VMware data protection best practices — back to backup basics

I recently presented a session at VMworld, and as I was preparing I thought, “What would be interesting to talk about?” Everyone always talks about the new features in their product, improving performance, or enhancing an existing feature. I thought back to a VMworld I attended many years earlier and I recalled how VMware Cloud was a game changer. But what would this mean for data protection, and what are some of the best practices customers should consider as they start rolling out their VMware strategy? But before we address that topic, let’s get back to VMware backup basics and what you can do to make your life easier today.

Improve backup performance and reduce production impact

I’ve never met a backup admin who said, “I don’t want to improve my backup performance” or “My VMware admin never complains to me about backups impacting production workloads.” When backing up virtual machines, ensure your backup proxy is using the right VMware transport mode. VMware supports different transport methods, but the two important ones are HotAdd and Network Block Device (NBD). NBD allows reading the backup data for your VM across the network to your backup proxy to then write to your backup target. Using NBD causes network impact and VMware recommends using it with networks with at least 10 Gbps. Also, operations like cloning and offline migration can be impacted while running backups, so make sure you schedule with care! 

The other VMware transport method is called HotAdd. Your backup proxy runs on a host with shared access to the datastore of the VM you want to back up. When a backup runs, the disk is mounted to the backup proxy while it is still running (i.e. Hot). This method has less impact on the network and your production workloads. However, it isn’t all peaches. One of the trickiest things with HotAdd is ensuring that your backup proxies have shared access to the datastores. Once your environment starts to grow and VMs are being VMotioned around — this can all be tricky! You really want a backup solution that helps you manage deploying additional proxies in the right locations. Oh, and ideally you don’t want to have to manage any of the proxy deployment. To help simplify management, make sure the backup solution you are using allows easy deployment of proxies. And remember, you should be using HotAdd to accelerate backups and avoid any scrutiny about production impact.

Meet restore needs of users with image-based backups

You backup VMs not because you just feel like it, but because there might be a compliance or restore need in the future that you need to satisfy. While backing up VMs lets you also restore VMs or individual disks (vmdks) if needed, this doesn’t always satisfy your end-users. VMs are just a convenient container (since it captures the entire system state when doing a backup, not just the data). But when was the last time someone needed to restore a file or part of an application within a VM and said, “go ahead and restore the entire VM, I’ll wait?” Your end-users will want to be able to restore an individual file. Your database admin will want to be able to recover their database without having to restore the entire VM (and may wish to restore just transaction logs to recover to a specific point-in-time for the database). They don’t want to be limited with what they can restore just because backups are done at a VM level. Do you know what happens when you say you can’t provide these recovery options? They will protect their applications and data on their own — leaving you with data sprawl (and more data to back up since they might just be backing up to local disk).

But what if you could have your cake and eat it too? Even though you are backing up at a VM level, don’t just stop there. You should find a backup solution that allows you to do file level restores from within the VM to satisfy some of those recovery scenarios. And for your database admins, look to app-aware backups. This allows you to do image-based backups of your VM, while also doing additional application level steps (such as backing up log files, truncating logs, quiescing database, etc). You can ensure that your database admin can still recover their application, and satisfy your end-user recovery scenarios with image-based backups.

Streamline management when dealing with many VMs

When managing a handful of VMs, doing it the manual way isn’t too bad. But what happens when you have 100, 400, or 1,000 VMs? Now if someone comes and asks you to restore data, what happens if you forgot to protect it for some reason (maybe you rely on a ticketing system or an email)? Oops.. sorry! Can’t get your data back. One of the biggest challenges I’ve seen in VMware environments is that people usually think of provisioning as a separate process than protecting the VM (sigh… backup is usually an afterthought). And with VMs, it is easy to quickly provision for a new application versus dealing with traditional infrastructure needing servers and storage. 

How can you make it so that you don’t have to rely on any ticketing/email system and don’t need to be sitting right next to the VM admin? VMware already provides a solution for managing and organizing VMs by leveraging tags or folders. By assigning tags to a VM or organizing VMs under a folder, a VM admin can now quickly organize and manage hundreds to thousands of VMs easily. Instead of reinventing the wheel, make sure your backup app allows you to protect VMs based on the same concepts! If a VM admin assigns a tag to VM when provisioning, your backup application should automatically apply the appropriate backup policy to the VM. If the VM admin adds a VM to a folder, the right backup policy should apply for the VM. In this way, everything in your environment is protected without having to rely on archaic methods. When that user comes to ask for their data back, you can be sure that you didn’t miss protecting their VM!

Key takeaways

Given the continued importance of VMs within environments, it’s critical to ensure that you have the backup basics covered. Druva offers a SaaS-based solution that simplifies VMware backup management, and meets the requirements of your end-users. Feel free to try out Druva and see what it can do for you. Stay tuned for Part 2 of this blog series where we’ll talk about starting your journey to the cloud for VMware (including VMware Cloud and hybrid)!