Caption by: Alan Stevens
Despite the popularity of VMware's vSphere virtualisation platform, when it comes to backup and recovery there aren't that many products to choose from. Image backup specialist Acronis, however, has two: Acronis Backup & Recovery 11 Virtual Edition, which can be used to protect a variety of virtualisation platforms besides vSphere; and the newly released vmProtect 6, reviewed here, which is targeted specifically at VMware shops.
The vmProtect 6 software can be used with most editions of vSphere 4.0, 4.1 and 5.0, and so supports both the ESX and the more recent ESXi hypervisor. There's one small gotcha, however, in that it won't work with the free edition of the hypervisor. This is simply because VMware doesn't expose its vStorage API for Data Protection (VADP) in this version. Still, that's not a major limitation and at just £375 (ex. VAT) per CPU it's a very affordable package that's capable of protecting an unlimited number of virtual machines.
Installation is straightforward, with a choice of either loading up a self-contained virtual appliance or installing the vmProtect agent onto a PC (real or virtual) running Windows XP with SP1 or later.
We loaded vmProtect 6 as a self-contained virtual appliance; alternatively, you can install an agent onto a system running Windows XP (SP1) or later
According to Acronis, most customers have up to now opted for the virtual appliance, so we did the same. The setup routine took just a couple of minutes to create a small (3.5GB) Linux-based virtual machine on our ESXi 5 host. And that's all there was to it, because the built-in vStorage API does away with the need for a client of any kind inside the VMs to be protected.
There's also no restriction when it comes to guest operating system — if VMware can run it, then vmProtect 6 can take a backup of it. Moreover, regardless of whether you go for a virtual appliance or the Windows install, the software is managed in exactly the same way — via a simple and easy to navigate web-based console.
The vmProtect 6 dashboard gives access to a series of wizard-driven tools from a ribbon across the top of the screen
We started by connecting directly to our ESXi host from the console, but you can also go in using vCenter on a larger setup. Either way, you're presented with a fairly conventional dashboard display showing how the software is configured, together with a summary of backup and recovery task status, error messages, alerts and so on. A ribbon across the top gives access to the various tools, with most of these driven by simple step-by-step wizards.
To create a new backup job, all you need to do is select the VMs from the list presented, and then decide where to store the data. We selected a network share, but we could have directed the backup to local storage or the cloud — the latter option requires an additional subscription to the Acronis vmProtect Online service. Backups can also be stored on an FTP/SFTP server.
You can schedule a new backup job for unattended execution, with various repeat options
You have the option of either running the job immediately or scheduling it for unattended execution, with the usual options to repeat on particular days and at preset times. You can also specify retention rules and dictate the type of backup to employ, although we simply took the defaults and stored everything in a single incremental file to make recovery easier.
The whole process is very simple as the Acronis software hides a lot of the complexity involved, in order to allow relatively unskilled operators to take backups. That said, more experienced users can still drill down and do things like exclude files from the backup process, select the level of compression required, verify backup contents once the job has finished, issue email alerts and so on.
We were also impressed with the software's performance: vmProtect 6 enabled us to complete a backup of our first VM within minutes of installing the virtual appliance. That's because the software uses Acronis's imaging technology to optimise performance, while still allowing individual files to be restored at recovery time.
The amount of storage space required per backup will depend on the number and size of the VMs involved, but built-in data deduplication helps keep it to a minimum. Also, when running scheduled jobs, change block tracking — provided through the vStorage API — helps reduce network traffic and the load on the ESX/i hosts.
You can restore whole VMs or individual files, and also mount a backup as a virtual machine on the hypervisor
Recovery is just as easy, with the option of quickly restoring whole VMs or recovering individual files simply by browsing the archives. You can also take a backup and mount it as a virtual machine on the hypervisor — a unique and extremely valuable option that allows damaged or deleted VMs to be brought back online very quickly, with no need to perform any kind of additional recovery. In our tests it took less than five minutes to mount really quite large virtual machines and begin using them again.
Time constraints precluded exhaustive testing, but vmProtect 6 didn't seem to consume much in the way of memory or processing resources on our ESXi host. Neither did we encounter any problems during our tests, the software coping well with everything we threw at it.
Getting to grips with vmProtect modus operandi wasn't a problem either, and the only real niggle was the lack of support for tape or archiving to optical disk. Still, you could always archive the vmProtect images to tape using a separate application. That aside, we have no hesitation in recommending Acronis vmProtect 6 to anyone looking for a simple yet effective vSphere backup and recovery solution.
Caption by: Alan Stevens