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VMware backup still tough

VMware backup using Consolidated Backup is easier said than done, according to users at this week's VMworld show in Los Angeles.

LOS ANGELES -- VMware Inc. Infrastructure 3 (VI3), announced this summer, includes a feature called VMware Consolidated Backup (VCB) that tackles the issue of backing up virtual machines, but many users at this week's WMworld 2006 show are wary of how VCB will alter their backup environment.

VCB enables the use of a proxy server to offload backups from the host server, improving the performance of backup operations and reducing overhead from the host, according to VMware. Backup software providers CA Inc., CommVault Systems Inc., EMC Corp., IBM Tivoli, Symantec Corp. and Vizioncore Inc. announced support for VCB in September, so it's still early in the game as far as deployments go.

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"Thinking about changing our NetBackup environment to incorporate VMware is very daunting," said John McCabe, manager of systems and storage at Ernest & Young LLP. "We don't want to upset the applecart … we've got schedules running hundreds of backup jobs, and we can't just revolutionize it because of 50 VM guests."

His fears are echoed by other users, according to Brian Perry, president and senior consultant of Perry Consulting LLC, a privately owned VMware consulting firm. "Customers are worried about how big of a change VCB is, and how it integrates into their existing backup," he said.

Another question cropping up among users at the show was whether to run VCB on a proxy server, and if it's possible to get away with running it on the ESX console. "If we can get away with one less box, that would be nice," said Charles Harvey, storage systems administrator at Pacific Life Insurance Co. The company is about to start migrating production database servers onto VMware. "Backup becomes critical at this point," Harvey noted. He said he'd heard it was possible to run the proxy software on the console itself, but because it is susceptible to load, the general advice is to use a standalone server. Also, running it on the console "is a security risk, as there is too much access to the disk LUNs [logical unit number]," he said.

Similarly, John Spanitz, senior systems administrator at Rodale Inc., is toying with whether to run VCB on a proxy host or on the ESX server. "There are a few options with VCB … it's not as easy as we thought," he said. Rodale has 100 VMs on four hosts. The company is also trying to figure out when to take a regular file-level backup versus a snapshot. "We don't want them to overlap or run at the same time," he said.

Meanwhile, Michael Tharp at Mainland Information Systems Ltd., a VMware reseller in Canada, has found that heavy VMware users have already found a solution to VMware backup with products like esxRanger from Vizioncore. Moreover, to perform file-level recovery, he said users must put agents back into each VM, "which kind of takes the zing out of agentless backup."

Others note that the VCB feature is a first release and naturally there are going to be some issues with it. "But it still reduces backup licensing costs and backup overhead on the ESX server, which is a major deal," said Chris Huss of New Age Technologies Inc., a VMware reseller in Louisville, Ky.

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