Backing up virtual machines is now much easier than it was even just a couple of years ago, and there are plenty of specialised virtual server backup software products out there with a wide variety of features and approaches.
They range from fully featured backup applications aimed at the enterprise to thin and light products for smaller organisations. In this article we survey the key virtual server backup software products available.
The richest feature sets among virtual server backup software products include agentless client backup to image or file stores across a wide range of media and protocols. Some feature multiple streams to shorten the backup window, while some integrate the management console into the hypervisor and others use a separate, sometimes virtual, machine to reduce host load.
Every virtual server backup software product supports the market-leading hypervisor, VMware ESXi, while support for hypervisors from Microsoft, Citrix, Red Hat and Parallels is less common.
Application awareness is also good to have, as it allows you to restore individual emails or other files, for example. Off-site backup and replication and restore are useful features that add an element of disaster recovery capability to your backup provision.
Other useful features found in a few virtual server backup software products are test recovery, allowing you to restore to a test area before bringing data into production, and near-continuous data protection, backing up data as it changes. Some products will also encrypt and/or package your backed-up data in a .zip file.
The most common licensing model is one per host and an unlimited number of guests.
Acronis Backup & Recovery 11 Virtual Edition
This virtual server backup software uses agents loaded into Windows- and Linux-based virtual machines to generate image backups of each VM. Alternatively, you can use a host-based agent with VMware vSphere or Microsoft Hyper-V to manage all virtual machines on a host, with no need to load discrete VM agents. The agent can be deployed on the host as virtual appliance or installed on a separate Windows machine, which offloads processing from the host.
Acronis Backup & Recovery 11 also supports other hypervisors, including Citrix XenServer, Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization and Parallels Server 4 Bare Metal.
The product can be managed from a central location and needs one license per host for an unlimited number of VMs and CPUs. It allows as many as 10 VMware-based VMs to be backed up simultaneously, while there is no limit for other platforms. Backups are encrypted and can be stored on a variety of media including disk, removable media devices or network storage media using CIFS/NFS, FTP or tape.
Additional features include the ability to transfer physical machines to virtual machines (P2V) and vice versa (V2P), with optional features such as data deduplication and cloud-based backup, which provides recovery from disaster.
PHD Virtual Backup v6.0
Virtual Backup uses a virtual appliance to back up VMs fully or incrementally, encrypting data in transit and at rest. It supports VMware and Citrix-based virtual environments, integrating into the host hypervisor -- VMware vSphere client or Citrix XenCenter -- so no separate server is required, and it is agentless.
Virtual Backup provides specialised backup for Microsoft Exchange, providing restore for individual emails, attachments, calendar events, contacts and tasks.
Each VM can be replicated to a disaster recovery site, and backups operate using either block storage or file protocols CIFS or NFS. You can then recover an entire VM, a disk or individual files, and the system offers a recovery test mode, allowing you to validate replicated VMs in a standby environment. Licensing is one per host for an unlimited number of guests.
According to PHD, the product maximises performance by using multiple data streams, using source-side data deduplication and simultaneous backup and restore.
Quest vRanger 5.5
vRanger is a VMware-only, agentless virtual server backup software product offering file- and image-based backup. Running on Windows in either a virtual or a physical server, the product supports vMotion and Storage vMotion so it can continue backing up a VM even if it switches hosts. It also offers instant restore.
The file-level recovery feature for Windows and Linux -- available only with the Pro version of the product -- enables you to restore a single file from a backup image. It also includes replication for disaster recovery and can recover from off-site backups.
Quest, now owned by Dell, offers vRanger in three versions: vReplicator, which offers host-based replication only; Standard Edition for backing up small environments; and Pro for larger systems, with features such as support for clusters and faster backup to EMC Data Domain systems. An optional add-on, NetVault SmartDisk, provides target-level data deduplication.
Aimed at being simple, thin and low cost, vBackup offers image- and file-based backups to SAN or NAS arrays and can be managed through a console integrated into VMware vCenter, the only hypervisor vBackup supports. A single license includes one CPU socket and unlimited numbers of VM guests and CPU cores.
Thinware offers three versions of the product: Standard (free), Advanced and Professional. The Standard version cannot back up multiple VMs simultaneously and does not provide vCenter integration, while only the Professional version can create and manage on-disk restore points for immediate recovery and provide file-level and incremental backups. You do not need to load an agent to back up a VM, and there is no built-in job scheduler as vBackup relies on Windows' Task Scheduler.
Veeam Backup & Replication
A pioneer of the VMware backup market, Veeam provides image-level backup and replication and image- and file-level restore, including instant recovery (in which a failed VM can be run from the backup). The product is agentless and offers data deduplication, compression and the ability to verify backup recoverability.
Veeam’s product can recover individual data elements, such as emails and database records, from any application. The product also provides near-continuous data protection. It can also recover a VM to a sandbox for testing and troubleshooting and allows you to archive VMs before decommissioning them by compressing them.
The system works with all types of storage and is licensed per CPU socket.
Manek Dubash is a technology and business journalist with more than 25 years of experience.