CloudHook will hook you up – PHD Virtual 6.2

A few months ago I reviewed the backup tool from PHD Virtual for VMware. Yes, I specifically mentioned VMware because they have one for Citrix also. The company is on the verge of releasing their next major update 6.2 and I got an opportunity to do a sneak peak.

Last year I was completely new to PHD Virtual and had figure out all the moving parts, which weren’t many to be honest. The post from my last review is here. The one thing I loved about the product was its simplicity where I really didn’t have to sit down and figure out what was needed in order for it to work. I just followed the screen instruction and taadaaa!.. it worked.  So, I have huge expectations this year and won’t be going into the details of how to setup and install.

Install:

The overall procedure to do the install is still pretty much the same. You are working with two pieces here.

  1. VBA (appliance)
  2. Console (windows installer)

In order to get the backup tool going, you will install the console on a windows machine and deploy the VBA appliance. From that point some initial configurations are needed and you are all set to go. Configuration like the IP address for the VBA, storage to be used for backup, email notification, retention polices, write space etc.. What is write space? Good question, hold your horses.

You will also create your backup jobs here and kick off a manual or schedule a backup job.  All of this is pretty basic and I don’t plan on going into the details of how to complete these tasks. Once you have the VBA deployed, you will realize you don’t need anyone to blog about the how to steps. And if you really need that, click on the “question mark” on the top right of the console window and you will have access to all the help you will ever need. 

 

The documentation is embedded within the console and its pretty good and detailed.

So what’s the big deal?

When I reviewed this tool last year there were a few things that really impressed me. Its simplicity in deployment, creating backup jobs and recovering from backups. After all what’s the point of a backup tool if you are unable to use it to recover your data.

Just like before, your backups can be used to do both file level restore (FLR) and for the lack of a better term bare metal restore. What’s even better is the de-duplication ratio, which they market for it to be around 25:1 and my test last year, and this time around confirmed that as well.

So what’s the big deal? Are they simply re-releasing the older version with a new version number? Not really.

Instant Recovery:

One of the features I absolutely adore. This first came out with 6.0. What it does is pretty awesome.

The feature gives you the ability to recover a VM with little to no downtime. Yes you heard me right. Little to no downtime. How? What it does is pretty straightforward. Instead of retrieving from backup and doing a bare metal type restore, with Instant Recovery you are basically turning on the VM in a temporary data store that is created on the backup storage itself and presented to the ESXi host.

As soon as your VM turns one, you can simply storage vMotion it into the desired data store or its final resting place. But what if you are not licensed for storage vMotion? No problem, someone thought about that already. In comes “PHD motion” which will move your VM from the temporary storage to the production storage and yes it will merge all the changes during the move as well. All changed data is written to a place called “write space” which is used to make sure the PHD motion moves your VM to its final location with all the changes in place.

But there is new feature that the write space serves as well. And this by far is my favorite feature in this product. Now there is another type of recovery that I will be going over later in this post. This new recovery method can really work great with our next feature.

CloudHook:

For the last few years, everyone has fallen in love with the word cloud, even those of us who don’t really know what it means. Now that the definition of cloud is beginning to take some shape and it has been demystified for the most part, the next logical thing is to make use of cloud in our organizations.

Ever had to ship backup tapes to remote locations due to requirements that were set? In my experience dealing with tapes, tracking them and maintaining their rotation, delivering and receiving these bad boys isn’t something anyone looks forward to. But how else can we place our backups in a remote location and meet all the business requirements? Perhaps by storing our all-important data in the cloud?

That’s right –  all those things that you can do with the VBA today. Imagine if your underlying backup storage was not managed by your SAN/NFS admins but instead resided somewhere in the cloud. Guess what? It’s possible now. With PHD Virtual Backup 6.2 you now have the option to backup your data into the cloud. Popular storage providers like Amazon’s S3, Google’s Cloud storage, RackSpace, CloudFiles and OpenStack can all serve as your backup now.

Of course the next question is how hard is it to setup? Not hard at all. To give you an idea, I basically did a few tests on my local storage first before deciding to use up the limited bandwidth from my home connection. And it worked flawlessly. You are really not doing anything else besides telling the VBA where in the cloud this needs to be backed up.

 

 

Once you select your appropriate provider you will then provide some specific information like your access key ID, secret key and your bucket name. For my tests, I used the S3 option (This is not an endorsement. It just turned out to be the best option for me. Please do your own research). One gotcha right away was my bucket name. I was having issues getting my cloud info entered and it kept complaining about not being able to access the storage. Turns out if you are using S3 as your storage and your bucket name is all caps, you will have this issue. The fix is to not use caps. Obviously this was covered in the release notes that I was supposed to read but silly me. I wanted to point out this little known issue because I am sure there are more people out there like me who deploy first and read later or only when they hit a wall.

One more thing to keep in mind is the de-duplication ratio with PHD Vrtual. With cloud storage we are not only talking about disk space in the cloud but also the bandwidth to push that data around. I think this is where this product really comes in handy. It backsup all that you need without taxing you for resources as one may expect. And with cloud storage, that becomes even more important. 25:1 is what they market, and that is around the number that I have confirmed in my tests also.

Remember I mentioned another task that’s handled by the write space? So here it is. The write space is also used for caching data locally before shipping it out in the cloud. So the two jobs write space is responsible for are instant VM recovery and cloud storage backup.

So how much space should be allocated to the write space? That’s a good question and it really depends on what’s happening in your environment, how much data is being changed everyday and such. Below is extracted from the help document that discusses on how to figure out how big this space should be.

“A guideline for selecting the right size Write Space disk is to calculate at least 50% of your daily changed data, then attach a disk that can accommodate that size. Typically, changed data is about 5% of the total of all virtual disks in your environment that are being backed up. So for example, if you were backing up ten VMs every day that totaled 1 TB, you should attach a virtual disk that is at least 25 GB (Changed data is approximately 5% of 1 TB, which is 50 GB; of which 50% is 25 GB). Write Space can be expanded at any time by adding additional attached virtual disks.”

Of course, because this space will be shared by two tasks (cloud backup and instant recovery), it only makes sense to set thresholds on each task so that one doesn’t bully the other. With the slider in the configuration for write space, you can set how much of the write space can be used for cloud backup. The rest is used for Instant Recovery. Pretty simple aye!

Rollback Recovery:

With the backups being sent to the cloud, it would only make sense to have the ability to do restores from cloud as well. Most other products struggle to do this well for VMs, as they sometimes want you to pull all the backup files locally first, and then you can recover from them.

With Rollback recovery, you can restore your VMs to a previous point in time recovering only the changes from the selected backup over the existing VM. This feature first came out in 6.1. and will certainly compliment the CloudHook feature in 6.2. This obviously means a few things.

  • Restores will be super fast
  • They will consume less bandwidth as less data will be sent across your site and the cloud storage provider
  • And last but not they least, you can finally meet those RTO RPO that always seemed unrealistic

The only thing to note here is that its highly recommended to take a snapshot of the VM before doing a rollback recovery on it. With this approach if the communication between you and the cloud breaks, you can at least revert the VM back to its original state. Obviously the brains at PHD virtual already thought about this, which is why the default behavior is to take a snapshot.

How can you select between the types of restores that are available? Pretty simple, select the appropriate radio button in the screenshot below and move forward.

 

 

Of course, rollback recovery is also available if you don’t employ cloud storage for your backups. You can still use it for your on-site backup, I just used the example of cloud because it appears to sound more fruitful in the case where our backup data maybe sitting thousands of miles away.

Conclusion:

I am absolutely not a backup expert and this review is definitely not a full review of the entire features this product offers. I have basically extended on my previous review of the tool from a previous version and only discussed two new features that I think are very good. As I mentioned before, the best thing for me is the products simplicity where a person like me who does very little with backups and restore in his day job is able to deploy and test a product like this one.

Part of what’s happening in IT today is convergence of technology. With it, the next thing that will soon follow will be the convergence of roles we have today. With the silos being taken down all around us, its important that we as IT professionals are capable of exploring tools that do tasks other than what we specialize in. Though I may not be a backup expert, I can fully test and deploy a tool like this within minutes. This helps bring the convergence of roles to life to some degree.

This is a great solution for an environment that is a 100% virtualized. But if you are like most organizations that have at least a few physical machines (other than those oracle boxes hehehe), you should have some other ideas in mind about how to go about backing up the physical machines.  PHD Virtual backup is only for VMs. You are on your own for the physicals or will have to invest in another backup solution for that.

Each VBA can only let you select a single type of storage for backups. What this means is if you want your data to go to your cloud storage and also have a backup locally available, you will have at least two VBAs. One will backup data to the cloud the other will do it to a local NFS, CIFS or VMDK attached to the VBA. The good thing is you can manage both using the same console as both VBAs will be part of the same vCenter. The bad thing is that your VMs will be backed up twice in order to go to two different places. Would have been nice if there was a way to backup only once and send it to two destinations.  From what I have been informed, in Q2 with the release of 6.3 this issue will be addressed.

Cloud Storage is a great idea for storing your backups. Like everything else, one must do a cost benefit analysis figure out the amount of data changes, the bandwidth needed to push backups into the cloud, the cost for purchasing space in the cloud and most importantly the value of data that is being backed up. You have a few very good choices in service providers that work with the product already. In any case, I personally believe the tapes have served us well and now lets put them where they belong, in a museum that is. Using cloud storage for backup is definitely looking into the future and PHD Virtual backup does an excellent job in simplifying a very complex task. And with rollback recovery, restores also become very fast. After all, why backup when we cant restore within a workable window. I urge you to try out the product in your labs. You will be pleasantly surprised as I have been for sometime now. Just be sure to remind yourself that you are not a backup expert, this product has a tendency of making you feel like one. 🙂

 

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