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.

----- 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.

17 thoughts on “Are purpose-built VMware backup apps a good idea?

  1. techcoastguy says:

    I agree 1000% with this post which is why vRanger 6 coming out early fall will have physical Windows backup and recovery support. I welcome you or your readers to beta test this release when it comes out in a couple of months. Simply email and we will put you on the interested parties list … we also have a vranger 6 beta site that will be up in week or so.

    With regards to tape — you can’t beat it when it comes to cost and we will follow up vRanger 6 physical backup with integrated tape support via our NetVault acquisition last year.

  2. NancyHurley says:

    Let’s not forget the need for centralized analysis and reporting (for virtual and physical) We have partnered with the purpose built vendors (Quest, Veeam, VMWare) to provide a way to correlate config info from vCenter with backup activity across multiple servers-now you can see if VMs are orphaned or overprotected (backups and snaps),manage capacity use, troubleshoot and see performance impacts- check out Bocada Vision ( We also cover virtual and physical reporting from single apps (NBU, BEX 2012, NetVault) or disparate with vpConnect…if you are using one or two or even more apps in your environment check out Bocada vpConnect.
    (Thanks Curtis for letting us comment!

  3. says:

    So the question is: what if there were a software-only virtual appliance for VMware that handled more than one platform (virtual and physical – and not just Windows), had centralized management, supported copies, handled history/configuration, and did D2D2T (Disk-to-Disk-to-Tape)? One which had core technology proven out over thousands of customers?

    Be pretty interesting, huh?

    Curtis – thought this a great blog post – I referenced it strongly in a response blog post at

  4. cpjlboss says:

    Hey, you three (and anyone else that writes after this)… If you want to advertise on Backup Central, buy a banner or two. 😉 Sheesh.

  5. says:

    Yeah – I know – and I *seriously* agonized over posting anything here – don’t go around doing this very often – typically just read and don’t comment. I tried to be “subtle” (not my strength, obviously) by asking questions. I also didn’t want to write a post where I talk so much about your post without letting you know.

    But hey – from my perspective, you wrote the advertising copy for a new product we released just a few days ago – I couldn’t help it – felt that tingle running up my leg. 🙂

  6. techcoastguy says:

    I don’t need to post on this site to advertise because Quest already DOES advertise on Backup Central and you know that Curtis. vRanger 6 physical backup support beta will start soon and I wanted to call that to your readers and your attention since your blog referred to vRanger in the virtual only category. As far as comments from niche backup vendors who don’t even have a VMWare Ready Certified solution, maybe they should focus on developing leading edge solutions rather than misleading comments. Re: “Has anyone heard of a backup appliance”, I’m pretty sure most readers on this site have heard of the Backup Exec 3600.

    As an FYI to readers, the link to backup solutions that are VMWare certified:

  7. says:

    John: Sorry if there’s any confusion – I was actually “subtly” referring to a software-only product, not a physical appliance. eWeek just did a piece on it at

    I’m going to step away here because I don’t want anyone to perceive that this will just devolve into vendor tit-for-tat kind of stuff. I do think it’s really cool that vRanger is coming out with Windows-only support – think physical support is important – and I think that as you note tape support is incredibly important as well.

  8. Paul Martney says:

    As a former vRanger user, I can tell you that VMware Ready certification has ZERO VALUE.

    I don’t know what criteria they use, but they certainly don’t do any proper testing WHATSOEVER to make sure the solution *actually works* with vSphere.

    Basically, I’ve burnt on this very “certification”, that John Maxwell is so proud of, myself. I’ve upgraded to vSphere 5 as soon as Quest announced they have achieved VMware Ready for vSphere 5 with the vRanger version I was using – only to find out that despite being vSphere 5 certified, they still did not support VMFS5. Quest told me I have to wait for the next release! Wow!!

    May I ask how VMware granted vSphere 5 ready certification to the solution which does not support one of the biggest features of this release, VMFS5? You would think, VMware data protection solution has to interact with VMFS5 to get the data? This should be the very first test to perform, NO????? This is sooo ridiculous.

    I have all rights to call BS on this certification. It left me with no backup solution, since I could not go back to vSphere 4. And I could not backup vSphere 5 with “certified” vRanger either – Quest told me to switch to network backup to make it work, which basically quadrupled my backup window – I did not have enough time in 2 days to perform daily backups!!!

    I had to switch to a vendor which did NOT have VMware Ready, but nevertheless fully supported vSphere 5 including VMFS5.

    So please, John – last thing you want to brag about is your certification. Because both you and I know EXACTLY how much it worth!!!

  9. cpjlboss says:


    Your post made me curious, so I looked into the issue. I do see that in October, 2011, Quest announced VMware Ready status: vRanger 5.3 was released the next month, and here are the release notes:

    I reviewed the release notes, and I do not see any limitations listed about VMFS5. (I’ll have to take your word for it that this didn’t work, and that you contacted support and they told you that it was because they didn’t support VMFS5.) I also don’t see any mention of VMFS5 in later versions of vRanger (5.4 & 5.5). I DO see it mentioned in the release notes of the latest NetVault release.

    So, assuming that it didn’t work and assuming that VMFS5 was supported by VMware at the time, then I will agree that Quest should have been more forthcoming about their lack of support for it.

    With all due respect, I am a bit surprised by your vitriol, as you seem to bear as much responsibility (if not more) in this scenario as they do. If I understand you correctly, you performed an upgrade of your backup system to an untested version with no downgrade path or plan. This means you violated both rule #1 and #2 of upgrading. Rule #1: You should test any new version of backup software (or any software) before moving to it. Rule #2 is that you should DEFINITELY perform a full backup of any system (especially the backup system) before upgrading it to a new version. Then if/when things go wrong (as they did), you can restore from backup while you complain to the vendor that things don’t work.

    While I agree they could have been more forthcoming, and I agree that VMware Ready w/o full VMFS support (if that’s what happened) seems odd, I think that following proper upgrade procedures could have saved you a lot of trouble.

  10. Paul Martney says:

    Hi Curtis, thanks for your reply.

    I did a quick search, and here is the blog where John himself lists VMFS5 support as included with the later release:—customer-driven
    – Full VMFS 5 support (5.3)

    Sure, I did a backup of the server itself, but the problem is that downgrade required me to rollback my whole infrastructure to vSphere 4, and that was unacceptable.

    If you are assuming everyone has a test lab that is a complete copy of production, that’s not true. For example, I do not have SAN in my test lab – the costs of having that are prohibitive for my company.

    Thus, many of us always have to put *some* level of trust in vendors… although what completely threw me off here is official certification from the platform vendor VMware. Last thing I expected is that they will certify for vSphere 5 something that does not pass most basic tests with VMFS5.

  11. techcoastguy says:

    vRanger 5.2 came out a month BEFORE vSphere 5 GA in July 2011. At that time, only VDDK 1.2.1 (supports vSphere 4 and 5) was supported by VMware and the VMware certification allowed for either VDDK 1.2.1 (legacy mode) or 5. Early vendors like Quest had to use what was GA at the time since the testing process took several months.

    When VMware GA’d vSphere 5 in August, VDDK 5 was then GA and available and we started work on the VDDK 5 / VMFS 5 support and delivered it 2 months later in vRanger 5.3.

    This was still ahead of most of our competition and something that could have easily been found out by placing a call to customer support.

    With vRanger, we have over 40,000 customers WW and the vast majority, based on 3rd party survey’s rank the product very highly and as one they would recommend to their friends and co-workers.

  12. Paul Martney says:

    @John Maxwell did you have all your co-workers come here to give thumbs up on your response? That’s pretty childish, especially given that your response does not make any sense.

    “At that time, only VDDK 1.2.1 (supports vSphere 4 and 5)”
    Sorry to catch you lying here, but VDDK 1.2.1 never supported vSphere 5

    Now, as per official PR that Curtis had posted earlier, your have personally claimed that vRanger 5.2 is vSphere 5 certified.

    Based on these facts, I only see two possibilities on how this could have happened:
    – VMware did proper testing and certified vRanger 5.2 for vSphere 4, but then you decided to cheat your customers, and “stretched” that certification to vSphere 5, just to be the first to claim this.
    – VMware did not do any actual testing when granting you this certification (my earlier assumption that I have already covered in my previous post).

    I hope we can hear some comments from VMware on this thread now. They should easily be able to lookup all the documentation regarding that specific certification.

  13. Andrew Madsen says:

    I too have to say John Maxwell is not entirely forthcoming in his remarks. His first post stated vRanger will branch out to Windoze however Curtis’ statement was “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” and those physical machines are running Linux, Unix, AIX, and HPUX. If you are a big enoug shop you are running Linux on P or Z. SO again vRanger enters into the “Point Solution” arena and is not capable of handling an enterprise with ceenteralized back up and restore management.

    Curtis – Really? “The few physical machines”? While the number may be smaller the work load is huge on those “few” machines.

  14. kiransr says:


    Perhaps you have not read the entire post.. Most of our customers who are looking for heterogeneous support with Unix/Linux and all sorts of critical apps like Oracle and MySQL are using NetVault with vRanger used for virtual environment protection and for ROBO use cases etc. With NetVault XA’s centralized management, our customers soon would be able to take advantage of both vRanger and NetVault solutions from a single console. So vRanger’s physical capability will be handy for customers who are mostly virtualized, but still have a “few physical servers”. BTW, these servers can be using any of the windows mission critical apps like Exchange/SQL/Sharepoint or even Oracle!

    (PS: I work for Quest)

    [quote name=Andrew Madsen]I too have to say John Maxwell is not entirely forthcoming in his remarks. His first post stated vRanger will branch out to Windoze however Curtis’ statement was “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” and those physical machines are running Linux, Unix, AIX, and HPUX. If you are a big enoug shop you are running Linux on P or Z. SO again vRanger enters into the “Point Solution” arena and is not capable of handling an enterprise with ceenteralized back up and restore management.

    Curtis – Really? “The few physical machines”? While the number may be smaller the work load is huge on those “few” machines.[/quote]

  15. Andrew Madsen says:

    I actually did read the rest of the post. I also read what Curtis said. There in lies the rub. YOUR customers may be using two products to do a single job but MOST of the enterprise customers do not want two, three, or four products to do the job. More with less is the standard today and it is marching resolutely toward being the only way.

    If using point solutions was such a great thing why are you combining into a single pane of glass these two products? Even in that single pane of glass are they still two seperate products with two seperate support offerings? What is the replication process? What is the HSM process? Where does tape fit into the scheme? This was the thrust of Curtis’ points and you have yet toa adderss al of them.

  16. daleto says:

    We have the same dialogs internally on our company:
    – plattforms should be able to do restore them self
    – applications should be protected by a supported method, and it should be “backup aware”, meaning that the backup of application should be sent to backup device.
    If a snapshot is taken, than a backup can be done on that.
    – redirected restore from one machine to another, or to another location
    – file restore
    – possibility to exclude data not needed to backup (protect)

Comments are closed.