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Review: PHD Virtual Backup & Replication 5.4

March 22nd, 2012 No comments

 

Introduction

 

PHD Virtual Backup & Replication is as the name would suggest, a complete, all-in-one backup and replication package. It is available in both VMware and Citrix XenServer flavours. I have long been a user of other Virtualization Backup Solutions and up until recently, never had the chance to play with PHD’s offering. A couple of weeks ago, PHD Virtual asked  me to take a look at their Backup offering and put down my thoughts in the form of a sponsored review. That being said, I got the appliance installed in my lab environment and set about putting down my thoughts and observations about the product whilst using it for various backup, recovery, and replication tasks in my lab over the last two weeks.

 

Thoughts and Observations

 

Getting PHD Virtual Backup and running in my Virtual Lab environment was an absolute pleasure. Let’s just say the product definitely does what it says on the tin – installation was as simple as deploying the downloaded OVF file with the vSphere client (File -> Deply OVF Template), powering up the “Virtual Backup Appliance” and setting up some basic network settings. I would say the longest part of the installation for me was finding the line in the installation steps that said “Press CTRL + N to enter the network settings in the console” (which wasn’t long at all)! After entering my network settings, I had the choice of either browsing to the IP address of my appliance, or running the PHDVB_Install.exe file to get the Virtual Appliance “Management” console installed. I simply ran the installer and within 8 minutes or so (from start to finish) I had PHD Virtual Backup & Replication up and running in my vSphere lab.

 

 

The product supports VMware and Citrix (XenServer) in terms of hypervisor platforms. As stated above, in this review I will be working with a VMware vSphere 5.0 environment, and have therefore put the VMware edition to the test.

 

The observation I liked this far into my experience was that I didn’t have to make the choice as to whether I should be running my backup solution on a physical or virtual machine – its simple – the product is a Virtual Appliance. You deploy the initial appliance, and if needed, scale by deploying more virtual appliances. This means you don’t need to worry about managing a separate physical server(s) for your backup solution. This is just one of the reasons why PHD Virtual Backup is so easy to deploy.

The Virtual Appliance is pre-configured with the following specifications:

  • 1 vCPU
  • 1GB RAM
  • 8GB disk
In terms of actual backup storage, you do of course have a few options.
  • Add a Virtual Disk to the Appliance itself (VMDK)
  • Configure Network storage (which could be):
    • a CIFS target
    • an NFS target

 

I chose to use a separate NFS mount on a Virtual Appliance I use for general purpose storage and backup in my lab, so I simply opened the appliance management console (right click in vSphere Client -> PHD Virtual Backup -> Console) and went to “Backup Storage” under “Configuration” to configure my NFS datastore as a backup target. You can also set up a couple of thresholds for warning / stop levels in terms of free disk space on your target, as well as enable/disable backup compression at this stage.

Access to the management console is simple via right-click in the vSphere Client

 

Configuring Backup Storage for the VBA

 

 

Backing up VMs

 

As the virtual appliance integrates in with the vSphere client, dealing with configuration tasks and actually setting up backups for your VMs is simple. No need to remote to another server or open up a console to your backup appliance VM. For my testing I configured a couple of different backup jobs – one to backup my VC, Update Manager and other VI VMs and one to backup a couple of general purpose VMs in my lab.

Backup speeds themselves were of a good level and on par with what I would expect from a product that utilises the VMware vStorage APIs for Data Protection (VADP). My first job that I ran took a little while to do the first initial (full) backup, but after this the subsequent runs of the backup job correctly used CBT (Change Block Tracking) to pick up on only changed blocks and copy these up, significantly reducing backup times of my VMs. VMware Hotadd is also utilised to help with quicker VM Backup times. Each job that runs gives you some detailed information on statistics such as:

 

  • Dedupe Ratios (Per VM and Per individual VM Disk)
  • Job average speed
  • Dedupe Ratios (Per Job)
  • Total amount of Data Written (useful for tracking how well CBT is working for example)
  • CBT Enabled/Not
  • Scheduling / Time details

 

Job details view

 

A nice feature I found at this stage was the ability to look at a detailed job log right from the console. Let’s say you have a job or VM in a job that gave a warning or error message for some reason, and you wished to find out the cause. All you need to do is right-click the job name and select “View Log”. This pops up a window with a detailed, timestamped job log, allowing you to dig in to each step of the backup process and see what happened at each stage of the particular backup job.

 

Detailed job log view

 

File Level Restore

 

Restoring files is also a simple task. From the main console, there is a “FLR” (File Level Recovery) section which handles this process. I tested restoring files from within two different VMs using this console. Both were Windows Guests (one Server 2003 Standard and one Server 2008 R2 Standard VM). The process went as follows:

  • Under “Backup Catalog” where your previous backup jobs are listed, select the VM / VM Disk you would like to restore from.
  • Click the “FLR” button.
  • Go  through the “Backup to Share” wizard and tick on the option to “Add target to iSCSI Initiator on this computer”.
  • Finish Wizard, and the VM Disks are mounted on the local machine and are now accessible.

Select VM Disk to initiate FLR from under Backup Catalog.

 

Following the Wizard through to mount the VM Disk/s on local machine for File Level Restore

 

 

 

 

Disks for two different VM disks are now mounted and ready to be accessed.

 

If you take a look at the Microsoft iSCSI Initiator tool you can see the two targets that have been mounted…

 

 

Incidentally, doing file-level restores from Linux/Unix based VMs can also be done by PHD VB. You just need to supplement the restore process with a third-party tool such as “Ext2explore”. You will follow the same process to mount the VM disks using the FLR wizard, but then just use Ext2explore to actually browse the mounted disk/s instead of Windows Explorer.

 

Restoring full VMs

 

I must say that I really like the features available in PHD Virtual Backup & Replication when it comes to doing full/partial restores of VMs. The wizard you use is nicely laid out and functional. You also get some great restore options such as; appending a “_restored” tag to the end of your restored VM name, auto-generation of a new MAC address for the restored VM, and changing of the default VM network (portgroup).

These are all great features  when it comes to restoring VMs. Especially if you are restoring back into a production environment alongside the original VM and would like to ensure that there are no network conflicts for example. I have a dedicated, isolated VM network for testing (no vSwitch uplinks to physical adapters) so the option to change the default network on the VM to restore was perfect for me to test with.

 

Selecting VMs to restore by Latest or by backup date/time order

 

The excellent array of restore options available when doing full/partial VM restores

 

VM Replication

 

PHD Virtual Backup also has replication functionality. Ideally you will want to have more than one VBA (Backup Appliance) running. For example, one in your DR Site, and one in your Production site. The appliance in your DR site will essentially connect in to the Backup Storage at your production site and hook into your backup jobs done there to find the latest changes of the VM backups done to replicate. So ideally when you set up a particular replication job, you should schedule it to start a short while after the relevant backup job completes. This ensures you get the latest changes replicated. The replication job will fetch only the changes since the last run. To enable replication, you just need to complete a once off configuration task using the PHD VB Console – adding a Replication Datastore. All this is, is pointing the appliance to an existing PHD VB Backup storage area – this can be a CIFS, NFS or VMDK Disk store that you are currently using for backups. As with VM Restores, you also get some useful options when replicating to change VM networks (VM portgroups) or auto-generate new MAC addresses for replicated VMs. I should also mention that you are also able to do replication even with just one VBA.

From the PHD Console, you are able to test your replicated VMs. This is quite a handy feature and after putting a replicated VM into “TESTING” mode, you can then use the vSphere client to power up your replicated VM and perform any testing and validation you might require. A snapshot is added to the VM to ensure that the state of the VM pre-testing is preserved. Once testing is complete, you simply just click “Stop Test” in the console. The VM is powered down and changes are rolled back to the pre-testing state.

 

Testing replicated VMs with the console

 

Summary

 

Pros

 

  • “All in one” backup solution (everything you need in one Virtual Backup Appliance).
  • Simple and quick to deploy (or scale by adding more VBAs).
  • Good feature set (VM Backup, File Level Restore, Full VM restore, and Replication).
  • Easy to work with – simple/logical User Interface.
  • Integrates with the vSphere client for quick and easy access to Configuration, Backup, Restore and Replication options.
  • Great File-level restore – quick and easy access to files within VM backups (Windows or Linux/Unix).
  • Nice features available to change networking settings on restored VMs for testing or running alongside existing VMs.
  • Configurable VM Backup retention settings
  • Processing of multiple VMs at once in a backup job – allows VMs to be backed up in multiple streams instead of a “serial” fashion.

 

Cons

 

  • No network “fine tuning” options – example: fine tuning deduplication ratios when backing up over a WAN or LAN as opposed to direct disk storage. This would essentially allow you to have quicker backups for local storage jobs (albeit larger) or longer backups, but with smaller sizes to transmit over WAN links.
  • A couple of small caveats when using Replication (such as VM configuration changes are not replicated when changing settings on the original source VM, to the replicated VM).
  • No automation options – this would be nice to have in terms of backup, restore, replication or reporting automation. (A PowerShell module would be nice to have).

 

Conclusion

 

At the end of the day, PHD Virtual Backup is a great integrated Backup and Recovery product, with a little bit of room for improvement to add some extra “nice to have” features. The VBA (Virtual Backup Appliance) is dead easy to deploy and manage, and so is managing your backup, restore and replication processes. I think these are the best parts of the appliance. Whilst using it I found that each of the various Backup and DR processes I needed were easy to use through the combination of a well laid out UI and interface that “just works”. Access to files in VM Backups via the file-level restore wizard was a highlight for me – it didn’t take long at all to get at historic files and restore them using the “FLR” Wizard.

The appliance offers a good selection of options, but these could be bettered by offering some form of automation (perhaps PowerShell access) and some more advanced settings for power-users. My thought was that some more advanced backup job options could be made available for power users to fine tune compression or deduplication ratios.

A free trial of the product is available and I would definitely encourage you to take a look at this – as mentioned above, being so easy to deploy and manage it won’t be long before you are up and running. This Backup & Replication product does offer everything you need to handle DR for your VMware Virtual Environment.

 

Useful resources:

 

Installing PHD Virtual Backup & Replication for VMware vSphere

 

PHD Virtual Backup & Replication 5.4 Trial

 

VMware Workstation 8.0 – Mini review and walkthrough of some features

October 15th, 2011 No comments

 

I have up until now been using my VCP 4 copy of Workstation 7.0 for all my VM and vSphere Lab purposes. It has been great, and has allowed me to do a lot more testing / prototyping. Workstation 8.0 was recently released, so I decided to grab the evaluation version to play around with. My first impression: “Wow!” There are tons of new features available, as well as a nice newly redesigned UI. I’ll detail the features that mean the most to me to start with, and then walkthrough a very handy feature of VMware Workstation 8.0 – importing VMs from your local Workstation into a vCenter environment!

 

Virtualising Intel VT-x/EPT or AMD-V/RVI

First off, the main pull of Workstation 8 for me was the ability to virtualise Intel VT-x/EPT or AMD-V/RVI. When enabled, this passes through these special CPU feature sets into your VMs, which for ESXi / vSphere labs, means you can now run nested x64 virtual machines. Previously with Workstation 7.0 I was limited to only being able to power up 32 bit VMs in my virtualised vSphere lab environment. Enabling this option for virtualised ESXi 4.1 or 5.0 hosts now allows me to power up 64 bit VMs, which is great!

 

 

Connect Workstation to a vCenter or ESXi host

This is also a solid new feature. I was able to easily add my Virtualised vCenter server into Workstation (the platform that was running the VM anyway!) as a node. From there you open up other new features, such as…

 

Uploading VMs running in Workstation to vCenter

Awesome feature in my opinion. In the past I would have used something like VMware Converter to convert a Workstation VM into a vSphere compatible VM and then upload it to vCenter. Now it is a simple case of drag and drop, or a couple of menu clicks once you have added your vCenter server as a node in Workstation.

 

3D Acceleration and Surround audio features for VMs

This is something I have been waiting for from VMware, not the typical kind of thing I would usually look at for business purposes (unless I was doing CAD or 3D modelling), but I am an avid gamer, so this is of great interest to me. I’ll definitely be testing running a couple of my games inside a VM to try this out.
 

 

A quick walk through uploading VMs from Workstation to vCenter

 

Uploading a Virtual Machine running on your local machine running in Workstation 8.0 to your vCenter server or ESX / ESXi host is really simple – either a drag and drop affair, or you can right click the machine you need to move and choose to upload it somewhere else. Here’s a quick rundown on how to do this.

 

I’ll be adding my vCenter server to Workstation. Just click File -> Connect To Server and then specify the IP / name of your vCenter server. Specify some valid vCenter credentials and click OK. Here is my vCenter server added as a node:

 

 

Next up, we just simply right-click a VM running in Workstation 8, and choose Manage -> Upload

 

 

Select your vCenter server connection, specify a folder or location to place the VM, choose a shared Datastore to store the VM on, and then finish the wizard. Your VM should begin to upload to vCenter! If you hit any problems, check the permissions of the account you connected to vCenter with, as well as DNS – if your local workstation does not resolve the FQDN of your vCenter server or ESXi hosts correctly it will give you an error.

 

 

 

 

 

Out of interest, here is the spike in Write traffic to my lab’s iSCSI Datastore being used to house the imported VM whilst the upload was in progress.

 

 

So that is the quick walkthrough – nice and simple. You could save yourself a couple of clicks in the process above by simply dragging and dropping the VM too! Have you tried Workstation 8.0 out yet? What are you primarily using it for? I would also like to know whether VMware will be handing out version 8 licenses to candidates who pass their VCP 5 exams too. I’ll be taking my updating my VCP 4 to 5 soon and would love to have an upgrade to my Workstation 7.0 license!

 

Now reading: Cocos2d for iPhone 0.99 Beginner’s Guide

January 17th, 2011 No comments

I was recently offered a copy of Pablo Ruiz’s “Cocos2d for iPhone 0.99 Beginner’s Guide” eBook to read through and provide comments / feedback on – needless to say I was quite excited to get stuck in, however I am still on holiday in South Africa so for now I am just downloading the eBook and will save it for when I am back in the UK.

I actually can’t wait to have a read through. cocos2d is by far the most fun I have had programming with, and I’m sure this book will be a valuable asset.

You can grab a copy over at PacketPub if you are interested in learning about programming with (imo) the best 2D gaming engine for iOS. At the moment it is going on special for around £25.00 which is not bad at all for a guide encompassing a lot of what cocos2d has to offer.

Benchmarking – Corsair Reactor R60 SSD vs conventional HDs

July 21st, 2010 No comments

So the other day was my first venture into the world of Solid State Storage. I purchased a Corsair Reactor R60. Not the best of SSDs, in fact it is more on the budget side when it comes to SSD storage. It uses a JMicron JMF612 controller and support TRIM provided your OS such as Windows 7 does. The drive was however good value for money in terms of size and performance. Here is a rundown of some of the features straight from Corsair’s site.

  • Maximum sequential read speed 250MB/s
  • Maximum sequential write speed 170MB/s
  • Latest generation JMicron JMF612 controller and MLC NAND flash for fast performance.
  • 128MB DRAM cache for stutter-free performance
  • Internal SATA II connectivity
  • USB 2.0 connectivity for disk cloning or for use as external drive
  • TRIM support (O/S support required)
  • No moving parts for increased durability and reliability and quieter operations over standard hard disk drives
  • Decreased power usage for increased notebook or netbook battery life

I had a clean installation of Windows on my previous OS drive, so I decided it would be a good time to benchmark the SSD against this. I also got hold of some results using the exact same benchmark and scenario but using 8 x Velociraptor 300GB SATA Drives in RAID 60 on a dedicated Areca RAID card. Here are the results. I have used IOmeter for the benchmarking, using a Transfer Request size of 4KB. The results are taken from the Command Queue Depth of 4 results in each instance.

I must say that I am extremely impressed with this SSD. Even for budget / mid range drive, it is phenomenally fast when comparing it to conventional HD storage. Windows loads much quicker and so do the games that I have installed on it. Everything snaps open as the drive is able to access any area of storage almost instantly. File copying performance is also extremely impressive. Even when comparing to a high end RAID controller with multiple high speed Velociraptor drives spinning at 15000rpm in RAID, this drive pulls ahead in all benchmarks. As a dedicated OS / Application drive, I would definitely recommend one.

Next up, I think I am going to try this drive out as dedicated VM storage drive and see how VMDKs perform on it!

PST file importing hell – A better way to import PST files into Exchange

May 13th, 2010 No comments

A short while ago I wrote an article for the SysAdmin section on Simple-Talk.com. The article covers a bad experience I had importing PST files into Exchange mailboxes specifically to get them archived by some specialist archiving software. A short while afterwards I was introduced to Red Gate’s PST Importer (via an early access program). After trying out the PST importer I was happy to report that the headaches involved with doing PST imports had basically been solved by this excellent bit of Software.

So if you are interested in reading the article, please hop on over to Simple-Talk.com and have a read!

My first Simple-Talk.com article – The Great PST Migration

Hilarious “Windows 7” review

October 7th, 2009 No comments

For anyone looking for a good bit of humour take a look at Chris Bucholz’s “A Review of the Pirated Copy of Windows 7 I Bought On eBay” after he receives his “Windows 7” purchase from a dodgy ebay user. This brings back some fond memories of an old 486 DX2-66 running Windows 95 I had back in the 90s.

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