Virtual server backup products surveyed

Specialist virtual machine backup products vary in many ways, including hypervisor and application support

Since the last review of virtual machine backup products, the range of features provided has matured and the range of platforms supported broadened.

There is now widespread support for VMware vSphere and Microsoft Hyper-V platforms, with some support for Citrix XenServer, KVM and Oracle VM.

Product feature depth has also increased, with more focus on application support, especially on the Microsoft platforms, allowing more granular, near-CDP functionality.

A number of supplier acquisitions have also taken place: Dell bought Quest in 2012 and Unitrends acquired PHD Virtual at the end of 2013. This leaves some overlap in the Unitrends/PHD portfolio, which will no doubt be rationalised over time.

Suppliers are delivering products in a number of versions, in many cases offering free (but limited) products that allow low-risk evaluations.

Quest vRanger

Quest (now part of Dell) released version 7 of vRanger in recent weeks. The new release adds support for Windows 8.1 and Windows Server 2012 R2 as deployment platforms.

Version 7 also supports backup of Microsoft Hyper-V virtual machines, bringing the software in line with offerings from other suppliers that already provide this.

vRanger has three product offerings: vRanger Pro, vRanger Standard Edition (SE) and vReplicator. Both Pro and Standard provide traditional backup and restore functionality, while the Replicator and Pro offerings provide virtual machine (VM) replication for vSphere.

The backup offerings provide incremental and differential backups, taking advantage of VMware Changed Block Tracking (CBT) and vRanger’s patented Active Block Mapping (ABM) feature, which excludes invalid data (deleted, empty and unallocated blocks) from the backup.

Veeam Backup and Replication

Veeam’s Backup and Replication product is now on its version 7 Release 2(v7R2) and provides support for vSphere 5.5 and Microsoft Windows Server 2012 R2.

The latest release extends Veeam’s support for SAN storage snapshots, allowing backups to take advantage of features provided by the array maker. This currently includes NetApp (through Data ONTAP) and HP’s StoreVirtual VSA, StoreVirtual and StorServ hardware platforms. The Enterprise Plus edition is required for this feature.

Veeam has also introduced the idea of “Explorers”, which are enhancements to the software that allow more granular recovery of objects from applications, including Windows Active Directory, SQL Server, SharePoint and Exchange 2013. Support for SharePoint and Exchange 2013 is available with version 7, although this requires either the Enterprise or Enterprise Plus editions.

To complement previous support, Backup and Replication now also provides file-level instant recovery for Hyper-V across all supported guest operating systems.

For backup portability, version 7 now supports tape devices, including Virtual Tape Libraries (VTLs), physical tape libraries and standalone drives.

Unitrends PHD Virtual Backup and Enterprise Backup

Unitrends acquired PHD Virtual Technologies at the end of 2013. Consequently, the products from the two companies have not been fully rationalised and there is some overlap.

Unitrends now offers Unitrends Enterprise Backup, which can manage physical and virtual environments, plus PHD Virtual Backup and Replication, a virtual-only solution.

The Enterprise Backup product provides support for a wide variety of operating systems and applications, including Linux, Windows, AIX, Solaris, iSeries, SQL, Exchange, Oracle and virtual servers on vSphere and Hyper-V.

Support for physical and virtual enables Enterprise Backup to carry out recovery across both environments (V2P and P2V) and between dissimilar hardware environments (P2P). There is also support for archiving to tape and replication of data for disaster recovery purposes, including to Unitrends’ proprietary cloud service.

The current release (v7.4) is mainly focused on delivering performance improvements to existing features such as replication and archiving.

PHD Virtual products support Hyper-V, XenServer (Citrix) and vSphere and are delivered as separate products. PHD Virtual Backup for Hyper-V is currently a free offering (with paid support) and is delivered as a Linux virtual machine. The software supports image and incremental backups, using changed data to implement an “incremental forever” policy.

PHD Virtual VMware vSphere Backup and Replication is currently at release 6.5 with new features that include support for local and offsite archiving to removable disk or cloud storage. Release 6.5 also includes application support for Microsoft Exchange and SharePoint.

Thinware vBackup

vBackup from Thinware is specifically targeted at VMware vSphere and comes in three versions – Standard, Advanced and Professional.

The Standard version is free but feature limited, providing only basic functionality. All versions provide support for image-based backups, including file-based and instant restore.

The Advanced and Professional versions provide more scalable deployments with the ability to run multiple backup jobs per machine and compression of backup data at rest and across the network. Integration with vCenter and the use of VADP (vSphere APIs for Data Protection) are only available with the Professional release.

Thinware’s product is less feature-rich than some of its competitors, but it is positioned on price, claiming to be half the cost of competitive products.

Acronis Backup Advanced

Acronis’s offerings are divided into small-scale vendor-specific offerings (such as Acronis Backup for VMware) and an enterprise-class product called Backup Advanced, which covers a range of platforms. The product suite was renamed from Backup & Recovery with the release of version 11.5 Update 3.

The Backup Advanced Suite supports agentless backup of virtual machines on Hyper-V and vSphere, with agent-based backups on Citrix XenServer, Red Hat Enterprise Virtualisation (RHEV), KVM and Oracle VM. The suite also supports physical image backups of Windows Server, Linux servers and PCs. Application support covers the Microsoft platforms, Exchange, SQL Server, SharePoint and Active Directory.

The Acronis Universal Restore capability supports all combinations of physical and virtual, allowing migrations that include P2V (physical to Virtual), V2V, V2P (virtual to physical) and P2P.

Backup Advanced supports entire image-based backups (for entire virtual machines) or file-based backups of individual folders and shares. Image backups are optimised to exclude empty data blocks and user-excluded folders. Incremental and differential backups are supported through Change Block Tracking (CBT), with data deduplication used to reduce the volume of data stored and transmitted.

Backup Advanced supports multiple hardware storage devices, including disk, standalone tape drives, autoloaders and tape libraries. Data at rest is encrypted for added security to AES-256 standards.

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