#VMUGIT HandsOnDay: Acronis VMProtect 7

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Lat week we hosted, as part of VMUGIT HandsOnDay series, Acronis with their VMProtect 7 software.

Acronis is globally known for their TrueImage software, a cloning solution I used in the past like thousands of others with great success. So I’ve been suprised at first to know TrueImage nowadays is only 10% of Acronis incomes, a sign they are moving towards different solutions and markets.

VMProtect is a software developed specifically for virtualized environments, in fact it supports only vSphere and only from 4.0 and above. One of the distinghiusing features of the software, derived from the TrueImage experience and its Universal Restore, is the ability to do convertion from physical machines.

The product can be installed as a Windows software (useful for physical servers) or by deploying a Virtual Appliance (Linux based). This is an interesting option, since it allows fast deployment times and help to save on Windows licenses. Is it possible to install any number of appliances (licensing is based on the number of managed ESXi sockets) and to distribute backup load on the appliances.
At the moment, these appliances cannot be coordinated, so you need to manually created different backup jobs in every appliace and design accordingly your backup jobs and their executions, to avoid jobs from different appliances saving data from the same datastore, thus creating an overload on the datastore itself.

Backup activities, like in any other solution based on VMware vStorage API (VADP), get advantage of CBT and use Hot Add as the preferred method.

Even if are available different backup schemes like classic GFS and others, the preferred methos is called by Acronis “Always Incremental”: inside a unique backup files the software saves every virtual machine of the same job, and all the delta data coming from CBT in the following runs. These blocks are indexed inside the single backup file, that has inside itself all the restore points of the same VM. During a restore you can choose which restore point to use.
This approach is for sure innovative and different from other cuncurrent solutions, one of its pros is the indipendence of the backup file from the software (it can be moved and read by another appliance) but one of it cons is the risk of loosing all the restore points of all the VMs inside the job after a corruption or loss of this file.

Another interesting feature is a vClient plugin, able to manage part of the available features in the native web console. This is useful for those who prefer to have all the administration tools directly inside the vClient, even if it is possible to connect only one appliance.

Another option is the backup of a ESXi (4.1 o 5.0) configuration: for those who do not have VMware licenses with host profiles it can be a solution to save and restore ESXi configuration. For sure an ESXi node can be installed and configured in few minutes, but some sections like networking can be time consuming and boring, especially without distributed switches. Keep in mind tough the saved configuration cannot be “generalized” to clone several ESXi, but only to restore the original server, since all the values like hostname and ip addresses are restored.

Last, for the backup features, Acronis has its own “Cloud” remote backup solution, thanks to some datacenters where you can send vmProtect backups. For Europe, datacenter is located in Strasburg, so it’s compliant with European Community laws about private data ant their phisical location.

About recovery, it can obviously restore the entire VM or single files (File Level Recovery in 2012 is not even a feature to be declared in my opinion, but something to be blamed about if not available) but in this case is not able to restore files in the original position inside a VM, but it exports the requested files in a zip file to be than manually managed.

vmProtect can create specific backups of Exchange Server elements (2003 and later) and to extract than from the backup specific mailbox or email. Those objects are not directly re-injected in Exchange, but Acronis gives you a PST file, and you will then need MAPI libraries to restore the objects yourself.

another feature we have been able to see are replicas, that offer failover and failback as in Veeam Backup. Unlike this competitor, vmProtect cannot save multiple restore points of the same VM, but only the last one and updating it at every run.

As its main competitor, even vmProtect can start a saved VM  directly from the backup file without the need to restore it, using the same “trick”: it publishes a temporary NFS datastore showing the VM files and registering both the datastore and the VM in vCenter.

To summarize, vmProtect is a good solution, it has a fair list of functions, some of them different from the competition (scheduling options and backup encryption for example) and other that left me doubtful (the single backup file for all the retention points, or the lack of PowerShell support to automate the tasks). None the less, they are amoving in the right direction and they can push their competitors to offer even better products.

For sure they need to offer some sort of centralized management between the appliances, so to have a coordination of backup jobs and be more attractive to enterprise customers. Its price (399 euros per socket, only 1 version available) has been adjusted in a way to compete in an aggressive market where there are already other ruling competitors, by technology or by market share.