Backing up NVMe PC to the cloud – pick wisely

Normally I don’t blog about home PC topics, but I haven’t blogged for a bit and came across something today that I thought was worth mentioning. Basically, this is a quick review of Acronis True Image 2017. About 18 months ago I wanted to backup my PC to the cloud, as I have more than 1TB of travel photos from all over the world that are irreplaceable. I use OneDrive for my documents, so they were safe. After doing some extensive research back in early 2016 I settled on Carbonite for my PC backup. It was highly rated, and also had unlimited cloud storage.

Fast forward to today, and my home PC started acting up. Not sure what caused it, but Windows 10 was crashing and freezing on me. It came to the point where I thought about restoring to my last good backup instead of trying to troubleshoot the root cause. My home PC (and laptop) are pretty new and have NVMe drives. It really didn’t cross my mind that could be a problem for restoring from a backup with Carbonite.

As it turns out, from everything I could tell, Carbonite has been slow on the NVMe uptake and do not support booting from their recovery media and restoring to NVMe. I found a reference on their site that said NVMe was specifically not supported. They also have a very long laundry list of file extensions that are excluded from a cloud backup (but can be backed up via their local mirror option). Needless to say, I was not happy with Carbonite when it came to doing a restore.

So after more research today, I settled on Acronis True Image 2017 Next Generation. It has a number of  unique security features, such as anti-ransomware protection (important to me), digitally signed backups via blockchain, universal restore (restore a backup to dissimilar hardware), and can also backup your phone to the cloud. They also have Facebook integration for backing up all your FB photos, videos, and posts. I had used Acronis previously (in 2014), and knew recovery disk and baremetal restores were their bread and butter. I also did research on NVMe support, and it looked like I was good to go on that front.

I downloaded the trial of the premium version of Acronis True Image 2017, and was pleased at the simple installation procedure. I configured a cloud backup job, and also a local backup job to an external USB drive. I then proceeded to make a WinPE based recovery media USB stick using the MVP Custom Media tool. That was pretty easy to do. I booted from the USB stick on my NVMe Lenovo 910 and viola! It recognized my drive and if I needed, I could easily restore my data.

I now feel a lot better about being able to restore my data in case I need to re-image a computer from scratch. You can also easily inject your own drivers into the WinPE image to recognize things like NICs, WiFi, etc. So there’s a lot of room to customize the recovery image, if needed. There are also a lot more backup controls than Carbonite, and has other features like ‘clone disk’ and ‘drive cleanser’, all of which could be useful. I also installed their client on my iPhone, and started a full cloud backup. Here’s a screenshot of the main dashboard.

Acronis True Image 2017I’ll continue to use Carbonite on my PC until my subscription runs out. Can’t hurt to have files in two clouds, although Carbonite isn’t a full cloud backup whereas Acronis does backup everything (or you can select what you want via partitions or folders/files).

Bottom line, if you have backup software, make sure you can restore from it on your hardware! Today we aren’t just dealing with simple SATA drives so don’t assume if you have a fancy NVMe or PCIe drive that you can restore to it from bootable media. If you do want to purchase Acronis True Image 2017, be sure to do it through the Ebates.com portal for 20% cash back.

Nutanix and Veeam HyperV Best Practices

Earlier this year I had the distinct pleasure of working with Luca Dell’oca (@Dellock6) from Veeam on a Nutanix + Veeam Backup and Replication + VMware vSphere whitepaper. You can check out that post and whitepaper here. Now, just a few months later, we’ve collaborated on a Nutanix + Veeam + Hyper-V 2012 R2 backup whitepaper. The new whitepaper is available here.

The goal of these two joint whitepapers are to enable our mutual customers deploy Veeam Backup and Replication 7 on Nutanix, when used with the two leading virtualization platforms. Both whitepapers are approximately 20 pages, and go into a lot of great detail. We tested both solutions in the lab, to ensure what we are recommending works in the real world. This is not high level marketing fluff, folks. No fluff zone. We detail the best practices for using Nutanix SMB 3.0 shares with Hyper-V 2012 R2 and Veeam Backup and Replication 7.0.

Veeam is a very popular backup solution, which now has in excess of 101,000 global customers. They are also a sponsor of my blog. The web-scale Nutanix solution and support of the Hyper-V 2012 R2 VSS platform compliment the Veeam Backup and Replication product, to provide a robust backup and restore solution. This allows you to meet your RPO and RTO requirements, in a fully supported and efficient manner. I’ve always been impressed with how easy Veeam is to configure, compared to some of the competition in the market. One of Nutanix’s hallmarks is also uncompromising simplicity, so both products can be quickly and easily deployed.

For those of you familiar with our joint solution for VMware, in there we deployed a small Veeam backup proxy VM on each node which locally backed up the VMs on that node. Hyper-V is a bit different, and actually more streamlined. Veeam installs a tiny backup agent on each Hyper-V parent partition, which handles the backup proxy functions. This means you don’t need to deploy a new VM on each node, saving some physical resources. The model is essentially linear scale-out of your backup infrastructure, distributing the load across your Nutanix nodes. Great complimentary technology in action.

Nutanix CVM

Since Nutanix fully supports multi-hypervisor deployments, it’s great to see the ability to leverage Microsoft VSS snapshots as part of the backup process. Veeam can take application consistent backups of enterprise applications like SQL, Exchange and Active Directory by leveraging Nutanix-based SMB 3.0 VSS snapshots. You are not relegated to just crash consistent backups, which may not meet your organization’s requirements. Support is provided in Nutanix NOS 3.5.4, and later, including 4.0.

VSS

One of the great aspects of our joint whitepaper is the variety of deployment models that we cover. This ranges from an all Nutanix solution, to hybrid using an existing physical Veeam backup server, or a dedicated backup appliance. Every customer is different, and this choice lets you pick which one best fits your environment.

2014-07-09_10-28-14The full gamut of Veeam restore are available to Nutanix customers, including the ability to do fast restores and directly test your backups. No restore modifications are needed if you are using the Nutanix platform.

Best Practice Checklist

As part of the whitepaper we provide a detailed best practices checklist, so you can quickly see what the join solution recommends and make sure you are following them. I won’t cover all 16+ here, but here are some highlights:

  • Use Hyper-V 2012 R2
  • Use a 64-bit operating system for the Veeam server(s)
  • Use Veeam Backup and Replication 7.0 patch 4 (or later)
  • Avoid active full backups and use reversed incrementals or forward incremental with synthetic full
  • Deploy a Veeam proxy agent on each Hyper-V parent partition
  • Configure backup jobs to use VSS for application consistency
  • Use Nutanix NOS 3.5.4 or 4.0 (or later)

Summary

A lot of collaboration went into whitepaper, and went well beyond just Luca and myself writing the paper and getting it out of the door. We also tested the solution in the lab, to verify the settings and software versions worked as advertised. The VMware version of the paper was very well received, and so I hope this Hyper-V version is equally helpful to customers. You can download the full 23 page whitepaper here.

Veeam Best Practices for VMware on Nutanix

Note: This article has been significantly updated on 4/18/14 with new information, in a great collaborative effort with Luca Dell’Oca (@dellock6) from Veeam. The official whitepaper can be downloaded here.

The goal of the joint whitepaper between Veeam and Nutanix is to help customers deploy Veeam Backup & Replication v7 on Nutanix, when used with VMware vSphere 5.x. This post will highlight some of the major points and how customers can head off some potential issues. The whitepaper covers all the applicable technologies such as VMware’s VADP, CBT, and Microsoft VSS. It also includes and easy to follow checklist of all the recommendations.

Veeam is modern data protection for virtual environments, and are also a great sponsor of my blog. The web-scale Nutanix solution and its data locality technology are complimented by the distributed and scale-out architecture of Veeam Backup & Replication v7. The combined Veeam and Nutanix solutions leverage the strengths of both products to provide network efficient backups to enable meeting recovery point objective (RPO) and recovery time objective (RTO) requirements.

The architecture is flexible enough to enable the use of either 100% virtualized Veeam components or a combination of virtual and physical components, depending on customer requirements and available hardware. You could also use existing dedicated backup appliances. In short, our joint solution is flexible enough to meet your requirements and efficiently use your physical assets. For example, if you have requirements for tape-out, then you will need at least one physical server in the mix to connect your library to since tape Fibre Channel/SAS pass-thru is not available in ESXi 5.x.

VeeamOptions

When virtualizing  solution the last thing you want is your backup data stored in the same location as the data you are trying to protect. So the first best practice for a 100% virtualized solution is to use a secondary Nutanix cluster. The cluster would be comprised of at least three Nutanix nodes. This is where the virtualized Veeam Backup & Replication server (along with the data repository), would reside. Should you have a problem with the production Nutanix cluster, your secondary cluster is unaffected. Depending on the amount of data you are backing up and your retention policies, you may or may not want the same Nutanix hardware models as your production cluster. For example, you may want to consider the 6000 series hardware which are ‘storage heavy’ for your secondary cluster. The following figure depicts a virtualized Veeam backup solution.

NutanixVeeam

In case you aren’t familiar with Nutanix, on each node (server) there is a controller VM which services all I/Os for the VMs running on that host. Performance scales out as you add nodes, since you are adding more controllers. You are not bottlenecked like with legacy SANs which typically only have two controllers. You can see this in the diagram above, where there are three controller VMs, one per node. Two of the controllers (CVMs) are in the production cluster and one in the secondary cluster. A Nutanix cluster requires a minimum of three nodes, so for two clusters a total of six nodes is required.

Since the first version of this post, Veeam and Nutanix have done more testing and gathered feedback from the field. As a result, the second best practice is now recommending to use “Network mode” backups and not Hot-add (also known as Virtual Appliance mode). Why? For medium to large scale deployments this results in a higher backup reliability.  When used with the Nutanix 10Gb NICs, it still has great performance. The primary goal of this joint paper is to provide a solid solution that customers can use, and this highlights our collaborative efforts.

Network mode connects to each ESXi host through the VMkernel management interface. So the third best practice is to make sure your ESXi management interfaces are using the 10Gb NICs and not the 1Gb NICs. The following screenshot shows one of the many possible NIC configurations. Here I’m showing the 10Gb NICs as active adapters, with our 1Gb NICs in standby. This is not a required configuration, but just an example. If you have ESXi enterprise plus, this could be a great time to look at Load Based teaming, if you aren’t already using it.

NICS

The fourth best practice is for the Veeam repository server, where I recommend adding dedicated VMDK(s) that use the PVSCSI controller. The PVSCSI controller is more CPU efficient under high IOPS load as my colleague Michael Webster blogged about here. I’d also recommend using vSphere 5.5, where a single VMDK can exceed 2TB. That enables larger backup repositories, which you may need in medium to large environments.

Finally, backing up your data has little value if you can’t restore it. When using Veeam Backup and Replication with Nutanix, I’m please to say that the full spectrum of restore options are at your fingertips with no special procedures required. For example, you can use Veeam’s vPower NFS technology, instant VM recovery, file-level restores, and U-AIR. Nutanix also fully supports all the application consistency options that Veeam offers their customers. So you can fully backup your Exchange, SQL, SharePoint, Active Directory, and other applications in a logically consistent manner.

The forthcoming whitepaper has a lot more detail, and other recommendations regarding backup types, operating systems, and version of Nutanix OS that we recommend. Once the full best practices guide is published I’ll add a link to this post. This has been a great collaborative effort with Luca Dell’Oca from Veeam, and you can grab your copy here.

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