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Backup software and VMware: Six products compared

Eric Siebert, Contributor

Server virtualisation has changed the way you back up and restore data. You can still use traditional backup methods for virtual machines by using a backup agent on each virtual machine, but there are more efficient methods to back up virtual machines.

Most data backup vendors have adapted their software to better integrate with virtual server environments. And VMware's Consolidated Backup (VCB) technology allows backup vendors to easily integrate their applications into the VMware Infrastructure. While improving backup efficiency is important, performing whole virtual machine and individual files restores easily and quickly is equally important. In this article, we look at the major backup applications and see how well they integrate with VMware.

CA ARCserve Backup r12

CA ARCserve Backup r12 integrates with VMware Consolidated Backup to perform off-host backups, and has minimal additional integration features or functionality. It backs up virtual machines using VCB to perform full virtual disk and individual file backups, and it utilises a VMware Configuration Tool to populate the virtual machine information into its backup database. In addition, it has integrated antivirus protection to scan files while backing them up to eliminate the need to install it on all your virtual machines. To restore individual files to their original location on a virtual machine, you must install a backup client agent on it. To restore full disk backups, you must restore them to an alternate location.

When used in conjunction with CA's XOsoft High Availability and Replication products, you can replicate virtual machine data to an alternate server and then back up the alternate server rather then the original server.

Quick tip: CA ARCserve Backup r12 integrates with VMware via VMware Consolidated Backup and has a few additional features that improve its capabilities. Its features can be enhanced when used with additional CA products.

CommVault Simpana 7.0

CommVault Simpana 7.0 also integrates with VMware Consolidated Backup and has some additional features that can enhance virtual machine backup. These features include file-level data deduplication when using backup to disk, bare-metal restore to restore a physical server into a virtual machine (P2V), and support for host-based replication (CDR) to or from virtual machines. CDR enables real-time replication of data from P2V, V2P or V2V for backup and disaster recovery. Simpana can perform agentless full virtual disk backups as well as individual file backups utilising VCB; it can also restore individual files directly to the guest virtual machine in a single step.

Quick tip: CommVault Simpana integrates with VMware via VMware Consolidated Backup and has a few additional features that improve its capabilities. The replication component is a nice feature to have for disaster recovery purposes.

Hewlett-Packard (HP) Co. Data Protector V6.1

HP Data Protector V6.1 also integrates with VCB to perform off-host backups. This version of Data Protector introduced a new VMware Integration Agent, which communicates with VirtualCenter and the ESX hosts using the VI SDK. However, the VMware Integration component requires installing an agent on every ESX host that you wish to back up virtual machines on -- the VirtualCenter server, the VCB server, and all physical or virtual systems that you plan to restore virtual machine files to. It has some additional features such as their Zero Downtime Backup that does application-level backups and also the Instant Recovery feature that can be used to quickly restore files if you're using an HP EVA system to make disk backups before writing to tape.

HP Data Protector has good VMware integration with VMware Consolidated Backup, but the additional overhead of installing and running agents on many systems can be cumbersome.

IBM Corp. Tivoli Storage Manager 5.5

IBM Tivoli Storage Manager (TSM) 5.5 integrates with VCB to perform off-host backups by creating a snapshot of a virtual machine's virtual disk file and copying the virtual disk to the VCB proxy server so it can be mounted and backed up. Unlike NetBackup and Backup Exec, which can back up full disk and individual files in a single pass, TSM requires separate backup operations to complete this. TSM is also agentless on the guest virtual machine, and the virtual machine's virtual disk that is to be backed up is mounted by the backup proxy server and not the virtual machine.

Quick tip: Tivoli Storage Manager (TSM) 5.5 integrates with VMware via VMware Consolidated Backup but lacks any additional features and functionality to improve efficiency and reduce storage requirements.

Symantec Corp. Veritas NetBackup 6.5

Symantec Veritas NetBackup 6.5 has very good integration with VirtualCenter and ESX hosts when using NetBackup for VMware and PureDisk for VMware options. NetBackup for VMware uses VMware Consolidated Backup to snapshot a virtual machine disk file and then make an off-host backup of it as a disk image. It then indexes every individual file within the virtual disk to allow whole virtual machine and individual file restores from within NetBackup so only one backup pass is needed to enable either type of restore. You can also perform VCB incremental backups to only back up changed disk blocks, which can greatly reduce backup times and storage requirements. NetBackup uses VMware's APIs to integrate directly with VirtualCenter and ESX hosts to automatically discover all virtual machines on the host servers. Additionally, it integrates with VMware Converter so you can quickly restore a whole OS with just a few mouse clicks. You don't need a backup agent installed on the virtual machine unless you want to use the PureDisk data deduplication technology; PureDisk can greatly reduce backup I/O and storage requirements.

Quick tip: Symantec Veritas NetBackup 6.5 integrates very tightly with VMware to improve efficiency and has advanced integration features to allow for easy restores and reduced storage requirements.

Symantec Backup Exec 12.5

Symantec Corp. Backup Exec 12.5 also integrates with VMware Consolidated Backup just like NetBackup and has many of the same integration features. It also supports full disk and individual file restores without having to restore the whole virtual machine. Backup Exec integrates with VirtualCenter and ESX hosts for automated discovery of virtual machines on the host servers. In addition, it is agentless and does not require that a special backup agent be installed on virtual machines that are being backed up. Since Backup Exec is aimed at small- to medium sized businesses (SMBs) it does not have some of the enterprise features that NetBackup has, such as performing perform VCB incremental backups and using PureDisk deduplication technology.

Quick tip: Symantec Backup Exec 12.5 integrates very tightly with VMware but lacks some of NetBackup's more advanced integration features.

All the backup products discussed here integrate with VMware's Consolidated Backup to provide off-host image and file-level backups of virtual machines. A few of the products provided additional integration by leveraging the VI SDK to automatically read virtual machine information from VirtualCenter and ESX hosts. Of the products, Symantec's NetBackup seems to have the best integration with VMware and provides many advanced features. Since virtualisation is here to stay, all of these backup products will continue to improve their integration with VMware to provide more efficient backup and recovery of virtual machines as well as tighter integration with VMware's infrastructure and management applications.

About this author: Eric Siebert is a 25-year veteran of the IT world and has been specialising in virtualisation for the last 3 years. He is a guru-status moderator in the VMware community VMTN forums and maintains VMware-land.com, a VI3 information website. He is also the author of a upcoming book tentatively titled "VMware VI3 Implementation and Administration," due out in April 2009.