In the last few years virtualization technologies have changed dramatically and irreversibly the way modern Data Centers are designed, implemented and managed. In modern DCs, virtual to physical ratios are growing constantly, due to the commonly accepted evidence that every workload is now a candidate for successful virtualization: cases where 100% of the systems are virtual are not uncommon anymore.
This clearly requires a different approach to many – if not all – the tasks that fall into the Operations area. Backup and Replication are probably the two tasks that more than any other have changed as a consequence of the opportunities that virtualization has presented to infrastructure designers, engineers and administrators.
Legacy backup technologies were designed for physical servers and the specific applications running on them: every single machine required an agent and often also an application-specific plugin to be installed, configured, maintained, updated, this to allow communication with the backup infrastructure and to produce a steady stream of data to be then restored, if needed, in an usable state. Servers being backed up were an active component of the backup strategy and were heavily stressed, together with the network infrastructure and the SAN backend, especially at night, when a multitude of backup jobs were launched concurrently, hoping to be completed successfully before the employees were back at their desks. The job of a backup administrator wasn’t an easy one, at least until backup solutions specifically designed to leverage the flexibility offered by virtualization were introduced.
Then all changed.
No more agents, no more plugins, no more concerns for the applications’ performance, but most of all, welcome flexibility and ease of management. Backups could now be run more often reducing RPO’s and RTO’s and single files could be instantly restored with just one click! All of this is possible thanks to the VMs being files themselves in the first place, and as such they can be backed up leveraging the advantages provided by the underlying virtualization infrastructure.
Many products have appeared since the early days of virtualization to address the need of virtual machines backups: VMware itself started the trend pretty early in the game when they presented their own “VCB – VMware Consolidated Backup” solution. This product then evolved and matured and today VMware keeps providing a native backup and replication solution as part of the vSphere 5.1 suite: “Data Protection”, based on the well known “Avamar” technology from parent company EMC and “vSphere Replication” address – when used together – many common DRBC requirements in a cost effective way.
What about third-party solutions? This market segment seems to be quite crowded these days but, without willing to overshadow any of its competitors here, the name that first comes to mind is undoubtedly Veeam with its popular Backup & Replication solution. Appeared on the market in 2008 it reached v6.5 at the end of 2012. That was a very solid and feature rich release, but nevertheless Veeam was confident that it could be further improved: the company began rolling the drums earlier this year in preparation of the much expected release of v7 (expected in Q3 2013) by leaking new features in a well orchestrated marketing effort cleverly named “Countdown to v7“! A Beta release should be available to customers in a few weeks, for them to experiment prior to upgrade later on.
The new features have been publicly announced and demonstrated in the “Veeam On Tour” series of events. I have been at their Rome leg and this is my unbiased report, based on what I have been able to hear and see. Veeam announced two “disruptive innovations” and seven “market leading features” to be introduced with B&R v7. Let’s not forget that B&R is a single product capable of providing Backup and Replication services to two different virtualization platforms: VMware vSphere and Microsoft Hyper-V. I am a “VMware guy”, so I’ll focus on the VMware features, but I’ll try to highlight as much as possible also those specific to Hyper-V.
Let’s start with the seven “market leading features” then!
1. VMware vCloud Director Support
This one particularly pleases me, as I am currently focusing on this technology.
For those who do not know, vCloud Director (vCD), relies on a standard vSphere infrastructure (i.e. on vCenter and ESXi Host Clusters) to allow tenants deploy VMs and vApps through a web interface, by means of choosing them from a published catalog. What happens under the hood is that VMs and vShield Edge “routers” are created within vCenter, but also attributes and metadata are stored inside vCD’s own database.
Therefore by-passing vCD to perform backups directly within vCenter would lead to problematic if not devastating restores! B&R v7 can connect directly to any vCD cell to be sure that also attributes and metadata are backed up and that VMs and vApps can be successfully restored into vCD!
2. vSphere Web Client Plugin
With vSphere 5.1 VMware is driving users to abandon the classic vCenter Client (available only in Windows) in favor or a Web Application accessible from any modern browser on any OS. Some of the features introduced with vSphere 5.1 are available only within the Web Client, therefore it becomes clear that integration with third-party components will be more and more important.
Veeam closes the gap by introducing a plug-in for the vSphere Web Client, by means of which it will be possible to monitor the Backup environment, obtain utilization data and capacity planning info for the backup repositories and job stats, all from the same interface used to administer the vSphere infrastructure.
3. Veeam Explorer for MS Sharepoint
This new tool complements the Explorer for MS Exchange (relased with v6.5 and now upgraded to support Exchange 2013) and will make possible to browse a backed up Sharepoint DB to find and restore in a rapid and granular fashion specific objects or export them to a given destination. Backup admins dealing on a daily basis with this kind of requests will definitely be pleased by this new feature.
4. Virtual Lab for Hyper-V
This is a feature that already existed for vSphere environments and with B&R v7 has been made available to Hyper-V admins as well. To put it simply, it will be possible to restore an Hyper-V VM to a Sandbox environment, without affecting the production one, for testing purposes. One of the strengths of this new feature is that multiple VMs can be restored in the “Lab” environment at the same time, following a pre-determined “boot up sequence”. This way, even multi-tier applications can be brought online in the “Lab”, with the guarantee that each component is started in the correct order.
Virtual Lab can be also used in conjunction with Sure Backup to test the restorability of a Hyper-V VM (it will be even possible to test the application layer by specifying the port number to be checked) or with U-AIR (Universal Application Item Recovery) to securely retrieve objects from any application and restore them on the production machine. For this purpose, several wizards are available to facilitate the objects extraction and restore for the most common applications.
5. Native Tape Support
This feature has been requested for a long time by the Veaam user community and it is finally available. It will be possible to archive to tapes (in a physical or virtual tape library) backups initially stored on disk. This will allow a second backup tier and also to comply to regulations wherever rules require archiving backups to tapes. My understanding is this feature will work also over the WAN, to archive backups on tapes located off-site. All Tape Libraries are supported, the only pre-requisite being that native Windows drivers for them are available.
6. Enhanced 1-Click Restore
It will be possible to delegate “restore rights” in a granular way so that individual users or groups are allowed to perform 1-Click Restore of files, folders and even individual VMs in autonomous fashion and without the need to involve the backup administrators. Confidentiality is preserved as it will be possible to give a certain user the right to restore a file without the permission to see its contents. Utilizing the Public APIs, it will also be possible to create custom self-service web portals from where users can perform file searches and restores: a typical user case would be Cloud Service Provider allowing tenants to perform their own restores without logging a ticket to the provider. This feature works both with vSphere and Hyper-V.
7. Virtual Lab for Replicas
This new feature will extend to replicas of vSphere VMs what was already available for backups. A replicated VM can be started in the remote site within a Sandbox to test that DR works as expected, with no impact on the production environment. This is clearly an excellent means to avoid surprises in case it is necessary to start a replicated VM in a secondary location when the original VM is not available. This feature works only with vSphere.
The last two new features announced as “Disruptive Innovations” are the following:
1. WAN acceleration
Veeam developed in house a software technology to dramatically improve the bandwidth utilization during copy of backups between sites. This was previously possible only by means of expensive third party appliances, and now it is a feature included in B&R v7. This is not a generic purpose acceleration solution but has been developed specifically to improve by up to 50 times the utilization of the bandwidth required to replicate backups over a WAN link. This can be fine-tuned on a per VM basis and will allow to create a secondary backup tier offsite, by transferring relevant amount of data even on slow links. My understanding is that this feature can work in conjunction with the Tape Support one, so that backups can be archived on Tape Libraries off-site even where the network bandwidth between the sites is limited.
2. Backups from snapshots
Veeam developed this technology with HP and therefore (for now at least) it works only with a HP Store Virtual VSAs and StoreServe arrays. The idea is to leverage SAN snapshots, that can be performed multiple times a day with little if no impact at all on the applications performances and use them as backup sources instead of the actual VM. This way backups can be performed more often during the day, reducing RPOs substantially. This feature works only with vSphere and HP arrays, but according to Veaam’s representatives, it cannot be excluded that in the future other storage vendors “could” be supported.
Overall B&R v7 will represent a relevant upgrade from the already stable and capable v6.5, and most – if not all – these new additional features probably have been in many backup admins’ wishlist until now.
If you think the new features will be useful to you and are considering to upgrade to v7 anytime soon, you’d better hurry up, as Veeam is offering special discounts as long as orders are placed before the end of June 2013.