Server virtualization products can work some impressive tricks—such as helping feed a multitude of new server demand without requiring companies to buy more hardware. However, the magic of virtualization cant erase the need for traditional management processes, such as system backup. While the same backup strategies that companies employ for their physical servers can be adapted to virtual machine backup, virtual servers have their own unique backup requirements.
One solution for satisfying these particular needs is Vizioncores esxRanger Professional 3.1, a Windows-based application that performs automated or on-demand backups of VMs running on VMwares ESX Servers. In eWEEK Labs tests of the product, which began shipping in March, we found esxRanger Professional 3.1 to be capable and easy to use. We also appreciated the fact that esxRanger Professional 3.1 doesnt require that agent software be installed on VMs, nor does it require that any software be installed in the ESX Servers on which it works.
We used esxRanger Professional 3.1 to create full backups of running Windows and Linux VMs, and, with our Windows test clients, we also used esxRanger Professional 3.1 to mount our backed-up VM images and pull out individual files for restoration.
Theres an evaluation version of the software available for download from www.vizioncore.com, and we recommend that sites running ESX Server and looking to bolster or build their backup strategies take the software for a spin. Again, with no agents or other software to install on your ESX Server, esxRanger Professional 3.1 is fairly easy to try out.
Companies that are evaluating VM backup solutions for ESX Server also should consider trying out PHD Consulting LLCs esXpress, which we have not tested but about which weve heard good things. Also, companies that are already using a backup solution to which theyre attached should check out their backup vendors support for plugging in to VMwares VCB (VMware Consolidated Backup) feature, which offloads some VM backup from ones ESX Server to a Windows proxy server.
Vizioncore sells its products through channel vendors, and esxRanger Professional 3.1 is priced at approximately $250 per physical CPU. A separate plug-in is required for esxRanger Professional 3.1s support for restoring individual files and for its support for working with VMwares VCB feature. Both plug-ins are available for download from Vizioncores site as well.
esxRanger Professional 3.1 is a Windows application that runs on Microsoft Windows 2000 Service Pack 1 or later. esxRanger Professional 3.1 depends on Version 1.1 of Microsofts .Net Framework, and, according to Vizioncore officials, it wont run with later versions of .Net Framework. We tested esxRanger Professional 3.1 on a desktop-class machine running Windows Server 2003 SP1. We backed up VMs hosted on a Sun Microsystems Sun Fire X4200 server running VMware ESX Server 3.0.1.
After wed installed esxRanger Professional 3.1 onto a physical Windows server, we provided the software with the address for our Virtual Center server, as well as authentication credentials with which to access the server. The software then presented us with a list of the VMs running on our ESX Server. From this list, we could select one or more machines to back up, and, for machines with multiple virtual hard drives, we could choose which drive to back up.
esxRanger Professional 3.1 ships with graphical and command-line interfaces, and we liked the way that the graphical interface displayed the command-line equivalent of the operations we were conducting in a window at the bottom of the screen.
As we clicked our way through selecting which VMs to back up, and choosing the options with which to carry out the job, esxRanger Professional 3.1 built for us a long terminal command that we could run at a command line or build into a script. esxRanger Professional 3.1 also offered us the option of turning the backup jobs we created into scheduled tasks in Windows built-in scheduled tasks facility.
With a backup target selected, we chose a location for storing our backups, launched the backup job and waited for the process to be completed. We could store our backups to any storage device that the Windows host on esxRanger Professional 3.1 could access, as well as to an NFS (Network File System) share or to a data store on our ESX Server.
We could restore our backed-up VMs by selecting them from a grid of images and by telling esxRanger Professional 3.1 onto which server to restore the VMs. When we restored one of our images to our ESX Server, the restored VM appeared in our VM inventory alongside the machine wed backed up. From here, we could discard the earlier VM and start up the restored version, or we could hang on to both VMs.
We used esxRanger Professional 3.1s file-level restore plug-in to mount the virtual disk images of VMs wed backed up and access the files within. We could browse through full or differential backups in this way, as esxRanger Professional 3.1 handled the job of assembling the full and partial backed-up images into a browsable whole.
We were able to access this data only on VMs running Windows, since the Windows host on which esxRanger Professional 3.1 runs couldnt read the ext3, or third extended files systems, partitions of our Linux guests.
By default, esxRanger Professional 3.1 compresses its VM backups, and we spent a fair amount of time waiting for our backed-up images to decompress before we could access them. We could have helped matters by installing esxRanger Professional 3.1 on a beefier machine, or we could have opted to disable compression for our backups.
In addtion to backing up VMs over a network connection between an ESX Server and our esxRanger Professional 3.1 machine, we could use VMwares consolidated backup feature to side-step the network and boost the speed of the operation. In this case, the ESX Server creates a snapshot of the VM to be backed up and stores it to a SAN (storage area network) location that is accessible from the proxy server required for VCB and from the esxRanger Professional 3.1 server. VMware doesnt support iSCSI for VCB, calling instead for a Fibre Channel SAN, but we managed to use this feature with an OpenFiler iSCSI appliance.
Advanced Technologies Analyst Jason Brooks can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.