Posted on June 9, 2016 · Posted in VMWare

Backing Up VMWare Virtual Machines Using Altaro VM Backup

In this overview, we’ll tell how to use Altaro VM Backup to back up virtual machines running on VMWare vSphere. We’ll show how to install and configure Altaro VM Backup, create a backup task and recover a VM.

Originally, this product was called Altaro Hyper-V Backup and used to back up VMs running on Hyper-V. The last (6th) version of the program released in September, 2015, included VMware vSphere support, and the product was renamed as Altaro VM Backup.

Currently Altaro VM Backup supports backup of VMs running on:

  • Windows Hyper-V Server 2008 R2, 2012, 2012 R2
  • VMware vSphere/ESXi 5.0, 5.1, 5.5, 6.0

Tip. VMware vSphere Hypervisor (free version of VMware hypervisor) is not supported since the backup API in this hypervisor is blocked by VMware itself.

Altaro VM Backup Installation

Altaro VM Backup can be installed on a physical host or a VM running OS Windows. The following Windows versions are supported:

  • Windows Server 2008 R2, 2012 or  2012 R2
  • Windows 7 (64-bit) or 8 (64-bit)

.NET Framework 3.5.1 is required for Windows Server 2008 R2, .NET Framework  4.5  for Windows Server 2012. SQL Server is not necessary.

Hardware requirements are not very high:

  • 1 GB RAM
  • About 1 GB of disk space for the program itself and configuration files;  about 5 GB for temporary files

Altaro VM Backup installation is very simple. Download the installation file altarovmbackupsetup.exe from the vendor’s website and run it.

Setup Altaro VM backup

Select the installation directory (by default, it is C:\Program Files\Altaro\Altaro Backup\).

program location

After the installation is over, the following services will appear in the system:

  • Altaro Offsite Server – a service to manage a remote backup server (Offsite Server)
  • Altaro VM Backup API Service is a service containing API interfaces to work with Altaro VM Backup
  • Altaro VM Backup Controller – provides an interface between the management console UI and Altaro VM Backup services
  • Altaro VM Backup Engine –  the main service
  • Altaro VM Backup Hyper-V Host Agent is the Altaro agent for Hyper-V hosts

altaro system services

Open the Altaro VM Backup Management Console (the shortcut on the desktop or C:\Program Files\Altaro\Altaro Backup\Altaro.ManagementConsole.exe). You are prompted to connect to the Altaro VM Backup instance on the local server (our case) or on a remote server (TCP port 35107 is used for remote connection).

Altaro managment console

Adding VMware vCenter and ESXi Hosts

On first run you are prompted to use quick setup wizard consisting of 3 steps:

  • Select Hyper-V / VMware host
  • Select the location of the backup storage
  • Run the first backup

altaro vmbackup quick setup

Select VMware vCenter Server.

select type of virtual infrastructure

Specify an IP address or an FQDN name of your vCenter server and your credentials to connect to it. (It is preferable to create a separate service account for vCenter connection and backup tasks.)

Note. To connect to the vCenter server, the TCP port 443 (vCenter Web Service) and vCenter VDDK Port (902) have to be opened.

connect Altaro to VMWare vCenter

The program will connect to the VMware vSphere server, get the list of the registered ESXi hosts and try to collect the information about running VMs.

Tip. If ESXi hosts linked to vCenter over slow WAN links, Altaro VM Backup instances needs to be installed on each geographically site. Then you can manage all geographically sites using the central management console over WAN.

The list of the found ESXi hosts will be displayed in the Altaro console.

discovering esxi hosts and vms

Backup Locations

The next step is to create backup locations. Altaro VM Backup allows to select one or more locations for VM backups to be stored. You can use different locations for different VMs.

It is possible to save to:

  • Physical Drive — an external media (an internal drive, USB, eSATA or iSCSI LUN)
  • Network Path (LAN only) – a network storage. It can be a network share or a NAS device. Such storages can be accessed only using UNC paths
  • Altaro Offsite Server a remote Altaro server with additional VM copies (it will be discussed a little later)

add backup location

We will locate a backup in the network share using the UNC path.

Tip. For a higher performance, the network share has to be available from the Altaro server over the fast LAN channel (1 Gb/s)

add unc network share

Specify the UNC share and the credentials to access it. The account must have RW permissions on  the file system.

To create a backup task, drag and drop VMs from the left panel to the right one to the created location.

assign vmware vms to backup location

Running a VM Backup

Now you can make your first backup. To do it, select Virtual Machines ->Take Backup in the left navigation bar. The list of VMs is displayed in the right panel, where you check those you need and click Take Backup.

start vm backup

Note. Altaro VM Backup monitors the VM migration between the hosts in VMware vCenter. It means that if the VM has changed a host using vMotion, you won’t need to reconfigure your backup task.

When making a backup, a snapshot with the name ALTARO_TEMP_SNAPSHOT_DO_NOT_DELETE_[] and the description “Altaro Temporary Backup Snapshot. This is required for Altaro to perform the backup operation. Do not delete manually as this snapshot will be automatically deleted when Altaro backup has been completed” is created for the VM. Altaro VM Backup copies data from this snapshot, which is removed afterwards.

vm backup snapshot

Backup progress.

vm backup progress

In our example, it took about 12 minutes to create a snapshot and copy 30 GB (space occupied in VMFS) of VM files over 1 Gb/s network. We should note that when saving the backup, Altaro VM Backup compresses the data. Thus, 30 GB of VM files occupy 15 GB after the compression (there is only 3 GB of free space in the guest OS out of 30 GB).

altaro vm backup operation history

VM files are copied through Altaro VM Backup server, instead of direct copying between an ESXi host and backup location. VM copies are not stored locally on the server.

Snapshot below shows the network interface load on the server during the backup process. As you can see, the outcoming data transfer speed is about 200 Mb/s, and the incoming one is about 350 Mb/s.

ethernet interface load

Data from ESXi host are copied to the server by altaro.agent.exe using TCP port 902, and the data from the Altaro server are written to the network share using SMB protocol (TCP port 445).

network connections tcpview

You can see the current operation status and the statistics of space being used on the backup locations in the Dashboard.

altaro vm backup dashboard

Note. In the Notification section, you can specify your SMTP server and configure email notifications of the backup events.smtp settings

Offsite copies

Another interesting Altaro VM Backup feature is the configuration of one or more Offsite Locations, which allow to store additional (replicated) copies of your backups. These backups can be used in Disaster Recovery scenarios, when the main Backup Location is damaged or lost. These offsite copies are encrypted with Master Encryption Key using AES algorithm.

Backup Schedule

You can set automatic VM backup in Setup > Schedules. You can use one of the two preset schedules (at 10 PM on weekdays or at 8 PM on weekend), or configure your own one. To make a schedule for a VM, just drag and drop it to the necessary Schedule group in the right panel.

backup schedules

Backup Retention policy

Since the space on the disks is limited, old VM copies have to be deleted from time to time. The period of time a backup is stored before being removed is set in the retention policy (RPO) in Setup > Retention Policy. Old backups can be automatically deleted on the schedule.

By default, there are 4 policies:

  • Never delete
  • 2 weeks (default)
  • 1 month
  • 6 months

You can also create your own policy. To assign a policy to a virtual machine, just drag and drop it to the necessary retention policy.

retention policy

Backup verification

Altaro VM Backup offers 2 ways of automatic testing and data integrity check of the backups (Sandbox & Verification -> Test & Verify Backups).

  • Verify Backup Folders is the check of file integrity in a backup using check sum. This verification allows to make sure that files in the backup are not damaged.
  • Perform Full Test Restore allows to restore and launch a VM in the test environment. It helps to see if the VM can be successfully booted from its backup in the hypervisor.

test and verify backups

Backups can be verified automatically on the schedule.

Restore From Backup

Altaro VM Backup supports both restore of a VM as a whole and granular restore (File Level Restore and Exchange Item Level Restore).

Exchange Item Level Restore allows to restore individual items from Exchange databases inside the VM backup (Exchange 2007 or later is supported).

Restore of a VM as a Whole

Let’s try to restore the entire VM. To do it, go to the Restore section in the console and select the backup location.

vm restore wizard

Select the VM to be restored.

choose vm to restore

Specify the name of the VM (in our example, it is W7Test-Clone-2016-05-20 17-46), the ESXi host and VMFS datastore the restored VM will be placed to. To avoid IP address conflict, it is recommended to disable the network card. To start, click Restore.

choose where to restore vmYou can see the restore progress in the Dashboard. During the restore process, VM files and the snapshot are copied to the host.

restore vm from snapshot

After the restore, a new VM appears in vCenter Server console.

restore completed

File Level Restore

Due to File Level Restore from a VM backup, you can restore separate files or folders without restoring entire VM.

Note. File Level Restore is applicable only for guest VMs running Windows and is not supported for Linux/Unix.

To restore individual files, click Gradual Restore -> File Level Restore. Then select the VM and its backup version.

file level restore

In the left panel, select the necessary Virtual Hard Disk and Partition. Select folders and files to be restored.

select partition and folders

Specify the local folder on the server, to which the files will be restored.

extract files to folder

After the restore, the files appear in this directory.

extracted files from vm snapshot

Altaro VM Backup Licensing and Pricing

Altaro VM Backup licensing model does not depend on the number of CPU, cores or VMs. Only hypervisor hosts are licensed.

There are three Altaro VM Backup editions:

  • Free Edition – is a freeware version, which allows to protect up to 2 VMs per  host
  • Standard Edition ($395) has basic features able to protect up to 5 VMs
  • Unlimited Edition ($585) is an edition with the extended set of features. The protection of unlimited number of VMs is supported, also there is the support of Cluster Shared Volumes and Exchange Item Level Restore

Thus, to protect 2 ESXi hosts with 5 VMs on each, it is enough to purchase 2 Standard licenses, and for small offices with 2 VMs on one host (Hyper-V or VMware) the license is free.

So, in this article we have considered how to install and configure Altaro VM Backup to make VM backup in VMware vSphere. In my opinion, it is a convenient product having the intuitive interface to make VM backups in the SMB segment.

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