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Acronis VMprotect 6 October 7, 2011

Posted by audiomatron in Uncategorized.
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On the way out of Acronis’ party at VMworld was a table full of gift bags, and everyone who attended the party recieved one. “All right!”, I thought, “more swag”. In the bag was 2 items – a stopwatch (which I actually used this past weekend to ensure I passed my PT test at my other job) and a credit card sized flash drive. I thought perhaps it was trial software, but upon further inspection (and verification from Acronis), it was a full copy of Acronis vmProtect 6. A couple of weeks ago, I began having trouble with VMware Data Recovery (trouble that is 100% related to my choice of  backup storage), and so I decided that it would be a good time to take a serious look at vmProtect as a replacement. I’ve experimented with a few different methods of backing up my virtual infrastructure, but thus far Acronis vmProtect 6 is the most elegant, simple, and flexible solution I have come across. That isn’t to say it couldn’t use improvement, but since I first installed it, I’ve been thoroughly impressed with Acronis vmProtect 6. Let’s take a closer look:

Installation and Configuration

vmProtect 6 can be installed in one of two ways – as a virtual appliance or as an agent running on a Windows server. I opted for the virtual appliance, which is deployed by running the vmProtect installer from a workstation. The applicane is Linux based, and has a very simple graphical console where basic settings such as IP address and local storage can be configured. After IP settings have been configured, all interaction with the appliance is done via a very easy-to-navigate web interface. Before you can begin creating backups, you must first provide the vmProtect software with your license keys, and point it at either your ESXi hosts or your vCenter server – the latter of which is preferred so vmProtect can keep track of VMs that might vMotion to other hosts. After this initial configuration, you’re ready to get started backing up VMs!

Creating Backup Jobs

Backing up VMs with vmProtect 6 is the most intuitive process I have ever seen in a backup solution of any kind. Essentially, to back up a VM, you must answer 4 simple questions:

1. What do you want to back up? – This is where you choose which VMs, hosts, or clusters you want to back up.

2. Where do you want to back it up? – This is where you tell vmProtect where your backup storage is. You can use a network share, a locally attached vmdk (virtual appliance), or a local disk (WIndows agent). In particular, I like the fact that, unlike VDR, which has a 500GB limit for CIFS destinations, vmProtect doesn’t discriminate in this area. My destination is a Drobo Pro attached to a physical Windows server.

3. When do you want to back up? – This is where you provide a schedule for your backups.

4. How do you want to back up? – This is where you set the cleanup and retention options for your backup job.

It’s that simple. Follow these four easy steps, and you’re ready to go!

Restoration

The process of restoring a VM with vmProtect 6 is essentially the same as the backup process – what? and where? Since, to my mind, virtualization backup solutions should be a reliable means of disaster recovery, the only restore task I performed was to simulater a disaster recovery scenario. vmProtect performed flawlessly in this regard. I was able to deploy the vmProtect virtual appliance to my lab environment, point it at a backup archive containing the VM I wanted to restore, and restore the VM to a completely foreign environment from it’s original home.

In addition to a typical whole-VM restore, you can also perform recovery of individual files from you backed up VMs, making vmProtect an ideal replacement for a traditional file backup solution. Also, vmProtect allows you to very easily run a VM from one of your backups. Another product I’ve seen has similar functionality, but Acronis’ approach is much easier to execute.

Performance

Considering my backup hardware setup which, in my opinion, can be quite slow sometimes, Acronis vmProtect 6 performed very well (and dare I say.. fast?). When backing up my smaller application server VMs, I saw speeds that ranged from 12MBps to 20MBps. However, for whatever reason, larger VMs, like my file servers and my Exchange server backed up much more slowly – around 5-6 MBps. Relative to the speed at which vmProtect was able to back up my application servers, 5-6 MBps may seem slow, however, this is actually quite a bit faster than file backup solutions I have used with this same hardware backing up this same data. That being said, even though the initial backup of my file server may take a whole day, using the change block tracking mechanism, all subsequent backups are “incrimental forever”. Past the first backup, the backups will be tiny, and will not take long to complete.

Also worth noting, while I was experimenting with vmProtect 6, I was leery of performing backups during work hours because I was unsure of how it might affect performance. However, waiting until the night time to see what my backup jobs would do got old in a hurry, so I decided to let the jobs run during the day. I am happy to report that running backups with vmProtect during business hours did not cause any noticeable performance degradation in my environment.

De-duplication

The backups Acronis vmProtect creates are tiny! I looked through all of my VMs,  added up all of the disk usage, then compared that to the size of the backups on disk. The size of all of the VMs I backed up was 966.34 GB, compared with a backup size of 587.85. That’s a substantial reduction!

Pain Points

Did I just write “pain points”? Oh no… I’m starting to sound like one of those corporate sales people. I digress. My experience with Acronis vmProtect 6 was not without problems. In particular, I ran into this issue quite a few times. This is apparently a known issue with backing up Linux file systems using change block tracking, which according to Acronis will be resolved in the next version. Even after following Acronis’ guidance on the issue, I still had trouble getting backup jobs to complete – especially the incremental backups. After one of these failures, I could never get that same job to complete again.  It seemed that the failures were most prevalent  when I was trying to back up all of my VMs to the same archive with the same job, so yesterday I split them up into groups. All of my backups last night succeeded, but the real test will be tonight when the first incremental backups run (I will give an update afterwards).

Features that would improve the product

I would like to see some more advanced scheduling options. For example, it would be very helpful if I could schedule one job, then have the other jobs execute after the first one completes. This would be very helpful in the aforementioned situation where someone might need to have multiple backup jobs. Also, there is no way to specify an order in which VMs get backed up. This functionality would be useful for someone who wanted to prioritize which VMs get backed up – so you could schedule the most important VMs to back up first. Ideally, to overcome this, I could create individual jobs for individual VMs, but this approach would be difficult to orchestrate since I would have to estimate the amount of time the jobs would take to complete so they don’t overlap.

Conclusion/Other Thoughts

First, I would like to thank Jerome Boutaud from Acronis, who has been very helpful to me during my testing of vmProtect 6. If his enthusiasm and dedication is in any way representative of Acronis as a company, then rest assured you won’t go wrong with Acronis.

As mentioned before, even with the issues I ran into, Acronis vmProtect 6 is a very compelling product. From the moment I began using it, I said to myself, “this is the VM backup product I’ve been waiting for”. I can confidently say that this will be my backup solution of choice. What about you? Ever used vmProtect? What do you think? Like something else? I’d love to see some comments!

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Comments»

1. James'o - March 10, 2012

I to had the same experience, the initial setup wasn’t without problems, but once I explored the full feature set I was sold!


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