VMware shops that use data backup software from Veeam Software can now shrink virtual machine restore times dramatically, thanks to a new feature that allows virtual machine images to boot directly from compressed backup repositories.
A feature of Veeam Software Ltd.'s Backup and Replication 5.0 suite released today, vPower exemplifies the competition among VMware-specific backup vendors to offer advanced virtualization features. At the same time, experts say Veeam has yet to achieve feature parity with incumbent backup products that IT managers already know and trust.
Nifty VM restores
With vPower, virtualization admins now have the option of standing up a virtual machine image that users can continue to work with immediately during a restore. Normally, restoring a virtual machine image requires waiting for the backup file to be uncompressed, converted into a VMDK file and then replicated back to production storage.
But vPower creates a bootable virtual machine image and publishes it directly from Veeam's compressed, deduplicated backup repository. The utility can also restore application dependencies, which are user-defined -- either within Veeam or as a VMware vApp. The backup verification capability Veeam previewed earlier this year enables vPower.
If application objects need to be restored rather than an entire virtual machine, a mechanism called Universal Application-Item Recovery (U-AIR) will send the backup image to a proxy appliance where items like database records or email messages can be extracted. This also skips the step of extracting the full image to production storage for item-level restores.
In addition, if an IT shop uses VMware Storage vMotion, vPower will kick off a Storage vMotion to restore the VM to production while the backup image remains accessible -- a process the company compares to changing a tire while a car is still moving. If Storage vMotion isn't available, Veeam's replication sends data back to the production SAN, but that process requires the VM to reboot.
VM backup basics
The ability to do granular restores is appealing to Justin Paul, a senior systems engineer at SMS Protech, a systems integrator that uses and resells Veeam's software. Previously, if Veeam shops wanted to do object-level restores, Paul said he would sometimes sell customers a separate utility from Kroll Ontrack.
In the meantime, Paul's still has items on his wish list for Veeam that are mainstays of traditional backup tools, including backup encryption, transaction-consistent snapshots in non-Windows environments, the ability to throttle replication bandwidth over a wide area network (WAN) and, until this release, the ability to keep backups on a "grandfather-father-son schedule." Veeam has added this grandfather-father-son feature with version 5, but describes it as a "legacy backup model."
When it comes to backing up virtual environments, IT pros are between a rock and a hard place. Paul said his customers are not necessarily happy with traditional incumbent backup vendors, which don't usually offer the ability to do image-level backups of virtual machines and which have been slow to add virtualization-specific features Veeam already has. Paul said, however, that clients "don't want to get into a situation where if they were using traditional backup on a physical machine they wouldn't have a problem, but because Veeam hasn't had an object-restore feature, they have to restore the whole image and waste half a day."
Eyes on the virtualization backup prize
Today, a chief concern for Veeam is the potential patent battle brewing between it and its rival Quest Software Inc. (formerly known as Vizioncore). On Aug. 11, Vizioncore introduced a feature called FlashRestore that is similar to Veeam's vPower -- so similar, in fact, that Vizioncore officials said last week they had been advised not to share details of the process by which Vizioncore converts backup images to bootable virtual machines until pending patents are finalized. Meanwhile, Veeam says five of its own patents are pending.
But Veeam vPower and Vizioncore FlashRestore aren't users' only options for quick restore. Syncsort Inc., for example, has a utility that uses raw device mapping (RDM) in physical compatibility mode, which can instantly recover the VM by mounting the data as a physical RDM, though it can't Storage vMotion back to production. Acronis Inc., which also does image backups of physical machines, offers a conceptually similar feature it calls Instant Restore. Users also have the option of VMware High Availability to keep mirror images of mission-critical VMs on standby for instant recovery as well, though this can be more costly than instant restores from an existing backup repository.
While Veeam dukes it out with its competitor over a bleeding-edge advancement, adding the kind of features SMS Protech's Paul wants shouldn't fall by the wayside, said Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG) senior analyst Lauren Whitehouse. Right now, she said, many organizations run two tools for physical and virtual backups, but a similar bifurcation happened years ago in the backup market between products for Unix and Windows operating systems. Today that distinction has disappeared, and Whitehouse predicted a similar blurring of the lines will occur between physical and virtual backup tools as incumbents catch up and newcomers like Veeam flesh out their support for traditional features. "I want to know how they plan to expand to cover the physical side and simplify things for users," she said.
Beth Pariseau is a senior news writer for SearchServerVirtualization.com. Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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