10 reasons you should use a dedicated Hyper-V backup tool

by [Published on 12 Nov. 2013 / Last Updated on 12 Nov. 2013]

This article highlights 10 reasons to consider choosing a dedicated backup tool for Hyper-V VMs.

Introduction

Every hour that an organization is not able to access its data or services represents the loss of a significant amount of revenue and reputation. The goal of any backup solution is to allow data or services to be easily restored in a timely manner. Your budget, the amount of data you need to safeguard, SLAs, network bandwidth, security concerns, and any legacy backup systems you have running in your environment can all have an impact on how your organization chooses and implements a new backup solution.

When Hyper-V was introduced with Windows Server 2008, people needed to change the way they approached backups. Hyper-V allows backup, migration, and restoration of server-based roles and applications more easily than traditional physical server-based backups. Because virtual machines are essentially files, they are easily backed up and restored. At a high level, backing up a virtual machine (e.g. web server) becomes a simple process of backing up a container file. This concept becomes far more attractive when it comes to restoring a server as well. It is sufficient to restore the files for the affected guest(s). A complete bare-metal recovery of the host is unnecessary.

If you're on a shoestring budget and looking for an economical method of backing up your Hyper-V VMs, Windows Server Backup would be a viable option. It does lack flexibility and has its limitations but overall it does a good job of basic VM backups. One of the biggest drawbacks of Windows Server Backup in Windows Server 2008 and Windows Server 2008 R2 was the requirement to back up the entire volume that held the VMs – this increased the overall time for backup and restore, storage requirements, and cost. In Windows Server 2012, Windows Server Backup’s support for Hyper-V has improved. It now allows you to restore individual VMs and offers the option for incremental backups.

As part of your disaster recovery strategy, another attractive Hyper-V related feature in Windows Server 2012 is Hyper-V Replica. This feature offers built-in VM replication that can asynchronously transmit changes in a VM running at a primary site to a matched virtual machine in a specified replica site across a LAN or WAN. This is a great feature, but it shouldn’t be relied upon as the sole method of recovering from a failure. To complement Hyper-V Replica and add value to your virtualization backup and restore strategy you need a dedicated backup solution to work side-by-side with it.

Whether you’re an IT admin or a service provider, you’ll need to make a choice between the available backup tools depending on the requirements and dynamics of your organization.

Below are 10 reasons to consider using a dedicated Hyper-V backup tool. These are the features you should watch for when selecting a product.

1. Fast backup and restore

Speed of the backup and restoration processes is one of the most important factors for many IT admins. This is why a lot of dedicated Hyper-V backup solutions on the market today have invested heavily in ensuring their products offer fast backup and restore. They aim to slash backup and restore time from hours to a matter of minutes.

2. Flexible backup and restore options

Many dedicated Hyper-V backup solutions offer more granular backup and restore options. This added flexibility gives you more of a say in terms of what, how, when and where you backup and restore your VMs.

The ability to backup VMs at both the host-level and guest-level means you can perform a restore at the VM level or within the VM itself. Some tools provide support for VSS application-aware backups such as SQL Server and Exchange Server running within VMs - this gives you the option to do things like restore individual mailboxes or mailbox items from an Exchange mailbox. Furthermore, with some solutions you can mount and explore the contents of a VHD file and then restore files from within the VM without having to restore the entire VM. Some solutions allow you to restore a copy of a VM to the same Hyper-V host using a different name.

An option to schedule your backups means you can reduce the load on your server and bandwidth and set your backups to occur during off-peak times, for example. Additionally, you can recycle storage space by using retention policies to remove specific versions of a VM backup after a certain time.

3. Restore verification

Some solutions allow you to test a restore of your VMs within a sandbox environment (an isolated computing environment) to verify that they are being backed up correctly and that they will restore properly if needed. This is important because a backup that won’t restore properly is useless.

4. Simplicity

Third-party Hyper-V backup solutions aim to make things simple and eliminate the complexities of backing up Hyper-V VMs. Most solutions offer an intuitive user-friendly interface with a ‘set-and-forget’ philosophy that aims to get you up and running in a matter of minutes. Ultimately, these kind of features are what save time and money in the long term.

5. Space savings

Most Hyper-V backup tools give you the option to compress the VM data before writing it to the backup location. If you couple this with de-duplication, which removes redundant data from large data sets so that only one copy of the required data is backed up, significant space savings can be made on your backup device.

6. Security

Do you ever think about what could happen if someone was to gain unauthorized access your backed up VMs? Data theft, intellectual property theft, and malicious intelligence gathering are probably high on the list of concerns! The importance of securing your VMs is often overlooked but vitally important.

Some Hyper-V backup solutions provide the ability to secure your VM data using military-grade encryption while you keep control of the encryption keys.

7. Restore different versions

Some vendors allow you to restore different versions of a backed up VM rather than only the most recent. Being able to restore backups to one of multiple points in time is beneficial if you want to bring a VM back to a particular state (i.e. prior to the installation of a service pack, before the Exchange database became corrupt, etc.)

8. Agentless VM backups

Some solutions on the market today provide an agentless method of backing up VMs. Unless you have a cluster environment and an agent is required to be installed on the cluster nodes to receive instructions from the primary node to back up specific guests on those nodes, agentless VM backups is preferable. When installed at the guest-level, agents also don’t back up VMs that are turned off at the time of the backup.

9. Off-the-shelf support for Cluster Shared Volumes (CSV)

Windows Server 2008 R2 introduced the concept of a Cluster Shared Volume (CSV) for use with the Hyper-V role in a Failover Cluster environment. A Cluster Shared Volume is essentially a shared disk containing an NTFS formatted volume that all nodes within the Failover Cluster environment have access to. Its aim was to simplify storage management, make better use of storage space and enhance availability.

Versions of Windows Server Backup prior to Windows Server 2012 did not support CSV. Windows Server Backup in Windows Server 2012 does offer limited support for CSV, but according to Microsoft VMs that are hosted on CSV’s cannot be backed up:

Virtual machines hosted on CSV’s cannot be added as part of backup configuration
(source: http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/jj614621.aspx)

Many of the third party virtualization backup solutions available on the market today have off-the-shelf support for VMs stored on Cluster Shared Volumes (CSV), making it possible to back up your VMs in a Failover Cluster environment regardless of the hypervisor version.

10. Hyper-V focused technology

Dedicated Hyper-V backup tools offer tight Hyper-V integration and awareness because they are built specifically for that environment. Software vendors who focus on virtualization technologies as their core business understand the ins and outs of this technology and how best to take advantage of it for VM backup and restore purposes.

Conclusion

By giving consideration to the reasons listed above, you should be in a better position to make a decision about which tool you use and why using a dedicated tool for Hyper-V backup is the way to go. Furthermore, backup solutions that are tightly integrated with Hyper-V, have a solid understanding of storage enhancements such as VSS, and allow for fast backup and restore will provide the most benefit in terms of cost and reliability. Whichever solution you decide to go for, be sure to evaluate it first to see if it meets your pre-defined business and operational requirements.

Altaro Hyper-V Backup

Altaro Hyper-V Backup offers a simple, easy-to-use solution for backing up Hyper-V VMs. It includes features such as offsite backup, remote management, Exchange item-level Restore, Compression, Encryption, and much more at an affordable cost.

Learn more or try Altaro Hyper-V Backup for yourself. To back up an unlimited number of VMs, download the Unlimited Edition for a fully featured 30-day trial. Alternatively, download the Free Edition that allows you to backup 2 VMs for free, forever.

See Also


The Author — Andrew Z. Tabona

Andrew Z. Tabona avatar

Andrew Z. Tabona, MBCS, MSc, BSc (Hons), ITILF v3, MCSE, Network+, Security+, etc, has over 10 years’ experience in Quality Assurance, Incident Management, and Pre- and Post-Sales Technical Support roles, as well as recent specialization in Digital Forensics and E-Discovery.

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