AppAssure 5 – A review!
About a month ago AppAssure released the first version of their backup software since being acquired by Dell. Dell AppAssure is one of the great sponsors on this blog so I figured hey, why not grab myself the trial version, install it, and share my experiences with my readers. I tried to take note of as many of the features as I could, but being in a limited nested workstation lab there was only so much I could do. So honestly, if you like what you see, I would go on over to AppAssure.com and get yourself your own free trial and give it a go. Also, although I only tested from within a VMware environment, AppAssure actually supports protecting machines across your complete infrastructure, being Hyper-V, VMware, and even physical machines.
First off is installation. AppAssure is installed on top of either Windows 7, Windows Server 2008, Windows Server 2008 R2, or Windows Server 2012 (you must have a 64 bit OS, 8 GB of RAM and obviously some sort of storage.) The installation process was a breeze. There were a few prerequisites but as you can see the installer had the option to go ahead and install them for me. This is a small but great feature to have as there's nothing I hate more than searching around for prerequisites and updates. For the most part it was a 'Next->Next->Done' install.
Once you have the AppAssure core installed you can access it by pointing your browser to http://HOSTNAME:8006/apprecovery/admin and logging in with your local administrator username and password. At this point you could click around and set everything up manually, but the 'Setup Core' button located near the top right of your screen will guide you through configuring mostly all of the parameters and functions that need to be setup in order to make AppAssure functional. The 'Setup Core' guides you through the following areas….
Display Name – This is simply the name you want displayed within your AppAssure core console – not a lot to talk about here.
Email Notifications – Here you can configure your SMTP settings, Email subject, and your to/from Email addresses. Another really small but very cool feature here is the ability to customize the actual message that the core is sending out. Using variables you can basically move information around in the message. As I said, a very small feature, but certainly a useful one.
Repository – This is the section where you define where you want your backups to go. Essentially you create a repository and then add one or more disk targets to it. The targets can be either direct attached storage or a cifs share somewhere on your network. By showing/hiding the details you can get very granular on how the repository stores its data by changing items such as bytes per sector, average bytes per record and whether or not you want Windows or AppAssure to handle the write caching.
Encryption – Another very useful feature especially for those with strict security standards. Here you have the ability to create an encryption key in order to fully encrypt (AES 256 bit) all of your backup data. This is not something that I see included with most backup software and it's certainly a nice to have feature.
Now that all of the setup and configuration is done, we can get down into the core purpose for this application, and that's backing up your infrastructure. The 'Machines' tab is where we will spend most of our time for this section. This is where we will add and protect (this is the term AppAssure uses for backing up a client) our critical machines (AppAssure's term for a server, whether it be virtual or physical).
The first thing we need to do is deploy the AppAssure agents to a machine. The agents are used for many things but its main objectives are tracking changed blocks, performing quiescence of the applications, and handling all communication between the core and the client. This can be done by manually by installing the agents from the target machine, or you can simply use the 'Remote Deploy' wizard from the core. This will initiate the install of the agent and all of the required pre-requisites to the target machine. To do the latter, simply select 'Actions->Deploy Agent, provide the hostname and some credentials for your target machine and you are done. The status of this and almost all tasks can be monitored through the 'Events' tab.
After the deploy has completed you still will not see the server listed on the Machine tab. We still need to add or protect the machine. To do so, select Actions->Protect Machine. In the dialog that appears we need to provide the hostname/ip and some credentials to connect to the machine. During this process you will also be able to edit what AppAssure calls their protection schedule. By default AppAssure will snapshot the machine every 60 minutes and perform a backup, however you can change these values during the addition of the machine by selecting 'Edit'. You can once again get very granular with how often you are performing the snapshots. You can specify different schedules for peak and non-peak times, as well as set different schedules for weekends as opposed to weekdays. Also, you can get as simple as saying one snapshot per day, or just disable protection all together.
Once the Protect Machine tasks have completed you should see your machine listed in the Machine tab. At this point you could just walk away as the protection schedule will kick in immediately and follow the parameters and policies that you set up during the wizard. Probably not the case however so as you can see below there are a few more tabs that we can go through dealing with this machine.
On the configuration tab there are several additional options that can be applied to your protected machine. First off the settings area allows you to change the display name and port/encryption information. Under Configuration->Events you can override the global email alert settings and configure alerts that are specific to this machine.
Under Retention Policy you can either use those core defaults that you set up earlier, or you can set up a customized retention policy for this machine. As you can see from the screenshot you are able to get very granular on how retention is handled and they have a very nice graphical representation of the retention information that you have selected. This is always a very confusing item for myself to configure and it's nice to have a visual to see how simple changes to your retention schedule affect the recovery points that are being saved.
Licensing, Protection Settings, and Transfer settings are again simply individual overrides from the global configuration. One huge note here (and I didn't have a chance to test all of this) is that if the target machine you are protecting is running SQL, Exchange, or SharePoint you will be given additional options such as the ability to truncate logs, etc.
From here you are basically good to go. You can let the protections settings take effect and start taking snapshots your machines. Or, you can immediately force a snapshot of your machine.
AppAssure handles restores in a few different ways.