How To Select a Virtual Server Backup Product?

A few months ago, DCIG released their Virtual Server Backup Software Buyer’s Guide. Although some were critical of the process and results of this guide, I appreciate the effort involved in pulling together the data. Personally, I would rather have a single source for data, even if I didn’t agree with the recommendations!

Now I have been asked to write an article for TechTarget on the very same subject: How to select a virtual server backup product. I’d like to request input for this piece, and hope we can work together to produce a useful list of recommendations. Note that this isn’t a buyer’s guide like the DCIG effort: There will be no exhaustive lists of functions and features here. Instead, I’m writing about the options available in a more general sense.

I came away from the Tech Field Day presentations by Veeam, Symantec, and others impressed by the creativity of virtual server backup approaches. Clearly, these aren’t the same old backup products! W. Curtis Preston quipped that a hypervisor sometimes seems like a little datacenter in a box, and that changes everything. Every action taken impacts the operation of the whole system, but the virtualization layer also adds new flexibility.

Virtual Server Backup Features

What would you look for in a virtual server backup product? Here’s my initial concept:

  • Supported environments – What dependencies do the products have?
    • Do they require integration features like VCP or VADP? We should definitely talk more about the integration features offered by the hypervisor!
    • Some products support only virtual environments, while others work on traditional machines as well. And what about non-VMware support?
  • Advantages and disadvantages – Applications designed for virtual environments certainly offer many advantages, but what about the drawbacks?
    • How important is it to use a single unified product across both virtual and non-virtual environments, as many traditional backup vendors suggest?
    • Is the whole “full-machine vs. file-level” argument worth having?
  • Application integration – To what extent to they extend above the OS and hypervisor?
    • I’d like to talk about integration with common virtualized applications, but which are most prevalent?
    • We should talk about crash-consistent backup, too, especially when it comes to virtual machines.
    • Then there’s management integration: What options are there for automated deployment and setup? And what metrics and reports are important?
  • Advanced features – These new products have some pretty impressive features!
    • Is deduplication a critical need in the backup app?
    • We should also talk about non-scheduled approaches like continuous data protection (CDP)
    • There are also alternative backup targets, like snapshots, disk/VTL, and the cloud
    • I’m also curious about throttling/QoS features
  • Other areas
    • What about supportability of virtual machine backups – are there issues with companies not allowing advanced backup features to be used?
    • Do the “new guard” of virtual server backup companies offer any unique support and integration options?

I’d like to identify a few key features to look for in particular. What are the most-important elements for a virtual server backup product, as opposed to a traditional offering?

Finally, what about non-VMware environments. I know a bit about Microsoft DPM, having been at the introduction of that product, but what offerings are there for Hyper-V or Xen environments? How do they differ from VMware-focused products?

Stephen’s Stance

I welcome the input of end-users, analysts and consultants, and the product vendors themselves. I want to come up with a good guide to selecting these products, and I think an open discussion is a good way to make that happen. Who knows, it might even be a worthwhile companion to the information in the DCIG guide!

I’m not sure how the final article will be released, but I believe it will be offered as a free download on Regardless, the discussion and commentary here will remain free, open, and available. Thank you!


I’ve already had some excellent feedback from Twitter. Thanks!

  • @Stu suggested I read What’s Next in VMware Backup
  • @ChrisDearden says “what about talking about how to get the data out of the backup system – ie to offsite / archive etc” and “I’m not sure if trap is the word I would use. no more than all the tape based providers use the same format ;)(“
  • @WGoderis says “what about scalability , what if you need to back up hundreds or thousands of vms”
  • Seth Goodling

    I am happy to offer up a NFR copy of Acronis Virtual Edition for you to test. Let me know if you are interested. Thanks seth dot goodling at acronis dot com.

  • sfoskett

    I definitely appreciate the offer, but a test won’t fit in this deadline! Maybe a phone discussion is a better option. You’ve got mail!

  • Eric

    We are in the middle of this issue too. We’re using Veeam right now for VMware backups and DataStor (small company, but cool product) for the physicals.
    My two big concerns are:
    1. Application item level recovery – most backup scenarios in our environment are nothing more than restoring a deleted table in SQL or a users contact list, etc. Not having to remount an entire Exchange data-store would be helpful. Veeam’s method requires loading up the VM in an isolated environment (vPower) but isn’t as handy as using the Exchange add-in in the older BackupExec.

    2. Replication – Lots of products offer de-dupe, but how important is it if you can’t send changes across a WAN for DR strategies? Veeam wants you to use Rsync or another 3rd party to do the sync, but there’s no way around periodic fulls, which wouldn’t work on a slow WAN scenario.

  • sfoskett

    I thought Veeam had a better solution for item-level recovery these days. The replication/DR issue is another one I need to look into. I love rsync but really don’t like the idea of using a hand-made script in a production environment…

  • John Martin

    -Disclosure NetApp Employee-

    From the customers I’ve talked to Most virtualised environments don’t have the spindles and other resources to run full backups in any reasonable time-frame as most of the “whitespace” resources tpically used by backups have been removed via consolidation.

    Individual item restore is less of an issue unless you’re running virtualised file-servers, though appliaction aware backups (esp SQL server) with db/table level restores are often asked for.

    Integrating backup and D/R is highly desirable due to resource constraints in virtualised environments (minimise data movement wherever possible).

    Most still want the “backup team” to manage backups and restores especially for operational recoveries which lead towards a desire for “one tool” for phys and virtual environments, however they want D/R and full virtual machine restores to be under the control of the Virtual Infrastructure teams.

    While many like the idea of using hypervisor integration where possible, for most they’re more interested in rapid, reliable, non disruptive backups than architectural purity.

    An ideal tool IMHO would

    1. Move as little data as possible to minimize impact during backup and restore
    2. Allow the same copies that are used as part of the backup regime to be used for D/R purposes
    3. Allow the Virtual Infrastructure admins to be aware of the status of backups within their own toolset, and allow for VI admins to perform self service restores of entire VMs/Datasotres from local and offsite copies
    4. Allow the existing backup teams to monitor, schedule, and manage the VI backups, and provide operational restore capability for individual files and application objects within the VM’s. Ideally this would happen from within the same interface as the non virtualised environment
    5. Allow for secure, non disruptive and easy end user recoveries of individual files and application objects
    6. Allow for defense in depth and a layered dataprotection approach that keeps copies of data in multiple failure domains. This infers that that integration with offline media such as tape would be desirable in many cases.
    7. Provide an easily testable/verifiable data recovery process
    8. Work within a multi-tenanted environment
    9. Provide sufficient reporting and metrics to demonstrate that backup and recovery SLA’s are being met
    10. Provide sufficent reporting and metrics to allow for capacity planning, both from a space and IOPS point of view
    11. Integrate with Orchestration and automated provisioning systems

    There’s probably more, but those are the things I’ve been hearing people ask for over the last year or two.

  • vmdoug

    *Veeam Employee*

    Of course I have some input here. Storage Switzerland has done a few articles for us, you may want to check them out and I’m also open to a phone call.



  • Brian Nason

    -PHD Virtual Employee-

    Would enjoy the opportunity to discuss our methodology and approach to virtual server backup. Our solution, PHD Virtual Backup is delivered as an integrated Virtual Backup Appliance enabling backup and recovery to be virtualized itself. We support both VMware and Citrix XenServer platforms today. Please feel free to contact me: briann at phdvirtual dot com