Recently Unitrends have released a free product cleverly titled Unitrends Free. The product, which is unlimited in terms of VMs, sockets, scheduling will allow members of the Unitrends community to protect 1TB of VMs absolutely free, forever! I had the chance to get on the beta for this product and loved every bit of it. It’s a great product with a beautiful UI – and given the price (FREE) I would certainly recommend you give Unitrends Free a shot to see if you have a place for it.
Installation of Unitrends Free is a breeze – after meeting a couple of requirements in terms of .net 3.5 and 4.0 configurations you simply point the installer to either and ESXi host or vCenter server within your environment – from there you specify desired storage locations and IP information for your Unitrends appliance. You can also chose to size your backup storage at this point – allowing you to add a disk to the appliance.
From there the magic of automation takes over as your Unitrends Free appliance ovf is deployed, powered on, network configured, virtual disk for backup storage is added and finally a browser is opened putting you directly into a configuration wizard where items such as NTP, SMTP, hostname, and root passwords are setup.
Once completed we move directly into the newly redesigned Unitrends Free user interface.
Speaking of UI
Wow! They say that first impressions count and this one really did with me. I love the design and intuitiveness of this user interface. It’s very clean, lots of whitespace, and very very easy to use. The default dashboard makes it easy to see all the important aspects about the health of your backup environment; the performance and speed, the unprotected VMs, any active jobs as well as the status and capacity of your storage. To top that if you are a member of the Unitrends Community forum you can see to the top posts here as well (which is where support for the product is provided BTW). All of this, on one single section of the UI.
Getting up and running
Pretty is definitely a selling factor but functionality is key There are only a few things you need to do to get running with UF. First, we simply need to add our vCenter server or ESXi host as what Unitrends calls a ‘Protected Asset’. This is done on the ‘Protected Assets’ tab inside of the ‘Configure’ section by clicking ‘Add’. From there enter in the standard fqdn/ip and authentication information for vCenter and save.
Now that we have configured our vCenter we can begin the process of setting up a backup job. Clicking ‘Create Job’ from the ‘Jobs’ section will get us there. The backup job creation is very intuitive; first selecting which VMs we want inside the job from the tree view and then defining a few job settings revolving around scheduling and backup verification.
Your backup job status can be monitored through the ‘Active Jobs’ tab in the “Jobs’ section of the UI, however to get a very clean quick overview of our complete environment we can head to the ‘Protect’ section – As shown below we can see that we have a successful backup for the OnIceEntertaintment VM on Thursday but we have yet to process a backup of the Scoreboard VM. A very nice overview of just how protected our environment is. And, if we desired, we could simply select our VM from this view, click ‘Backup’ and create a job directly from here as well.
Unitrends Free also offers deduplication and compression as it pertains to storing your backed up VMs. I can tell you that the OnIceEntertainment VM was just over 2GB in size, and when Unitrends was all said and done with it the amount of data laid down during the first full backup to the storage, after deduplication and compression, was just under 1GB – a 50% reduction – not bad. An incremental backup after laying down another 1GB file to the VM resulted in another 200MB of space being utilized – not too shabby : 0. The first full backup of my VM took a mere 2.5 minutes, with the incremental taking only 1.5 minutes. Even though it is a small VM these are still pretty impressive performance statistics.
Backups are processed in what Unitrends calls an Incremental Forever strategy – meaning we have an initial full backup followed by daily incremental backups. The appliance will automatically create synthetic full backups from the existing incremental backups in order to ensure very quick restores in the event you need them.
Let’s face it – we can backup to our hearts delight but when push comes to shove it’s the recovery that we really need to be top notch! Unitrends Free provides three different recovery options as it pertains to your virtual machines; recovering the entire VM, individual file level recovery, and instant recovery.
Recovering the entire VM is pretty self explanatory – you simply select your restore point, provide the location in which you want to restore to and Unitrends will restore a complete duplicate of your VM. In my testing, the 3GB OnIceEntertainment VM was restored in only 3.5 minutes.
That said, if you can’t wait the 3.5 minutes Unitrends also provides the instant recovery option. Instant Recovery reserves a portion of your appliance backup storage for use as an NFS datastore which gets mounted directly to your hosts. From there, VMs are recovered and powered on within vSphere utilizing the actual backup files stored on the Unitrends appliance. What this does is provide a super fast way to recover your VMs – mine was up and responding to pings within 2 minutes. From there the VM is relocated to a datastore (utilizing Storage vMotion) of your choosing during the restore wizard. Instant Recovery is a great way to get VMs up and running quickly, while ensuring that they eventually get moved back to a production datastore. Instant Recovery also provides an “Audit Mode” which allows us to simply ensure that the backup itself is indeed restorable. When/if you wish to end your Instant Recovery job you can do so by clicking ‘Tear Down’ from the Instant Recovery tab.
If you aren’t looking for a complete VM restore and just need a simple file that may have been deleted off of your VM then the File Level Recovery option is the way to go. The FLR does not actually perform an restoration of files to your VMs, but provides accessibility to your desired restore point utilizing either a CIFS or iSCSI connection to your Unitrends appliance. The intention is that you and/or the app owner would simply connect to either the CIFS share or iSCSI target and perform the actual copying of data back to your VM or other desired location manually. This is basically an Instant Recovery with no visibility into the VM from vSphere and only internal network access into the recovered VM from the Unitrends appliance. Once the files have been recovered the backups are then un-mounted from the Unitrends appliance by clicking ‘Remove’
Is it worth the price?
Given that the product is FREE, yes FREE I would definitely say so. It does a lot of things well, backup, restore, reporting, etc.… and it has one of the nicest user interfaces that I’ve seen – it’s clean, easy to use, and very intuitive. Not once did I have to ready any manuals and/or forums to perform any of the backups or restores. Not that they don’t exist because they do – support also exists for the product as well. Unitrends Free is designed bo be a product for the community and keeping true to the community philosophy this is offered through the Unitrends Free Community forums as well as through a multitude of knowledge base articles. Although I only tested with vSphere the product does support Hyper-V as well, which is also FREE! The product is unlimited in terms of the number of VMs, sockets, retention and scheduling – this is all included in the free edition. You will be limited however to 1TB of protected capacity.
Honestly I think this is a great product and I like the way that Unitrends are marketing this as a “community” product. As always I encourage you to go ahead and check it out for yourself and let me know what you think – you can’t go wrong being that the price is free.
Note: I was given compensation from Unitrends in exchange for getting on their beta, checking out Unitrends Free and posting my thoughts around it! Key here is that they are my thoughts – Unitrends in no way told me what to say or how to say it!