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VMware snapshots and Backup Exec 20.1

We are a schoolhouse, so I'm sure that I am using Backup Exec and VMware differently than most organizations. With that said, I have over 2800 virtual machines to backup across 16 ESXi 6.5 servers. I NEED to be able to backup the existing VMware snapshots as these are used to "reset" VM's to various states for classroom use. Currently, Backup Exec will back up and restore the VMs just fine, but we lose the snapshots.

The purpose of the VMware snapshots is to be able to quickly "reset" a virtual machine to a known good state. I do NOT want to have to have multiple backups of each VM and try to restore from tape every time a student makes an error. Right now, instructors can go into vCenter and reset the VM within about 15 seconds.

Any thoughts/ideas?

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4 Replies

Re: VMware snapshots and Backup Exec 20.1

Backup Exec is designed to take a new snapshot (using the VMware snapshot mechanism not ours) of the current state of a VM and then backup that newly created snapshot, we cannot hook into existing snapshots, which doesn't really meet your use - in fact most backup products that protect VMware VMs probably work in a similar way so not really sure you will find a good solution to achieve what you want. You kind of need a Disaster Recovery product for VMware itself that will also backup the configs and datastore content, and not a product designed to backup VMs (I have no idea if such a product exists)

In fact the way you are using VMware is not recommended as maintaining lots of snapshots can affect performance. OK training environments don't usually worry too much about performance, but products designed to protect business data  don't usually get designed for or tested against test and training environments that use unique concepts only as a way of making training more efficient.

The usual way to reset a VM to a known good state is to use templates and re-provision from the template, however if you are trying to maintain a sequence of known good states for a single VM then that won't help you very much

What you could do with Backup Exec is

1) Backup to disk instead of tape as restores are faster (and you can then also use a function called instant recovery (but not for 2800 VMs at the same time)

2) Backup the VM it its initial state as a full backup

3) Make your desired changes for 2nd state of the VM and then back that up as an Incremental backup

4) Repeat step 3 for the 3rd state etc

You will then be able to chose which state to restore as a point in time from any one of the full or incremental sets. You will also be able to redirect to give the VM a different name, which might mean if all students use the same image you only need one set of backups of the stages of the VM itself.  (although note the actual hostname inside the VM is not changed when redirecting a restore).

BUT this method will never allow you to recreate the snapshot sequence (as restoring an incremental would just create a VM with no snapshots but matching the point in time of the incremental)  The only way to recreate the snapshot functionality would be only restore the full and then get an admin to work through the stages making a new snapshot as they reach each stage.





Re: VMware snapshots and Backup Exec 20.1

Colin -- thanks for the response -- that is pretty much what I thought was going on based on the research that I had done.

I do have a follow-up question:

Since there is an agent for VMware that is loaded, is there any thought to using that agent to allow backup of the VMFS file system? This would allow for backup of snapshots (since they are simply additional files on the file system).

We understand that we are doing things in a "not recommended" way, but even the VMware instructor we brought in couldn't recommend any other method that could get us what we need to accomplish in a timely manner. When a student makes a mistake in the VM environment, we don't have time to restore from tape. On the other hand, I have plenty of drive space on the ESXi servers, but not so much on the Backup Exec server -- is it possible for Backup Exec to use that space for disk-based backups? That would allow us to use instant recover and GRT, I believe.

Thanks for any thoughts you might have in this instance.

Re: VMware snapshots and Backup Exec 20.1

the agent for Vmware is just a name for the licesne that provides the ability to backup VMs using VMware's snapshot mechanism - it is not a specific program that you install on the VMware hosts

Technically VMware hosts run a form of Linux (but not a form supported by our RALUS agent to that won't help you)


Evene if we could somehow backup from VMFS, I would also have concerns about how we would backup the metadata that links all the snapshots together with the orignal VM disks images as this is likely to be way more complicated than just the files inside VMFS. Which is why I said you would need a DR product (if such a thing exists) for Vmware itself and to not be using any kind of backup product that is designed to protect VMs using snapshots. As such no we are not thinking of providing any method to directly backup the content of VMFS within Backup Exec (and I doubt any backup vendor whose VMware offerings use the in-built snapshot mechanism are considering such an idea either.)

You should perhaps bear in mind that it does not take very long to install a VMware host to the level that restores of all VMs can be performed using our current model. Meaning a DR requirement for the hosts itself has limited return of investment (both for us as developers and for prospective customers as a cost we would have to pass on as unique licensing.)

Unfortunately you cannot use disks provisioned for VMFS for Backup Exec as Backup Exec requires NTFS for such storage and if you zone your VMFS storage to windows and let NTFS disk signatures be written, then it will corrupt VMFS. You could of course open CIFS shares inside disks owned by a Windows VM , but that would be kind of self defeating and would also have performance issues.

I can understand why you are using snapshots with your students as that makse sense. I am not sure why you need backups for such setups - or is that something to do with how you reset between each intake of students instead of how you reset for a student making a mistake in the middle of a course?



Re: VMware snapshots and Backup Exec 20.1

I did go and have a chat with our Netbackup VMware specialist, who indicated that they would have the same limitations, however he also knew VMware does not provide any mechanism to safely backup and restore snapshot chains directly from VMFS and as such what I commented might be a return of investment issue in my earlier answer is more or a techical limitation that is outside of our control.

The NetBackup Specialist did suggest that maybe you could look at VMware Horizon View and lots of templates covering the end of each day (of each course) instead if using snapshot chains to get rapidly between each working state and with this setup your disk space requirements might be much smaller AND you also might not then need a separate backup product (Backup Exec does not support images created within Horizon View anyway)

Note: we cannot give specific advice on whether Horzion View could be used to meet your requirements as it is not a Veritas Product.