Are purpose-built VMware backup apps a good idea?

When I'm talking about backing up of virtual servers & desktops, I always get asked "what do you think about Veeam/vRanger/PHD Virtual/VMPro?  Should I buy that instead of NBU/TSM/CV/BE/AS/DP/etc's VADP agent?"

The first thing I can say is that it has definitely become a trend to install a purpose-built backup app for VMware/Hyper-V.  On one hand, it's hard to argue with success.  People who have moved to such products have often found their backups much easier than they were before.  On the other hand, since most of them are moving from the agent-in-the-guest approach, anything would be better than that.  Some of them are also moving from their attempt to use Very Crappy Backup (VCB).  That's another one that is not hard to compete with. 

These purpose-built products do have some really awesome features.  For one, they often work around the limitation that VMware creates by using the VSS_BT_COPY backup type.  They do something to make sure that the transaction logs in guests get truncated.  Some of them also have some really interesting features of being able to run a guest directly from a backup, which leads to all sorts of interesting recovery possibilities.

My concern is that many of these products are missing what I would consider to be core functionality for a centralized backup product.  When I look closely at these products, they tend to be missing one or all of the features listed below.  What's worse, when these shortcomings are pointed out, some of their representatives look at you like "why would you want that?" I've been doing nothing but backups for almost 20 years, and I think any decent backup product should have all of these features:

Support for more than one platform

Very few shops are 100% virtualized.  If you can't also backup the few physical machines their environment, you force them to also run some other product to back those up.  More backup apps means more confusion and more confusion with each failed backup and restore.  It's simply math.

Central management

It's very common to require more than one backup server to handle a given environment.  Do you have some sort of centralized management that allows you to see all of your backup servers and manage them all from one place? 


Backup functionality #1 is to support the copying of the data from the backup source to the destination, and then to another destination.  Many of these purpose-built backup tools are really good at the first step, but have absolutely nothing for the second step.  They tell you that you can run another backup to another destination, which is not good for a number of reasons.  Or they tell you that you can buy a 3rd-party dedupe product that can replicate your backups for you.  I'm sorry, this should be in your product.  You should not require me to buy other people's products to do what your product should do on its own.  (The lack of this feature is why so many people buy inexpensive products like Backup Exec to back up the datastores created by these products.)

Config backup

If you have a database that stores configuration and/or history information about your product, it should be built into your product to back up that database.  Period.  Telling someone they can run a cron job just doesn't cut it.  And if how/when to run that cron job isn't even in your documentation, shame on you.

Tape support

This is at the end of the list for a reason.  I'll admit that this is the least important on the list, but I do believe that a backup product should have the ability to copy to tape for long term storage purposes.  Not everyone can store their backup on disk as long as they need to.  Again, many people use Backup Exec to handle this, but I believe it should be built into any backup product.

My position above has made me very unpopular with some of the purpose-built folks — some have been very upset with me. That doesn't change the fact that the above features should be considered table stakes for any backup application.  You could argue that tape support isn't table stakes anymore, but I disagree.  That is, it is still table stakes if you want to be considered a full-fledged backup app.

Let's see how things go.

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----- Signature and Disclaimer -----

Written by W. Curtis Preston (@wcpreston). For those of you unfamiliar with my work, I've specialized in backup & recovery since 1993. I've written the O'Reilly books on backup and have worked with a number of native and commercial tools. I am now Chief Technical Evangelist at Druva, the leading provider of cloud-based data protection and data management tools for endpoints, infrastructure, and cloud applications. These posts reflect my own opinion and are not necessarily the opinion of my employer.