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Disaster recovery for virtualized workloads is different from physical workloads in a couple of important ways. For one thing, our VMs may exist on cluster nodes, and their host node may change over time. In other words, VMs are a heck of a lot more agile (read: moving target) than physical servers.
For another thing, the ease of spinning up virtual machines can easily lead to VM "sprawl" and inconsistent backup and recovery testing practices.
Vembu Technologies is an independent software vendor (ISV) founded in 2002 and headquartered in Chennai, India. In addition to their VMBackup offering that we're examining today, Vembu makes the following additional software products that make up the Vembu Backup, Replication, and Disaster Recovery (BDR) Suite:
- ImageBackup: "Bare metal" backup and recovery for physical servers
- NetworkBackup: File/folder backup solution intended for database workloads (Exchange Server, SQL Server, Active Directory, etc.)
- OnlineBackup: File/folder/database backup solution in which Vembu's own public cloud serves as the backup repository
- SaaSBackup: Backup tool for cloud-based Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) apps such as Office 365 and Google Apps
Vembu VMBackup architecture ^
VMBackup is clearly aimed primarily at smaller IT shops with limited budgets. However, the solution can scale to a multi-site architecture. Take a look at the following architectural diagram I whipped up in Microsoft Visio, and I'll explain each component:
- BDR Backup Server: This is the hub of your VM backup architecture. You manage the solution through a simple web portal, and backup metadata is stored in relational (MySQL) and non-relational (MongoDB) databases.
- Backup repositories: These can be SMB/NFS file shares hosted on NAS appliances or individual servers, SAN targets, or local disk volumes. Vembu uses a proprietary virtualized file system called VembuHIVE that takes care of indexing, metadata, encryption, and compression. Note that VMBackup does not offer native deduplication.
- Proxy: This is the client version of VMBackup, and can be used to extend your VMBackup infrastructure between sites. Essentially, the proxy forwards backup jobs to your central VMBackup server, and handles the metadata, encryption, and compression functions.
- Offsite DR: This is basically another full VMBackup instance, but the idea here is to use this server as an offsite backup target.
- Cloud DR: This is Vembu's own public Cloud where you can optionally send offsite backups using AES-256 encryption.
Product installation and configuration ^
First of all, you should know that Vembu licenses VMBackup separately for VMware or Hyper-V hypervisors. As of this writing in Fall 2016, VMBackup for VMware costs $360 per host CPU socket, and VMBackup for Hyper-V costs $240 per host CPU socket. Note that this is the annual subscription model. When you compare this pricing structure to Vembu's competition, it is attractive. That said, what can this solution actually do?
You can download a Vembu VMBackup free evaluation from their website and check out its accompanying installation guide for instructions. Essentially, this is how I'd describe the VMBackup installation process, assuming you use a Windows Server host:
- As of this writing, the product is certified for Windows Server 2012 R2, but not for Windows Server 2016. However, according the vendor Windows Server 2016 is supported and will be added to their sources soon.
- Web portal works with IE v11, Firefox v28 and above, and Chrome v34 and above. Curiously, there's no mention of Edge ;). You can customize the web server to a limited degree; basically, you can change the default listening port and bind an SSL/TLS certificate.
- The installer will deploy a MySQL and MongoDB database instanced on the local host. You can customize their listener port numbers and file system locations.
According to Vembu's documentation library, you can deploy any Vembu server role on physical or virtual servers.
Here are the default port assignments for core Vembu services. Remember that you'll also have your HTTP(s), MySQL, and Mongo DB ports to be concerned with:
- TCP 32004 for backup/restore/delete/replication requests
- TCP 6060 and 6061 for processing web service requests
- TCP 32005 for user interface/web portal communications
- TCP 42005 for Vembu integration services (it isn't clear what this is, based on my study of Vembu's documentation)
The following screenshot shows you the dashboard from the Vembu VMBackup web administration console.
For completeness, I should say that you can deploy VMBackup on Ubuntu Linux as well as on Windows.
Before you schedule your first virtual machine backup or replication job, you must configure your storage. As you can see in the following screenshot, you can apply alternate credentials to remote storage targets like network drives.
Next, you can add your virtualization hosts and schedule your backup or replication options. The configuration steps are basically the same for Hyper-V and VMware hosts, but you do need to add them separately.
VMBackup core feature set ^
Vembu boasts a 15-minute recovery time objective (or RTO, which is the time duration for recovering a backed-up VM after a disaster) and recovery point objective (or RPO, which is the point in time from which you can recover a backed-up VM after a disaster).
You can specify the following options when you create a Hyper-V or VMware backup job:
- Host credentials
- Which VMs on the host you want to back up
- Which VM logical disks you want to exclude from the backup job
- What schedule you want the backup job to use. Options include hourly, daily, or weekly. You can always run backup jobs on-demand
- What kind of full/incremental backup retention policy you need for your compliance requirements
- Whether you want to perform "interstitial" full backups to reduce the size of your incremental copies
One feature I really like about Vembu VMBackup is its ability to verify your backups. For example, VMBackup can automatically launch a backed-up VM to ensure its consistency, and it can even send a VM state screenshot to your administrators via e-mail.
As I said earlier, Vembu uses a proprietary virtual file system called VembuHIVE that brings the following features to the table:
- Automatic scaling of your storage repositories
- Version control and error correction
- Compression, deduplication and encryption
As far as how Vembu disaster recovery works, here are your options in a nutshell:
- Quick VM recovery: Restore your backed-up VM to its original host/cluster node or to another host or node.
- Instant File Recovery: Mount a VM's virtual disk(s) to your recovery server's file system in order to perform file-level restores
- Bare Metal Recovery: Here you can build a Vembu Recovery CD and apply a backed-up VM to a physical server (P2V scenario)
If you want to handle granular restore of data from Microsoft Server databases (Exchange Server, SQL Server, Active Directory, or SharePoint Server), then you need to buy one product and download another:
- Vembu OnlineBackup: Required to back up the aforementioned data stores
- Vembu Universal Explorer: The client GUI from which you can mount and pluck data from previous data stores. Note that you'll need to install SQL Server 2014 Express and Microsoft Outlook (!) on your administrative workstation to use this product. I show you one of the Universal Explorer wizard screens in the following screenshot.
Wrapping up ^
Here is what I like about Vembu VMBackup:
- flexible architecture and scales between sites and to the (Vembu) cloud pretty well
- decent documentation library
- relatively simple backup and recovery workflow
- nice backup validation routines
- competitive pricing
The main criticism I have of Vembu's VMBackup architecture is their lack of integration with the leading public cloud providers; namely, Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure. However, Vembu Cloud DR leverages Amazon AWS for its cloud infrastructure.
In conclusion, I encourage you to download the free product demo, install it on a test VM, and kick the proverbial tires. In Vembu VMBackup, you have a relatively simple, cost-effective, cross-hypervisor disaster recovery solution.