Vendor Spotlight: PHD Virtual Backup for Hyper-V

imageHaving worked with Hyper-V for quite some time, the debut of PHD Virtual’s Backup for Hyper-V with the v7.0 release further exemplifies the impact that Hyper-V is having in the virtualization world.  If you are not familiar with PHD Virtual, they have been producing data protection and recovery solutions for VMware and XenServer since 2006, and just last week released their entry into the Hyper-V backup space.  What this means for existing PHD Virtual customers that may be running VMware or XenServer is that they can work with a single vendor as they diversify their hypervisor vendors utilizing Hyper-V as many companies have started to do.  What this means to those already using Hyper-V is that there is now even more options for backup and recovery.  More competition is always a good thing for the consumer and the backup and recovery space for Hyper-V has been a hot playing field.

 

I was able to kick the tires during the early testing and have been impressed with the strait forward approach of the product and it has been refreshing to work with PHD Virtual’s development teams to address both bug and feature requests to get the product where it is today at GA.  PHD Virtual’s Backup for Hyper-V has brought a unique approach to backing up Hyper-V VMs and has produced a very easy to navigate web based console to successfully protect, manage and restore your Hyper-V virtual infrastructure.  Here are some highlights I saw along the way.

 

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Installation is straight forward but does require some pre-planning.  For production environments you should have a static IP Address for each VBA that you deploy and you will also need to have create a username and password for each for to security between the Management components and the service that runs on each Hyper-V Host server.  This username is not a Windows username but one that is used only within the application.

Supported Hypervisors: Hyper-V in Window Server 2012 and 2012 R2/  Hyper-V Server 2012 and 2012 R2

imageClicking Clicking on the installation file from the extracted download installs 4 components.  Erlang, RabbitMQ, PHD Service, and the Virtual Backup Appliance (VBA).  Each of these is wizard driven and there are no surprises or tough configuration choices when rolling through the screens.  The last step of the install actually deploys the VBA to your Hyper-V Host including the creation of the appliance backup destination disk if necessary.

 

 

 

 

Note: The disk for the backup appliance supports all the features of Hyper-V so it can be stored on an SMB 3.0 share location as well, giving you the ability to consolidate the location of multiple appliances to a location that may allow for offsite replication.

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Once you have Installed the 4 components on your Hyper-V host connecting it to the Web console is just a few clicks away.  Getting the IP Address from the VBA once it is up and running and using Chrome or Firefox (IE is not supported) to connect to the address will bring you through another short intuitive wizard to connect your Web Console to your VBA.  You can connect and will want to connect multiple Hyper-V hosts to your Web Console which makes most day to day functions centralized.

What Could Be Better: Installation of the Erlang and RabbitMQ Components should be silent and updated without manual intervention for future releases.

For more detailed information on the Install Process view the video HERE.

 

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The Dashboard is presented to you as you logon to the web console and gives quite a bit of information like Errors, Number VMs protected or not protected, Storage Utilization, Deduplication ratios, Alerts and Actively Running Jobs.    In my testing on smaller scales it gives some very good information at a glance that can be drilled into, but I worry how busy it might be in larger environments.  It would also be nice to be able to move or add other specific consoles on the dashboard, but all the relevant overall information is there.

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Note: Due to the wealth of information, looking at the console in something less than a 24 inch monitor might be a little tricky.

 

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Before I get too deep on the process it is important to understand the method that PHD Virtual uses for their Hyper-V backup product.  First off it is completely agentless to the VMs  The VBA, Service and prerequisite software on the hosts, technically counts as an agent to me, but no direct PHD code is run on the VMs.

imageTo  perform the backup PDH Virtual Backup for Hyper-V uses Checkpoints (Formerly Hyper-V Snapshots).   Basically, Checkpoints for each VM are created and then the data is then pulled, the checkpoints are then merged back in with no interruption to the VM. This process is possible due to the live merge feature introduced in Windows Server 2012.  It will be interesting to see how this process works under heavier load as I have never had a VM Checkpoint fail, but have had numerous fights with the Hyper-V VSS Writer over the years. In the current 7.0 release of PHD Backup for Hyper-V, VSS is not utilized to quiesce the VMs during backup.  As a result you have Crash-Consistent backups meaning all your files will be backed up at the same time, but transaction logs would be lost.  Application level backups are on their way as you can see by the screen print below.

Backup Highlights:

Agentless Backup: Not many successful VM backup products use agents on VMs, but instead use Host Based backup process.  PHD Virtual Backup for Hyper-V does this as well with a low footprint or interference with locally running processes.

Scheduling Options:  All the Backup and Retention settings you expect out of a backup product are there.  PHD Virtual for Hyper-V includes full backups or mixture of both Full and Incremental on a schedule set by the administrator.

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Host Level Backup Selection: The option to select the top level of the host to protect all current and future VMs on that host is critical so that newly added VMs are not forgotten.

Picks most appropriate VBA: In most cased the VBA local to where the VMs are will take care of the backup process. This is configurable however at the VM or Job level.

Data Stores are configurable: VBA data drives can utilize SMB attached disk allowing you to centralize VBA disks to a location that could allow secondary backup or replication.

Dashboard About Unprotected VMs: VMs forgotten to be added to backup jobs seem to be ones that fail for some reason.  There is a location on the PHD’s dashboard that tells you just how many VMs are not protected so that an administrator can remediate the issue quicker.

Deduplication: Build in Pre-Processing Deduplication of data.  This will greatly reduce the space of your data store and should be a requirement of any modern backup product.

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Works with replicated VMs that are utilizing Hyper-V replica:  My testing was successful on backing up the primary VM of a VM replica set.  No averse interaction or failures.

Works on VMs that are using SMB storage:  VMs with remote SMB storage work the same as if their VM configurations files and VHD/VHDX files were local, iSCSI, or FC.

Note: Does not work on VMs that have virtual FC HBA attached disks or shared VHDX disks.

What Could Be Better:

Data Source Replication:  No option for this right now leaving it up to the administrator to find creative ways to locate the Data Store to a separate location and then potentially replicate this data to another site for maximum protections.

VSS and Log Truncation:  As much as I loath VSS, in order to provide true Application Consistent backups, the quiesce process needs to be sent up to the VM in order to provide ideal protection for Databases, or other memory resident applications.  Without this you are relying on the built in recovery mechanism of these types of applications to recovery orphaned transaction logs or risk loosing some data.  Depending on your SLA with your customers, this could be a very big deal. Good thing is, this is already on the PHD Virtual roadmap.

Hyper-V Change Block Tracking:  Not really a PHD Virtual issue as Microsoft has not built this API yet, but would be nice to have compared to VMware.  This would dramatically shorten backup times as changes would be advertised during the backup product instead of the backup product needing to walk all the blocks searching for changes. This is also on the roadmap for PHD Virtual, but details are unclear as this would have to be implemented separately without Microsoft at this time.

For more detailed information on the Backup Process view the video HERE.

 

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Recovery of VMs has many of the same features an administrator would be familiar with in modern virtual server backup products aligned in a tree view console accompanied with helpful filtering options as many backups start to inevitably clutter the console view . Full Restores, and File Level Restore (FLR) are there, as well as a Rollback Recovery Option as well utilizing the Checkpoint architecture of the product and Windows Server 2012.

Recovery Highlights:

Full Restores: Allow you to recover your VM to the original location or to another location on the same host or alternate host with the ability to change VM attributes like Name, MAC Address, and Custom Recovery Paths.

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FIle Level Restore: As the name suggests PHD Virtual Backup for Hyper-V provides a method to gather files from inside a backed up VHD/VHDX instead of having to restore a complete VM, mount up the VHD/VHDX for file level inspection.  When performing the file level restore however, there is not index of files from within each VHD/VHDX.  The VHD/VHDX is mounted on the VBA and you are given a UNC path to the access the files where you can then manually copy and paste them out to the original location or to what ever destination you need.  It would be nice to have an index as users sometimes have no idea when they deleted a particular file, so mounting up many different VHD/VHDX files on the VBA and digging through them to see if they have the file necessary could be time consuming.  The process to perform a File Level Restore could also be refined as there are a few steps to select, then PIN then Mount the FLR.  In any case, the ability to do this level of restore is included and much faster than the restoration of full VHD/VHDX files.

Rollback Restore: I restoration option back to a previous point in time based on the Checkpoint feature build in to PHD Virtual Backup for Hyper-V and the architecture of Windows Server 2012.  Think of it like using the standard Checkpoint technology, but not needing to retain the Checkpoint as part of the VM.  On restore the VM is placed back into the previous state by merging in a previously point in time.

What Could Be Better:The interface is a little too helpful at times and adds to some confusion as you have recovery options both from the Recover sidebar option or from the Recover button within the Protect sidebar option. Both bring you to the same locations, but in my mind blurs the lines between what is usually segregated functions within most backup products. Not a big deal but it is confusing at first until you realize it is two different area that lead you to the same same recovery options.

The File Level Restore Option could be a little more straight forward as well as I stated above.

For more detailed information on the Recovery Process view the video HERE.

 

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PHD Virtual Backup for Hyper-V comes with Reporting functions that allow you to drill down in 5 basic categories and the ability to set a desired date range . Protection Summary Report, Protected Virtual Machines, Unprotected Virtual Machines, Backup History Report, and Storage Details round out the options with the ability to Export to PDF or CSV as well as output to the screen.

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What Could Be Better: A scheduling option for reports to be sent through email or published to a website would be helpful for daily reports of how last night’s jobs went to avoid having to logon to the console if no action was necessary.

With every first release product there are features I wish were there.  I tend to be greedy and say, “well that’s good, but what about this?”  That said, this is a solid and stable first release that is FREE.  There is no reason not to give it a try.   This was a great move by PHD Virtual and follows the marketing approach that Microsoft has taken itself with Hyper-V.  Get the product out there with as little resistance as possible to get your product in the hands of those that really want it, the virtualization administrators, engineers and architects.  Without having to request funds to test a new product, the managerial barrier to testing out all the features is dropped.  It is available now for FREE.  All feature, all functions, not time limits.  Give it a try.

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This entry was posted in Hyper-V, Vendor, Virtual Server Technology, Windows Server 2012. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Vendor Spotlight: PHD Virtual Backup for Hyper-V

  1. Pingback: Why Pay for Hyper-V backup? | Virtualization Spotlight

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