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Veeam Enhances VMWare Virtual Machine Recovery

Third-party tool adds reliability, accuracy, and speed to virtual machine backups and restores.

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Veeam, a third-party supplier to the VMware environment, will be demonstrating this week at the VMworld show how virtual machine backup files can be used to quickly restore a failed VM.

That may seem like what a backup file is supposed to do. But in fact, the slow and painstaking recovery process normally takes an hour or several hours to complete for a complicated server, such as a database system or Microsoft Exchange server. That's because backup files are placed on lower cost disks far removed from daily operations. The running VM depends on more expensive, higher speed storage area networks (SAN) or network-attached storage (NAS), tied directly to a virtualized host. Backup files are also stored in a different format from the original virtual machine, and for that reason, they are usually not a source of quick restoration.

In some cases, the existence of a backup file still doesn't guarantee a successful restoration, explained Ratmir Timashev, CEO of Veeam, in an interview. Veeam is a virtual machine replication and backup specialist.

Sometimes a production system has been modified -- say, a file gets deleted -- on the SAN in a way that will cause the server to fail, but the change remains undetected in the production system because the missing file is still resident in the server's memory. When the server is shut down, the file is lost. When it's rebooted, the missing file then crashes the system. Meanwhile, backups have been made from the SAN-based version of the system, leading to defective backup copies as well.

Veeam uses the inherent properties of virtualization to get around these pitfalls, which have plagued data center operations managers for many years before virtualization arrived on the scene.

Like other backup systems, Veeam Backup and Replication 5.0 stores virtual machine snapshots or images on backup disks in a file format that's unfamiliar to the VMware ESX hypervisor. Unlike other systems, however, 5.0 will convert that image back into the familiar VMHD format that ESX Server prefers.

In addition, Backup and Replication 5.0 performs a test on the backup image to see whether it's a working copy. Doug Hazelman, Veeam senior director of product strategy, said Veeam's system "verifies" the backup copy as a recovery vehicle, if needed. It does so outside the production environment, so running systems won't be affected if it proves defective. "If a file is missing, you can catch it as soon as it happens, not several months down the road," he said in an interview.

Most recoveries don't involve the need to start a whole new virtual server. They are often seeking a particular e-mail message or maibox in Exchange or record in a database system that got deleted. Backup and Replication 5.0 has what Hazelman termed a universal application item recovery (UAIR) feature, where that item can be retrieved and added back into the production system. Seventy percent of all recoveries involve such items, he said.

In addition, Backup and Recovery 5.0 includes a sandbox feature, where recovered virtual machines may be test run in a shielded environment. Troubleshooting, patch updating, and other activity can occur in the sandbox without endangering production systems. The 5.0 version will become generally available in October at a price of $599 per CPU socket. An Enterprise Edition has been added to Veeam's product list that automates the recovery features described above. The standard version still requires manual interventions, said Timashev.

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