Hi there, and thanks for reading this blog post about Altaro VM Backup. I was asked by the guys at Altaro to take a look at their latest release. I said yes, and I also managed to persuade Altaro to make a donation to the charity (aquabox.org) who I’m volunteering for whilst I look for a new role. So firstly, a big thank you goes out to Altaro for agreeing to this arrangement. I think its setup that works well for all. Altaro gets exposure to their new offering; I get stick time with a product that’s new to me – and a good cause benefits as well. I managed to raise £280 for Aquabox. If you want to donate to Aquabox as well click the logo!
Lets start with some basic facts. Altaro has won a number of pludits from the reviewers on Spiceworks and VirtualizationAdmin.com. Their Altaro VM Backup software can backup both VMware vSphere as well as Microsoft HyperV, so is handy for those people working in a hybrid environment. It’s licensed on a per-host basis, not per-socket or CPU, so customers who go for a high-density consolidation ratios (the number of VMs per hosts) are really going to benefit from a licensing perspective. It’s chocked full of all the features you would normally expect from any enterprise backup system. Altaro VM Backup is fully compatible with Microsoft VSS, and that means you will get a consistent backup from those tricky customers like Microsoft SQL. The software is granular enough to restore individual files and emails from within a virtual machine backup. Finally, a number of backup targets are supported including USB External Drives and Flash Drives eSata External Drives, File Server Network Shares (via UNC), NAS devices (via UNC), RDX Cartridges – as well as the Offsite Altaro Backup Server with WAN acceleration. In my own case I pointed my simple Altaro Server to my local NAS box that already had backup shared out accessible to Microsoft Windows, the same NAS is visible to my VMware ESXi hosts on the same network using NFS.
As you might expect the setup routine was a relatively trivial affair, and indeed the software itself does a good job of walking you through the 3-step routine to provide the core details need to do your first test backup – this means adding your VMware vCenter, individual VMware ESXi Hosts or Microsoft Hyper-V Hosts.
Each of these stages has a ‘test connection’ component before you proceed, tha you can see in this screen grab below:
The next stage is adding your storage options for carrying out the backup itself. You can opt for a directly connected device, or for a remote location supported by UNC. In my case my Altaro VM Backup Server was a Windows 2012 R2 virtual machine, with access to my remote NAS.
As you can see once a backup target has been added its simply a case of dragging and dropping a VM to that target. From this point onwards most of the admin tasks are of a drag-and-drop variety – dragging VMs to predefinied schedules and retentention policys, so you can control the frequency of backups, and hold old backups are disgarded. As my lab has been offline for a year, I don’t really have that many VMs to backup, except of course the infrastructure VMs that make up the lab itself. So I decided to backup these VMs as a matter of course.
The V7 Edition boasts a number of new features. The first is “Augmented Inline Deduplication”. This decreases the time it takes to both take and restore a backup. It creates the smallest backup size, and doesn’t require you to group VMs together to get the benefits. The fact that its inline means the deduplication process isn’t run as a post-backup process. This is important because the storage savings that deduplication brings mean little in real terms if you still need the temporary space required to carry out the backup. By definition backups often mean backing up the same bit of data that repeats itself in different VMs over and over again, and this deduplication cancels out bloat in backups.
Altaro have published blogs that explain this augmented deduplication process. This blogpost is a centred around Hyper-V and they have a very similar one for VMware as well. Calculating the upfront exact amount of potential savings any customer will get from any dedupe process is difficult. However, the Altaro VM Backup Dashboard does a good job of showing those dedupe and compression savings.
Also new to V7 is “Boot from Backup”, it’s the ability to power on a VM directly from the source backup. Typically, this means a network location like a CIFS/NFS server share/export is mounted directly to the hypervisor and powered on. That means the IO performance will be constrained by the disk capabilities of the system backing it. Remember this is merely away of getting the VM up and running in the shortest possible time. In most cases the availability issue trumps any short-term performance hit, because it’s the clever stuff going on in the background that matters. In the background the restore process is continuing – once the restore process has completed, all you need to do is schedule a small maintenance window to shutdown the “boot from backup” and replace it with the restored copy. As you might expect, a reboot takes less time than waiting for a full VM restore.
The “boot from backup” feature has two modes – a verification and recovery mode, and of course the performance mileage will vary dependent on the qualities and capabilities of the storage backing that VM’s backup target location.
Once you have gone through the usual suspects of selecting the mode, backup location and VM itself – you get granular control over the way VM is brought up. This includes attributes such as renaming the VM and ensuring its network card is in a disconnected state – to avoid conflicts with the existing VM.
VM Backup V7 will soon promises a feature called Cloud Management Console (CMC), which will allow administrators to monitor and manage remotely all their backup installations using a single tool that can be accessed from any web browser – without VPN or any requirement to be on-site. The CMC dashboard gives a more site-by-site or customer-by-customer point of view and will be designed for a more multi-tenant approach to backup management.
Well, as I stated earlier everything you’d expect from an enterprise backup solution is pretty much there. So along side multi-hypervisor support you’ll see an impressive list of features:
- Drastically reduce backup storage requirements on both local and offsite locations, and therefore significantly speed up backups with Altaro’s unique Augmented Inline Deduplication process
- Back up live VMs by leveraging Microsoft VSS with Zero downtime
- Full support for Cluster Shared Volumes & VMware vCenter
- Offsite Backup Replication for disaster recovery protection
- Compression and military grade Encryption
- Schedule backups the way you want them (View video)
- Specify backup retention policies for individual VMs (View video)
- Back up VMs to multiple backup locations
So there are plenty of positives to be hand, along side a competitive licensing policy… but….
If there’s one repeated criticism levelled at Altaro VM Backup is the lack of public cloud as a backup targets. So for offsite backup use your very much dependent on having another site in which to host the Altaro VM Backup Offsite Server. Now for many small businesses this might not be an issue, as many SMBs actually have more than one location – such as their main warehouse facility and the customer-facing location. However, for SMBs that literally only have one location this is tricky. Such customers might look to services like Amazon S3, Glacier or Azure as way of getting their backups a distance from the core site. The alternative is transporting removable media to another location – and that feels decidedly 1990’s for an era where data can and should be held anywhere.
I raised this issue with the guys at Altaro and they pointed me to blogpost they have which show using the Altaro VM Backup Office Server in Azure. The first blogpost covers off the planning and pricing aspects of placing an Altaro Offsite Server in Microsoft Azure. The second blogpost explains the process of how to setup it up. This configuration is something that Altaro intends to fully develop and it in the pipeline, and part of an overall cloud strategy – but they weren’t understandably able to give me an ETA on that – because it would be commercial sensitive to do so.
If you are familiar with virtualisation and have been following the backup space for virtualization for a while – there are no surprises here. What’s certainly true for me is that a new tier of backup vendors is entering an already crowded space. This is not dissimilar to the shake-up we saw in the storage space in the last 5 years. Features that were once unique and only available from premium vendors are now going mainstream. The question remains – if you are working with a premium mainstream vendor what unique features are they offering you that you can’t get elsewhere from a relatively new player in the market who is hitting the streets with very attractive pricing and licensing policies? So I see it as a mark of ‘due diligence’ to do a scoping out of alternatives, rather than simply disengaging the brain and signing the renewal contract. You don’t do that with any other insurance premium, so why do that with your backup insurance premium?
Finally, for home labs and small environments, that need basic features, they can also use the free edition that enables backup up to two VMs for free, valid forever.