Archive for June, 2012
There are a lot of good virtual backup products out there, and in the past I have used many different flavors. I had not had a chance to work with PHD Virtual Backup personally yet, so I made it a goal of mine to give it a try. On several of the forums I frequent, I have heard great things about the product. One individual of note switched from another large player to PHD Virtual simply due to their great support in comparison to others, and another switched due to the scalability.
I’m going to try to skip too much of generic install, backup setup, restore setup, and other details since PHDVB offers videos and documents that detail these processes much better than I could. Instead, I hope to highlight some of the neat features and methodologies used.
The suite is packaged in an OVF template and runs on a customized Ubuntu build. Unlike others that require a Windows server, there is no need to pay extra for OS licensing. Since everything is self-contained, it is also one less OS install you have to manage. It also uses a PostgreSQL database, so no dependencies to MSSQL or MSSQL Express, which is a plus. This is very similar to the path VMware is taking with the vCenter Server Appliance.
To start out, you will need to install the console on your workstation, which adds the plugin to your vSphere Client.
Next up is the Virtual Backup Appliance, which is the engine of the product. Rolling out a Virtual Backup Appliance is as easy as deploying the OVF, configuring hypervisor credentials, and adding storage. It’s an extremely quick and easy process. Once finished, if you view the console for the new VBA, it will be a classic text-based interface that you will rarely need to touch again directly, as configuration is done through the vSphere Client PHDVB Console.
I did run into an odd issue where the filesystem on the appliance required a manual fsck. This required me to log into the console directly and run the command, but it was well documented on their knowledge base: PHDVBA contains a file system with errors, check forced.
The last piece to install is the PHDVB Exporter. This is a Windows application, which can reside on your BackupExec server for example, which takes the backups stored by the PHDVBA and converts them into OVF format for backup to tape. This is probably my favorite feature of the product, and will be discussed in greater detail later.
This is an area where I think the other major players should learn from. As noted above, PHD Virtual Backup includes a plugin for the vSphere Client that allows the Administrator to manage backups directly within the client, instead of having to RDP to a Windows Server then open up a legacy console then manage everything from within there. Instead, if I need to work on backups then I can do it from the vSphere Client which I always have open anyway. This becomes truly awesome when you need to launch a one-off backup prior to a change or whatnot. It’s such a pain to create a one-off in other products that I tend to use snapshots more than I probably should.
The console itself, instead of a pane inside vCenter, launches a window on top of the vSphere Client from which you can manage some of the more granular items, such as Configuration and Licensing, as well as gain more control of the backup/restore/replicate functions.
Backup jobs are a straight-forward process in setting up, and backups work as expected in regards to speed, deduplication, scheduling, stability, etc. You can select which appliance performs the backups to increase efficiency, as well. The additional, special options for a backup job are:
- Verify backup: None/New blocks only/All blocks
- Backup Powered off virtual machines
- Set backups as archived (won’t be deleted via retention policy)
- Quiesce the VM before backing up (Windows only)
- Use Changed Block Tracking
Pretty standard stuff, and it works well. The only oddity I noticed is in regards to the backup retention policy, which is managed on a per-appliance basis instead of a per-job basis. This means if you want a different retention period for a special job, you need a different appliance to do it.
You can select three different options for Storage Type: Attached Virtual Disk, NFS, and CIFS. The neat one here is ‘Attached Virtual Disk’, where it allows you to add a VMDK to the appliance and use it as a backup repository. This is a neat way to utilize the local storage in your hosts, if you so choose; however, performance may be better storing the backups elsewhere. If there ever comes a time the VMDK needs expansion, it is as easy as expanding the disk and then rebooting the appliance; it will expand the actual partition automatically. They have released a white-paper on Storage Best Practices for PHD Virtual Backup that is worth checking out.
There are two recovery options: file-level and VM-level. The VM-level jobs are launched via the ‘Jobs’ tab of the Console, and file-level are launched via the ‘File Recovery’ tab. VM-level restores work as expected and restore directly; however, the file-level restores operate in a more unique manner. To restore individual files, an iSCSI target is created on the backup appliance and is then optionally automatically mounted onto the desktop kicking off the restore job. This is a pretty nifty way to access files, and works really well. With Windows, it’s more or less seamless and you will see a disk added that can be browsed to via Windows Explorer.
With Linux guests, it’s a little trickier. Since Windows doesn’t have built-in support for Linux filesystems, external tools are required. The PHDVB User Guide recommends to use either explore2fs or ext2explore (now renamed Ext2Read). Explore2fs claims support for ext2/ext3/LVM2, but has a new beta version called Virtual Volumes which adds support for ReiserFS. Ext2Read claims support for ext2/ext3/ext4/LVM. In the next release, the need for these tools will no longer be required as they’re implementing the ability to mount the backup to the VBA which can then be presented out using CIFS.
As I mentioned earlier, this feature is the bee’s knees. The only downside is that it is not managed via the vSphere Client plugin, so it has to be on a Windows server and has a separate console. To start off, the option to share the backup folder via CIFS needs to be enabled on the VBA under the Connectors tab; it’s also worth mentioning, you can enable regular CIFS access inside the same tab in order to view your backups directly as well, but they will not be in OVF format. Once this is enabled, the Exporter Console on the backup server is used to create a job, which is then either stored in a Windows Scheduled Task or manually ran via the command line:
Once the job completes, you will find an OVF inside your specified Staging Location, along with a .txt file stating the VM name, time of backup, and source location. This OVF can be deployed via the typical ‘File -> Deploy OVF Template’ inside the vSphere Client without any requirement on the backup software. This feature will really shine if you have a large outage that also affects your backup infrastructure, whereas with other backup software you will need to reinstall their software.
I think it’s worth mentioning that replication is also included, and I have heard good things about it; however, due to my lab size I did not have a chance to give that a test. Finally, in closing, I think PHD Virtual Backup for VMware is a very neat product. My personal highlights that I recommend to check out if you give it a trial in your lab or business are:
- Ubuntu-based Appliance
- No requirement for MSSQL
- Ability to use Attached Virtual Disks for backup storage
- vSphere Client Plugin Interface
- Ease of file-level recovery via iSCSI target
- PHD Exporter transforming backups to OVF format
While there are neat highlights in other products as well, PHD Virtual Backup provides some really unique, handy methods of doing things, and is definitely a product to consider when designing your backup architecture.
I haven’t used the vSphere Storage Appliance in a production environment yet, since it still has a bit of room for maturity both from a technical standpoint (not able to expand beyond three nodes, etc) and from a pricing standpoint (low end iSCSI arrays are at a close price point); however, I recently found out about the vSphere Storage Appliance Offline Demo, while I had a chance to read and review Brian Atkinson’s VCP5 Study Guide book.
The demo goes through the process of setting up the VSA, putting nodes in maintenance mode, testing resiliency, etc. in a semi-interactive manner; the interface is basically a guided walk-through that appears as a vSphere client interface. If you haven’t used the product yet, it’s a neat way to get familiar with it. The publicity of this guide seems to be limited to the post on the community forums, so I imagine a lot of people haven’t had a chance to use it yet.
Interesting Q&A’s from May:
- Question: What is the difference between top and esxtop?
- Answer: esxtop is a modified version of top that gives detailed metrics on the virtual environment (More detail: Interpreting esxtop 4.1 statistics). top is now defunct and not included in ESXi, but in ESX it provides details on the Service Console only.
- Question: Can I upgrade to vSphere 5.0 and keep View at version 4.6?
- Answer: As confirmed by the VMware Product Interoperability Matrixes, if running vSphere 5.x then you must run View 5.x.
- Question: How can I backup virtual machines directly from the SAN?
- Answer: Using ‘SAN Transport Mode‘ within BackupExec, you can read directly from the storage array. Other vendors such as Veeam also support this backup mode.
- Question: What are the time-keeping best practices with vSphere?
- Answer: VMware’s Knowledge-Base states the best practice for time-keeping in a Windows guest is to use w32time or NTP inside the guest instead of using VMware Tools time synchronization (KB 1318).
- Question: How do you auto-connect USB by default with VMware View?
- Answer: These options can be set in command-line arguments to the View Client. The options are: ‘-connectUSBOnStartup XXX‘ and ‘-connectUSBOnInsert XXX‘, where XXX is either true or false.
- Question: Is it possible to license half of the CPUs inside an ESX(i) Host?
- Answer: No, you must physically remove the sockets or disable the socket via the BIOS, if that option is available for your system.
- Question: Attributes passed to the VM via the .vmx file do not show up?
- Answer: These attributes can be put into the .vmx file, but it requires a reboot to take affect.
- Question: Running Mixed Clusters with vSphere 4.x and 5.x
- Answer: Mixed clusters of 4.x and 5.x are fully supported by VMware; however, you must not update virtual hardware to version 8 or VMFS to version 5 as these are not supported on ESX(i) 4.x.
- Question: How to install the correct VMware Tools version on virtual machines running with different builds?
- Answer: You can install the latest version of VMware Tools 5.x and run it on any version of ESX(i) 5.x and 4.x; it is fully backwards compatible with all patch levels of 5.x and 4.x. There is no need to install legacy tools.