This post was sponsored by Altaro.
If you are a Hyper-V administrator like me, then you jumped for joy when you learned that the built-in Windows Server Backup utility in Microsoft Windows Server 2012 allows you to perform live backups of your virtual machines.
That feature is all well and good if you run a small shop with few VMs. However, what if...
- You manage dozens or hundreds of VMs?
- Some VMs reside in a highly available cluster, and some are free-standing?
- Your IT security policy requires you to perform and track trial restores every week?
- You have need for granular recovery scenarios; for instance, restoring an individual file from a VM?
Altaro just released version 4.0 of their Hyper-V Backup software, and it is capable of addressing all of the previously given scenarios and more. Personally, I'm a fan of this software because it is compact, is fast, is flexible, and it just works.
Installation and initial configuration
You can download two different editions of Altaro Hyper-V Backup software:
- Free Edition: You can back up 2 VMs for free, forever
- Unlimited Edition: 30-day, fully functional trial. A license purchase enables you to back up an unlimited number of Hyper-V VMs
The installer consists of the agent component and four Microsoft Management Console (MMC)-based utilities; you'll want to install the software on each of your Hyper-V host computers.
Supported OSs include Windows Server 2008 R2, Windows Server 2012, and Hyper-V Server 2012 in a Server Core configuration.
After installation completes, you'll be prompted to open the Management Console and add virtual machines to your backup plan. I show you the Configure node of the Management Console below:
Our first step is to specify which VMs to add to our backup plan.
As you can see in the screenshot, the Configure section of the UI walk you through setting up a backup schedule step-by-step, including options for:
- Backup compression and/or encryption (yes, you can do both!)
- Backup location (targets can be a local drive, a USB drive, a network-attached storage (NAS) drive, or a network share)
- Offsite copy (we'll cover this features later in this article)
- Scheduling (the first backup is full; subsequent backups are incremental)
- Retention (you can keep onsite or offsite backups 1 day, 1 week, 2 weeks, 1 month, or 6 months)
- Notification: By providing your SMTP server address, the software will notify you as to backup progress
As you would expect, Altaro Hyper-V Backup leverages Volume Shadow Copy Service (VSS) to perform hot backups of running virtual machines. This means that VSS-aware applications and services running inside your VMS such as SQL Server or Exchange Server will commit changes to disk before the backup process is initiated.
By way of preparation, you'll want to ensure that you have Integraiton Services enabled for your Hyper-V VMs, and specifically that you've enabled the Backup (volume snapshot) feature.
Hyper-V Manager also makes provisions for (perhaps non-Windows) VMs that don't include VSS. In the Management Console, locate one of your managed VMs and click Settings. In the Hyper-V Guest VM Backup Settings dialog box, navigate to the Advanced tab and click Additional Settings for Non-VSS Aware VMs as shown in the next screenshot.
Hyper-V Backup can account for non-VSS-aware virtual machines.
You'll see the option Enable Hot Backups for this Non-VSS Aware Guest VM (recommended: OFF).
Reporting on backup and restore progress
As I stated earlier, Altaro Hyper-V Backup can notify administrators via SMTP e-mail as to backup and restore events. Alternatively, the Management Console includes a nifty Dashboard that gives you at-a-glance data concerning information that most backup admins always want to know:
- Free space left in backup drive(s)
- Size of total backup corpus
- Completion status of last several backups
- Status of offsite copies
The Management Console also includes a Reports node from which you can dig into details concerning backups and restores.
Manifold restore options
I always say that a good backup is only as good as its ability to be successfully restored. To that end, Altaro Hyper-V Backup includes a Sandbox Restore feature that largely automates the trial restore process.
As you can see in the next screenshot, we can schedule VMs for Sandbox Restore. In the Figure, I want to restore my latest backup of my Windows 8.1 virtual machine every Sunday at 1:00 PM. By verifying that my backups are sound, I save myself a LOT of potential stress and lost sleep (not to mention increase my job security).
Sandbox Restores take all the stress out of ensuring that your backups are valid.
Imagine that one of your users accidentally deleted a file from their VDI-based Windows instance. Whoops! How can you recover an individual file from the user's VM?
Enter Granular Restore to the rescue. Check out the screen below, which shows this very situation happening on my test server. In the Management Console, we can perform the following actions:
- Restore the most recent (or any) backup of a target VM to a temporary location
- Mount the associated VHD(X) hard drive files
- Retrieve any necessary file resources from the now-viewable mounted drives
What's so cool about the preceding scenario is that we don't have to "mess" with the user's own VM at all--this procedure all occurs in a "hot" fashion.
We can use Granular Restore to plug individual files from our VM backup archives.
Hyper-V Manager also gives you the ability to perform item-level restore for your virtualized Microsoft Exchange Server instances. This is very generous of Altaro to include this functionality in the license; other backup providers tack-on additional price to extend the reach of their backup tools.
Of course, true disaster recovery means we need to be able to restore a VM to a previous point of time. In the Restore VMs node of the Management Console, we can restore a selected VM either to its original location, overwriting the existing VM, or we can restore a clone of the VM to an alternate location.
What if you make use of the highly available VM scenario by combining Hyper-V with Windows failover clustering? No problem.
The Altaro Hyper-V Manager installer detects whether it is being installed on a Hyper-V server that is a participant in a failover cluster. The wizard will have you perform the following actions:
- Installs a Master Controller Node on a designated node in the cluster. This instance is used to manage VM backup across the entire cluster
- Installs only the Altaro Agent on all other nodes in the cluster
Other than that, the backup and restore workflows function the same in a cluster environment as they do in a standalone scenario. As you would hope or expect, Hyper-V Backup software does not "care" whether your VMs exist on cluster shared volumes (CSVs) or on traditional shared storage.
Offsite Backup and remote management
Altaro Hyper-V Backup includes a separate component called the Altaro Backup Server that is used for both offsite backup as well as remote management.
To configure remote connections to our local Hyper-V Server, we fire up the Altaro Backup Server and create a user account. Besides the requisite username and password, we also link Altaro accounts to specific storage areas; this helps with delegated administration.
We'll also need to open the Altaro Hyper-V Backup Configuration Manager tool to make sure that remote administration is enabled and we know our management TCP port.
Configuring our Altaro server for remote administration.
Finally, we can use the Altero Backup Server utility on another server (of course, you'll need to install the software on the remote box as well), and authenticate to the first machine by using specified credentials.
Establishing a remote admin connection.
So much for remote administration. In the Management Console, we navigate to the Offsite Copy & Seed node to specify a remote Altaro Server to which we'll copy VM backups. Ideally this target exists in a truly offsite location in another geographical area.
Specifying our offsite backup location.
You'll notice in the screenshot that we don't have to use a remote Altaro server as our offsite backup destination. Alternatively, we can use the Take a copy of the backup to a USB Drive / NAS Drive / Network Folder Share option instead.
I suppose the best endorsement of Altaro Hyper-V Backup that I can give to you is letting you know that I use the software myself in my development environment. As an author and technical trainer, I build, rebuild, and re-rebuild Hyper-V-based networks every single day. It's wonderful to know that I don't have to remember to take manual snapshots of my VMs at regular intervals to know I can roll back to a previous configuration.
In summary, here are the main things that I like about Hyper-V Backup:
- Light resource footprint on my Hyper-V hosts
- Built-in remote administration capability
- Fully scheduled hot VM backups
- Granular restore
Here are a few points of improvement that I've passed on to Altaro (feel free to add your own in the comments portion of this post):
- The reporting functionality certainly works, but the output is a bit sparse. Also, I couldn't figure out how to export report entries, which some administrators need for compliance purposes
- The Granular Restore feature takes quite a bit of time, in between "preparing the VM" and mounting the VHD file. It isn't clear to me what preparation needs to be done to the backed-up VM
The previous growth points are what holds me back from granting Hyper-V Backup 5 stars. As the product exists now: 4/5 stars.
I feel that the pricing model is generous, and you get a good value for money paid. Altaro Hyper-V Backup is a good fit for Windows systems administrators who find themselves relying more and more upon a virtualized infrastructure and need to apply proper backup and restore procedures to those VMs.