I’ve recently finished implementing a VM backup solution for the home lab. In this post I’ll detail some experiences I had while selecting a backup software vendor. A few months back I lost a Windows Server 2012 domain controller due to disk corruption. Whilst taking a snapshot in VMware something went wrong and the VM was dead. It took me quite a few hours spread over a number of days to rebuild it. I use my home lab daily and I’m constantly making changes, installing new software etc. I’d made do up till recently with manually backing up VM’s but believe me, that’s a slow, time consuming and tedious process. The time had come to implement a grown up backup solution as I needed to be able to quickly recover a failed VM.
Most of the backup vendors offer a free version of their software. The options are fairly limited though. I wanted to schedule backups and scheduling is usually disabled in the free versions.
Prior to testing any backup software I first needed to purchase some VMware licencing as unfortunately, VMware do not permit the use of their storage API’s with the free version of ESXi. VMware vSphere Essentials which was the best choice and lowest cost licencing for my lab setup.
Altaro VM Backup
The first product I installed and tested was Altaro. The install is simple, slick and I was genuinely up and running and taking my first backup in 15 minutes. Adding my NAS as a backup location was simple and worked first time. Awesome. Well, I thought it was until half way through the backup my PRTG monitoring started firing alerts at me about the VM being backup up! The VM was a Windows Server 2012 domain controller, It went completely unresponsive, amazing. About 10 minutes later it came back to life and after viewing the event logs the outage was attributed to VSS.
This was a great time to try out Altaro support, I was online with a support analyst within 30 seconds (online chat application). The analyst sent me some links to their support documentation advising me of some changes I needed to make to my windows VM’s with regards to VSS. After making the changes all subsequent backups of the VM’s went smoothly. Although disappointed that my first experience of using Altaro software resulted in an outage of the VM being backed up I was comforted by their prompt and excellent support.
The Altaro VM backup software is really easy to install, configure and use. The GUI is beautiful and a real joy to navigate. It would be nice to be able to give names to schedules and have the option to manually start a schedule. Other than that I think it’s a great piece of software.
Altaro Licencing Cost
For my home lab setup I’d need to purchase the Altaro VM Backup Ultimate licence. Altaro’s licencing model is based on per host regardless of how many CPU sockets or VM’s. Beware though, If your hypervisors are managed via vCentre you’ll need the ultimate licence. The cost for my setup would be £900 for a perpetual licence then 20% of the licence cost per year for support (after the first year expires)
Installing Veeam was a little more involved than Altaro. The Veeam application requires SQL be installed and various other components. Once installed it took me some time to work out how to configure the software to backup to my NAS. I found their GUI confusing to use, very clicky clicky and you need to have the right tab selected to view the setup you need. Veeam is much more configurable than Altaro with regards to backups, schedules and restore options etc. Plenty of nerd knobs to be tweaked which is completely the opposite of the Altaro software which is designed to be as simple and easy to use as poosible.
After much head scratching, I had my Veeam install configured and started backing up some VM’s. The software performed faultlessly and I had a really comfy feeling compared to my initial experience using Altaro which caused one of VM’s to go offline during the backup.
Veeam have a few applications in their availability suite of which I installed the ‘Backup and Replication Console’ , ‘Enterprise Manager’ and the ‘vCenter plugin’. The plugin enables you to view the status of your backups and execute a backup directly within the vCentre Web Client. This is a really cool, neat and handy plugin.
Once you get your head around the various Veeam applications the software is very good and provides you with great visibility into your backup setup. Something I do find very irritating is not being able to easily view the last time a VM(s) was backed up within the Backup and Replication Console. To get that info you need to log into the Enterprise Manager web GUI. Not a big deal I guess but Altaro’s software gives you this info from a single console.
Veeam Licencing Cost
Veeam licencing differs to Altaro’s in that its based on per CPU socket. I have two hosts with a only a single CPU socket per host so the Veeam Essentials licencing covered my needs at £680.00 for a perpetual licence. Like Altaro you can renew the support after year one at the cost of 20% of the licence price.
Which option did I choose?
I really liked the Altaro software. During the first week of the evaluation I was convinced Altaro was the vendor I’d go with. Then once I’d gotten over the steep ‘ish’ learning curve required to get comfy with Veeam I changed my mind pretty quickly and decided to go with Veeam.
Some of my reasons for choosing Veeam over Altaro were:
- The Veeam applications offer much greater configuration flexibility than Altaro.
- From my testing Veeam backups were faster than backups using Altaro software
- The Veeam vCentre plugin is a great feature enabling you to view the status of backups and execute a new backup of a VM directly within the vSphere web client
- The Veeam Essentials licence offers excellent value for money especially for my lab setup. The licence was over £200 cheaper than the required licence for Altaro yet Veeam offers a great deal more features and configuration options.
Despite choosing Veeam I still think the Altaro software is easier to use and their support is outstanding. If you’re looking for a backup solution give them both a go. I certainly would not be without the new backup solution in the lab. Sure, alot of your virtual machines are ephemeral and can be rebuilt with relative ease but some will take many hours or potentially days to rebuild. A good friend once said to me, “You cant get a refund on time”.