VMware tweaks virtualisation backup option

VMware quietly made a dot release this week to VMware Consolidated Backup that now includes support for iSCSI storage.

VMware has released version 3.0.2 of its ESX Server virtualisation software, along with version 1.0.3 of its VMware Consolidated Backup (VCB). These updates, deployed together, will add support for iSCSI storage and certain types of virtualised LUNs, and resolve significant issues with the product, according to users and analysts.

According to release notes put up on VMware's Web site, "VMware Consolidated Backup now supports iSCSI storage in addition to Fibre Channel storage. Virtual machines residing on any iSCSI arrays listed in the Storage/San Compatibility Guide for ESX Server 3.x may now be backed up through the VMware Consolidated Backup framework."

Another update now means that Fibre Channel LUNs with different LUN ID numbers can be presented to the ESX server and to the VCB proxy server, which will "allow VCB to work with arrays that do not guarantee consistent LUN numbering," according to the release notes.

The new version of VCB is being put out as a minor dot release, but users and analysts said the features are significant.

"The convergence of iSCSI and VMware is very compelling in the industry right now," said Mark Bowker, analyst with the Enterprise Strategy Group. VMware's notoriously slow certification process may account for why VCB is only just catching up to this trend. ISCSI support within ESX itself is also only 1 year old.

Bowker also pointed out that VCB has not been taking the backup world by storm, either. "I haven't seen a wide adoption of VCB yet among the VMware customers I've seen," he said. "VCB is still in its early stages and is really just the start of things to come."

One user who has been testing VCB said the new moves are more likely to make him bring it into production. "I'm not always able to have LUNs configured exactly the same across Windows and Linux hosts," said Tory Skyers, network administrator for Fox & Roach Realtors, a division of Prudential Real Estate Affiliates Inc. "So my ESX and VCB proxy may have different LUN [IDs]. Actually, that is why [VCB] is still in testing here." Being able to use different LUN numbers might also help facilitate storage virtualisation, he said.

He added that the iSCSI support would also be helpful. "Now I can use my IP network to send my backups to my secondary or disaster recovery site without the need for fiber or complicated scripts to export and import."

According to Bowker, although these updates will improve VMware's approach to backup, it still has a ways to go, especially when it comes to more granular backup of virtual guests. Third-party backup products like Symantec Corp.'s NetBackup are already supporting file-level recovery from backed up ESX instances.

"I'd like to see VCB have some better integration with applications like Exchange, to allow users to do mailbox-level recovery," Bowker said. "They should also have the ability to restore at the file level without having to remount the whole VMDK."

The update also does not address wish-list items users have expressed in the past, including the ability to run VCB as a virtual machine on the ESX console.

Some users were also not happy about the fact that version 1.0.3 is only available with the newly released ESX server version 3.0.2. A user posting on VMware's message board called it a "dirty little caveat."

"As a former IT guy, I can see why he would be unhappy about that," Bowker said. "Upgrading is a pain and involves some maintenance time. But, virtualisation does make that easier."

VMware officials were not available for comment as of press time.

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