Published on January 10th, 2022
As a VMware customer, you know that backing up your virtual machines (VMs) is a number one priority for keeping your data safe.
When you run your VMware infrastructure, there are multiple risks to data — ransomware attacks, intentional or accidental deletions, or power failures, to name a few.
With backups of your VMware VMs, you can ensure the recoverability of your data after a disruption.
Today’s market offers a variety of VM backup software. To choose the best backup solution for VMware that meets your organization’s needs, first define the characteristics that your VMware backup solution must have.
Once you know what you’re looking for, you can analyze the available VM backup solutions and choose the one that has it all.
From this post, you can find out about the most beneficial features that you would want to see as a part of your VM backup plan.
Backup, Recovery And Storage
If you want your backup and recovery process to be smooth and highly reliable, focus on these three main components of data protection: backup, storage and recovery.
First, run efficient backups. Then, determine your storage locations. And, finally, recover your data — but only if you need to do so! The three elements above are interconnected and work in unison. Remember, you can’t recover your data without a secure backup and storage space.
Modern VM backup solutions have state-of-the-art backup, recovery and storage capabilities that can take your data security to the next level. Let’s review their main characteristics and features.
Make sure that your backup solution contains these up-to-date features and characteristics that can make your backup process fast and efficient.
An image-based backup captures your whole VM from A to Z by producing an image of the entire VM along with its OSs, disks, and configuration files.
An Image-based backup solution is agentless, which means that you don’t need to install an agent on every single VM. Instead, the agent is installed on an external server. This agent receives information from every VM it protects.
The image-based mechanism works as follows: prior to a backup, your backup software makes a snapshot of the OS.
During this part, all other operations cease for a short moment. After your VM’s state is captured, all operations resume.
The snapshot is used to create a backup that is sent to a backup repository while your VM is running. This ability to freeze a VM and make a snapshot of its whole contents enables you to obtain an app-consistent backup.
A solid VM backup solution creates incremental backups, which rely on the Changed Block Tracking (CBT) technology.
During an incremental backup, your backup software copies only those blocks of data that have changed since the previous backup.
Most modern backup solutions implement block-level incremental backups. However, there are other types of backups with increments at the file level or byte level.
In addition, incremental backup has different approaches:
- Regular Incremental: Backs up only the changed blocks of data with a full backup performed once a week.
- Forever Incremental: A full backup is made first. Afterward, all backups are incremental.
- Reverse Incremental: A synthetic backup is created after every incremental backup job. It’s used for instantly restoring your VMs.
- Forever Forward Incremental: The first full backup is generated when the number of recovery points exceeds the level set in the retention policy.
- Multilevel Incremental: Backups are assigned levels 1, 2, and 3. A full backup has level 0. Each level contains changes since the last n-1 backup.
You can use the above backup types based on your individual situation. Overall, incremental backups speed up your backup process and save a great deal of storage space.
As we already mentioned, image-based backups are the best way to back up your data. Image-based backups can also be app-consistent.
This means that your data across databases and applications remains consistent at the time of the backup. Your goal is to ensure that all transactions including the pending ones are a part of your backup.
Transactional consistency on a Windows machine is achieved with the help of Microsoft Volume Shadow Copy Service (VSS). On a Linux machine, you can use pre-freeze and post-thaw scripts to create app data consistency.
Your backups can also fall victim to ransomware or become deleted. That’s why it’s worth the effort to have an extra copy of your backup.
You can store a backup copy offsite, on tape, or in a public cloud. Doing this eliminates a single point of failure.
An efficient backup solution allows you to create backup copies automatically, or you can make a copy of your backup repository, as another option. Alternatively, you can select which backups you want to get copied.
To ensure the safe and fast recovery of your data during a disruption, you need to have full and functional backups in the first place.
It is too late if you find out that your backup is defective right when you need it the most. To avoid distressing surprises, verify your backups after completing a backup job.
A solid backup solution enables you to test your backups by booting the VM or checking the VM’s heartbeat.
A modern backup solution enables you to automate all major tasks by using policies. You can automatically create and run the backup jobs.
You can add a VM to a backup job based on criteria such as the VM’s name, size, or tag. Also, you should be able to remove the VMs you no longer need from the backup job automatically. Automation saves you time with backups running while you focus on other tasks.
If your VMs process a lot of data during a backup, consider backing up from storage snapshots if you’re using enterprise-grade storage devices like HPE 3PAR StoreServ, for example. A backup from storage snapshots has these 3 steps:
- Creation of the VM snapshot
- Creation of the storage snapshot;
- Removal of the VM snapshot
The whole process is extremely fast. The snapshot itself occupies little space, which saves storage space and reduces the load on the production environment.
When it comes to recovery, there are several options. Choose the best recovery approach depending on your individual case.
On a rare occasion, you may need to perform a full backup of your VM. The reason for a full backup could be a cyberattack or system failure that has resulted in significant data loss.
A good backup solution allows you to recover your VMs to a previous point in time. You can use a grandfather-father-son (GFS) rotation scheme to recover your data from any point in time.
As you perform a recovery, your solution makes an image of the backup and transfers it to the production site. A new VM is created without affecting the source VM.
There are times when you don’t need to perform a full recovery. This happens when a single file, folder, or object is deleted in a critical application (like Microsoft Exchange, Active Directory, or Microsoft SQL).
You should be able to use the search in a backup solution to find the items you need to recover in backups.
After finding the item, you can instantly recover it with the granular recovery feature. Granular recovery saves you time in addition to reducing costs and lowering downtime.
If your RTOs are tight and you can’t afford downtime whatsoever, you need to find a way to recover your VMs instantly.
How can you do it? A modern backup solution allows you to boot the VMs directly from deduplicated backups.
The whole process takes place instantly, saving you from initiating a full recovery. When your newly booted VMs are up and running, you can migrate them to production on a permanent basis. The whole procedure won’t affect your original backup.
Did your physical server or workstation suddenly go down? If so, you need to recover your workloads as soon as you can to avoid downtime.
You can do so by recovering your physical Windows or Linux servers from backups as virtual machines if you have a mixed physical-virtual environment. The recovery process is super quick because you boot your VMs from physical machine backups.
To ensure data safety, secure the appropriate storage locations, where you can keep your data and reduce the size of your backups to save storage.
When it comes to storage locations, consider multiple options. The 3-2-1 approach calls for having at least 3 backup copies.
Store two copies on different storage media and one copy off-site. You can store your backups in a public cloud and also on tape.
Generally, the more storage locations you have, the more secure your data is. Let’s say one of your backup locations gets corrupted, which is a common occurrence. What you can do is to recover your data from another location that has a clean copy of your data.
An effective backup solution offers size-reduction techniques to tackle the storage space issue. Size-reduction technologies include:
- Compression: This works by re-encoding your original data with fewer bits of storage. The compression software searches for repeated patterns. When found, those patterns are replaced with tinier codes. This drastically reduces the size of your data.
- Deduplication: The solution compares new blocks of data with data in the backup repository. When duplicates are found, they are not copied. Instead, a reference to the original blocks is created.
- Incremental backups: Use Changed Block Tracking (CBT) to copy just those blocks of data that have changed since the last backup. This technique creates smaller backups and reduces storage space.
- Swap files/partitions exclusion: Swap data can take up lots of space. That’s why it can be detrimental to backups. A practical VM backup solution allows you to skip swap files/partitions during the backup.
Other Key Points
In addition to the key features outlined above, other points to consider when configuring your data protection are:
You want to have a speedy backup. Therefore, you need a fast network speed. A VM backup solution with network acceleration capabilities can double your backup speed over WAN and LAN.
You can also reduce your production load and achieve efficient backup performance with LAN-free transfer:
- Hot Add: Read data directly from the datastores of the VMs, which decreases your VM’s load and speeds up data transfer.
- Direct SAN Access: Read data directly from Fibre Channel or iSCSI storage area network (SAN). Thus, this software works well for VMs located on those instances.
No matter the size of your business, your backup solution has to adapt to change. If your infrastructure grows or shrinks, adjust your backup and recovery plan accordingly.
You want your VM backup solution to be both efficient and affordable at the same time. Compare the different backup VM backup software packages available on the market to make the best fit for your budget. Practical licensing models are usually per socket or per workload.
When choosing backup software for your VMware, think about three essential constituents of data protection — backups, storage, and recovery.
Explore the market and choose the VMware backup solution that has the modern features you need for running a successful and affordable VMware infrastructure.