province of Friesland. The organisation has 12 sites spread across the province and another 38 offices at third-party sites.

“We are strongly dependent on our IT infrastructure. For instance, our electronic patient database is supported by IT,” explains Herwin Duinkerken, senior systems administrator.

In the past, we had problems restoring a mailbox. This used to take three days. With this product, the problem was solved in 10 minutes

 Herwin Duinkerken, GGZ Friesland 

Approximately 1,000 of GGZ Friesland’s employees – about 40% – use the IT infrastructure on a daily basis. The organisation has three datacentres, eight ESX hosts, 200 VMware vSphere VMs and 30 physical servers.

“When our physical IT environment became obsolete and required replacement, we virtualised about 80% of our infrastructure,” says Joeke van der Velde, systems administrator at GGZ Friesland.

“Because our environment is largely virtualised, we needed to replace our traditional backup tool to get the most out of this environment.”

GGZ Friesland brought in supplier VCD Infra Solutions for consultation. After a comparison with other systems, VCD recommended Veeam Backup & Replication. “Veeam’s low cost and high user-friendliness were the main reasons we chose Veeam,” Duinkerken says.

GGZ Friesland backs up approximately 2.5TB of data per day to HP 3PAR StoreServ Storage. The data deduplication capabilities of Veeam and 3PAR allow the organisation to save significant space, compared with the previous backup system. “We save between 60% and 70% in backup storage space,” says Duinkerken.

One of the greatest advantages for GGZ Friesland is the functionality in Veeam Explorer for Microsoft Exchange. Duinkerken says: “In the past, we had problems restoring a mailbox. This used to take three days. With this product, the problem was solved in 10 minutes.”


Read more on Data protection, backup and archiving