Unitrends Virtual Backup 8 and me! A review!
When Unitrends acquired PHD Virtual back in 2013 the question lingering on everyone’s mind was will and how the two backup vendors would merge into a single product. For over 20 years Unitrends has had a play in the backup space with their series of hardware appliances and more recently has made a play into the virtual space with Unitrends Enterprise Backup. PHD Virtual, who showed up on the scene in 2006 with a mission to help enterprises protect their virtual environments have been innovating ever since with their flagship PHD Virtual Backup software. Fast forward to today and we can now see the fruitions of the acquisition with the release of Unitrends Virtual Backup 8.0
You will notice during this review that I don’t necessarily provide a lot of “how to” type scenarios – and that is mostly due to the fact that UVB is so simple to get installed, configured and running. I’ll simply touch on a bunch of the features that I thought helped UVB stand out against some of their competitors.
On with the installation
It’s on OVF – simply import it and power it on! At this point you are done! It doesn’t get much easier than that!
Although not quite as simple as the installation the configuration is still a matter of 5 clicks. UVB is broken down into three main roles; Engine, Management and Presentation. The Engine is the workhorse of UVB that performs all of the backup and recovering processes. The Management role contains the functions necessary to manage a single environment, meaning a single vCenter or Hyper-V instance – whereas the Presentation role delivers a single master view of all of your management and engine roles.
For my purposes and my lab I simply decided to configure all three roles on a single instance of UVB. The configuration first starts with asking whether this is your first instance of UVB or whether you are looking to scale an existing instance. Then, as shown we can see how we can quickly setup UVB by selecting a deployment scenario based on the size and scale of our environments. From there it’s a matter of setting up the roles (Management, Engine, Presentation) by providing credentials to your vCenter as well as some backup storage. From the time that I deployed the OVF to the time I began my first backup was under 10 minutes.
All new interface
The first thing I noticed after logging into UVB is the dashboard. The UI has been completely redesigned and is very simple to navigate through. As you can see below, the UI has been dramatically improved to give you a ton of information organized into 6 main sections; Dashboard, Protect, Recover, Jobs, Reports and Configure.
The initial dashboard provides you with an at a glance view on what is going on inside your backup environment as well as what parts of your infrastructure are protected or unprotected. I really love the dashboard for a couple of reasons. 1 – I don’t have a lot of time so it’s nice to see an overview of my backup infrastructure in one place, including all running jobs and replication/restore status. 2 – These days environments are very dynamic, with VMs being deployed and destroyed all the time. Having the visibility at a glance to see that I have X number of VMs which aren’t protected or backed up is crucial to me, especially with many different administrators doing things many different ways.
Let’s face it! We can have an easy installation, a breeze of a configuration and the most intuitive UI but when it really comes down to it we need a backup solution that can protect and recover our VMs – and UVB does just that!
Creating a job is very easy and can be done in a couple of ways. You can either browse through your inventory on the ‘Protect’ tab, or create the job from scratch on the ‘Jobs’ tab. Both ways are incredibly easy, so I’m not going to go into detail on how to create a job, but will touch on a few of the details and features that really stuck out in my mind.
The first backup-related item that really impressed me about UVB was speed – and not just how fast it could backup my VMs (which was lightening quick) but how fast I could go from having nothing configured to backing up my entire environment. I counted – it took me four clicks to have a job setup to protect my entire environment.
Aside from speed and ease of use, the granularity that UVB provides was another item that stood out. Utilizing the ‘Protect’ tab in the UI you are able to define things such as retention, compression, and even backup block size on a per-VM basis, not on a job based basis. Say for example you had 10 VMs – 5 requiring 10 restore points, 3 requiring 20 restore points and 2 requiring only 2 restore points you are able to do so inside of UVB, all while backing up these VMs from within the same job definition. Also, you could have one VM use a different level of compression than the others or even define priorities on a Low, Medium, High scale to determine which VMs from within the job are going to backup first.
Another useful feature of UVB 8 is the ability to pin backups. By pinning a backup, or more specifically a restore point within a backup you can guarantee that retention policies and processes will ignore that specific restore point, thus keeping it intact until it is unpinned. This to me seems like a small, but a very important feature as there are many times where I would like to keep a backup a bit longer than what my retention policy dictates – after major upgrades or changes for example. All while maintaining the deduplication and compression that has been applied to the backups.
So with our backups out of the way let’s move on to replication. The way UVB handles replication differs a bit from some of the other players in the backup space – and in a good way. UVB will actually create and deploy your replica’s from your already existing backup files. Therefore, there you only need to touch your production VMs once during your backup cycle and you are able to perform both backup and replication. This is huge as we all know snapshotting a VM can impact performance, let alone take time and resources away from our production environment – why not use the backups we already have!
Another great feature included with UVB and replication is around change. If a new disk or new network card is added to the source VM, UVB will automatically update the replica during the next scheduled job run so you can be sure that your replica’s are exact copies of your production VMs. When or if you ever need to use them, the last thing you need is a missing disk.
Let’s face it – we can backup and replicate to our hearts delight but the fact is if we can’t recover from a failure our backup solution itself has failed. UVB tends to take this to heart as they provide a number of ways to recover aside from your standard full VM restore. For instance, if we are only dealing with a partial failure and need to recover a single file or even a single Exchange or SharePoint item, UVB can do that. If the failure is a little more immediate you could consider failing over to a replica. If you haven’t enabled replication for that specific VM don’t worry, using Instant Recovery UVB is able to power on and run your VM directly from the backup file.
Aside from the many restore capabilities UVB also provides that “piece of mind” when disaster strikes that your backups and replicas are truly restorable. Utilizing a functionality called Reliable DR, both PHD (now UVB) and Unitrends appliances can automate, and orchestrate both the live failover as well as test failovers in order to ensure that their backed up and replicated VMs are truly restorable in the event of a disaster. You will notice I mentioned both PHD and Unitrends – this is where a lot of the IP of the two companies has came together. Reliable DR not only supports the testing of VMs from the UVB (PHD) virtual appliances, but fully supports all of the Unitrends physical appliances as well. In essence, Reliable DR can power on your backups at a secondary location, hosting them in an isolated network and perform various task to ensure that the VMs have been replicated properly. You can either use the built in tests that come with Reliable DR, or add your own custom scripts to be executed against the VMs. As with most of what I have talked about in this review, this is very easy and fast to setup.
When Unitrends aquired PHD I wasn’t sure what to expect – but UVB has certainly not disappointed. There is still some previous functionality that PHD had, such as CloudHook (Backing up to the cloud) , PHD Exporter (Being able to export backups to an OVF) and support for the vSphere Web Client that haven’t quite made their way into UVB yet, but these are not necessities and have been slated to be “baked” in at a later date. That said it should be noted that most any of the wizards inside of the application can be launched utilizing a plugin for the c# client. The ease of use and granularity that UVB provides is key to this release. It seems as if Unitrends and PHD have really focused on the “little things” in this release – and honestly, when we see how far a lot of backup vendors have gone in the virtualization space, it’s going to be these “little things” that really help set you apart from the rest. If you are looking for an enterprise backup solution for your environment, I would definitely recommend having a long look at UVB. They most definitely have a lot to bring to the table.