Product Review: Unitrends Enterprise Backup for Hyper-V

by [Published on 15 Jan. 2014 / Last Updated on 15 Jan. 2014]

As someone who works with Hyper-V on a daily basis, I am always on the lookout for innovative disaster recovery products for Hyper-V. Recently someone suggested that I take a look at Unitrends Enterprise Backup for Hyper-V. Although I was unfamiliar with this product, I decided to take it for a test drive.

Product: Unitrends Enterprise Backup for Hyper-V

Product Homepage: click here

Free Download: click here

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Installation

For the purposes of this review, I downloaded version 7.2.0-1 of the Unitrends Enterprise Backup for Hyper-V application from the Unitrends Web site. The download came in the form of a self extracting executable file that was just under 900 MB in size.

The download completed in a timely manner without any problem. My favorite part of the download process however, was the way that Unitrends makes the application available. I review a lot of software applications. Almost all of the enterprise vendors require you to provide a phone number before they will let you download a trial. Of course this inevitably leads to annoying sales calls. Unitrends thankfully did not require a phone number. I was only required to provide my E-mail address and the state that I live in.

When the download completed, I copied the file to an empty folder on a lab server that was running Windows Server 2012 and Hyper-V. Double clicking on the executable file launched a Setup wizard.

The Setup wizard was very simplistic and didn’t really ask me any questions other than the installation path. After clicking Next a few times the Setup process began. I didn’t really time the setup process, but it probably took somewhere between ten and fifteen minutes to complete. Upon completion, I discovered that Setup had created and started a brand new Hyper-V virtual machine. As you can see in Figure A, this VM consumes 4 GB of memory.

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Figure A: Setup automatically created a Hyper-V virtual machine.

The Initial Configuration

Normally when I review a product, I like to attempt the install, configure, and use the product without the aid of documentation. This helps me to get a feel for how intuitive the product is.

When I connected to the Unitrends VM, I quickly realized that the VM was acting as a Web server. It had claimed the IP address 10.10.10.1, which does not match up to any of the subnets on my network. I needed to change the IP address, but the console screen merely displayed a cryptic “Please Enter Choice” message.

I knew that I needed the documentation. Thankfully, Unitrends had E-mailed me a link to the documentation. I reviewed the documentation and went back to the Unitrends console only to discover that the display had refreshed and now contained more than just a lone Please Enter Choice message. Now there were configuration options on the screen, as shown in Figure B. I’m honestly not sure why the console initially only displayed a Please Enter Choice message. My guess is that perhaps the VM hadn’t fully finished booting or maybe another VM on the server had a performance spike that momentarily slowed down the Unitrends VM. In any case, this proved to be an isolated incident.

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Figure B: This is the Unitrends console.

This is where things got really interesting. I pressed 1 for Network Setup and was then prompted to select a network adapter. After doing so, I chose the option to change my IP address. Upon typing the desired IP address however, the software generated random errors indicating that an unknown key was pressed, as shown in Figure C.

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Figure C: I received random Unknown Key Pressed errors.

The odd thing about these errors was that they were completely inconsistent. Sometimes I could type several characters before I received the error. Other times I could only type two characters. The errors occurred whether I used the number keys at the top of the keyboard or the number pad.

I tried deleting and recreating the VM in an attempt to resolve the error, but nothing seemed to work. Since I had been remotely attached to the Hyper-V host (which is something that I do every day) I thought that I would try working through the IP address configuration directly from the server console. When I did, I was able to configure the IP address without receiving the error.

I eventually contacted Unitrends to find out if logging into the server console directly was a true fix, or if it was a coincidence that the error message went away. I was told that there is a Linux level bug related to the use of Microsoft wireless keyboards (which is what I had initially been using). Unitrends has indicated that they are going to document the issue on their Web site.

Once the problem was resolved, I went back to my desktop PC, opened a Web browser, and went to the virtual appliance’s Web interface. I was greeted with a setup wizard that prompted me to accept a license agreement, specify the current date and time, specify backup storage, and perform other initial configuration tasks.

One of the wizard’s screens asked me if I needed to deploy any backup agents. The software does not require agents for Windows VMs, but agents are required for VMs running Linux, Mac OS X, Unix, Novel, or Windows 2000 or earlier.

The wizard also prompted me to begin configuring backup clients. For the purpose of this review, I configured the software to back up one of my Hyper-V servers, as shown in Figure D.

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Figure D: The wizard allows you to specify your backup clients as a part of the initial configuration process.

Performing a Backup

The interface used for performing a backup took a little bit of getting used to, but it is actually a very logical layout. As you can see in the figure below, the host name is presented beneath the name of the backup server. Individual applications are presented beneath the host server. At first I selected the node corresponding to the name of my lab server (Lab2) and proceeded to configure a backup. I quickly realized however, that doing so creates a file level backup and file level backups are not supported in the free version of the product.

Incidentally, the reason why I chose to use the free version of the product for my review was because I had to get the review done by a certain date and had not received the product license as quickly as I needed it. I later learned that the free version is somewhat limited and that Unitrends offers an unlimited 30 day evaluation to potential customers. The evaluation software also includes direct line support.

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Figure E: I had to select the Hyper-V node to create a Hyper-V backup.

It was then that I realized that if I wanted to create a Hyper-V backup that I would need to select the Hyper-V node in order to configure the backup. This particular lab server also contains a SQL Server 2008 instance (SQL Server and Hyper-V should never coexist on a production box) and the Unitrends software also recognized it. I could have clicked on the SQL Server 2008 node to back up SQL Server.

The Backup Process

Configuring Unitrends Enterprise Backup to back up Hyper-V was simple. All I really had to do was to specify the virtual machines that I wanted to back up. There were also some other options that I was able to configure such as deduplication and verification.

The backup process was successful, as shown in Figure F, but it did give me a bit of a surprise. About five minutes into the backup I received a number of error messages related to a communications failure. There were probably three or four different messages and they were being displayed in an infinitely rotating sequence at such a rapid fire speed that I was unable to fully read the messages. One of the messages included a prompt asking if I wanted to display more information. It didn’t matter if I clicked Yes or No, the same errors kept being displayed over and over again.

After doing a little bit of digging, I looked at my Hyper-V console and realized that because I had included the Unitrends virtual appliance in the backup, it had to be rebooted. It was this reboot process that had triggered the error. Clearly the error was a result of losing communications with the VM. Once the reboot completed and I refreshed my browser everything was good. The backup was still running and eventually completed successfully.

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Figure F: My backup completed successfully.

Reporting

Unitrends Enterprise Backup includes a really nice reporting engine. I have worked with other backup applications that try to dazzle administrators with a dizzying array of reports that really aren’t of much use in the real world. The Unitrends software seems to have struck a good balance between the number of available report types and the usefulness of the reports. There are 22 different reports available that provide information on everything from the effectiveness of the deduplication process to legal hold backups. You can see a list of the available reports in Figure G.

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Figure G: Unitrends Enterprise Backup offers a number of different reports.

I tried out the Backup report and the Data Reduction report. Both were generated quickly and appeared to be accurate.

The Restoration Process

In order for a backup to be useful you have to be able to restore it. Needless to say, I wanted to make sure that I could restore the VMs that I had backed up. I really liked the Restore screen because it clearly indicates which VMs are available for restoration and when the recovery points were created. You can see what this screen looks like in Figure H.

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Figure H: The Restore screen is very intuitive.

The restoration process was simple, straightforward, and most importantly it worked. One thing that I really liked was that the software not only warned me when I was about to overwrite an existing VM, it actually made me select a check box indicating that I understood what I was about to do. While this might seem unnecessary, it can prevent a click happy administrator from accidentally making a big mistake. You can see what this dialog box looks like in Figure I.

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Figure I: The check box is a simple mechanism for protecting against big mistakes.

You can see what a successful restoration looks like in Figure J.

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Figure J: My VM restored successfully.

Licensing

I have to say that I was very pleasantly surprised by the Unitrends Enterprise Backup licensing model. Unitrends offers a basic enterprise edition license and they offer a free 30 day trial version to go along with it (as previously mentioned). What impressed me however, was that Unitrends also offers a free edition which never expires and will allow for the protection of up to eight virtual machines. In addition, Unitrends offers a NFR license for free to vExperts, VCPs, VCIs, VMUG members, Microsoft MVPs, and MCPs.

The Verdict

When I write reviews for Windows Networking it has become customary to rate the product that I am reviewing on a scale from zero to five (with five being the best). Admittedly, I had a tough time deciding what type of rating to give Unitrends Enterprise Backup.

On one hand, the product has a lot of nice features, the interface is relatively intuitive, and the software works as advertised. On the other hand, I did encounter a few bugs during my review.

I am willing to overlook the error messages that stemmed from the unexpected reboot. While I do think that the software could have displayed a more meaningful (and easier to read) message, I have to accept the fact that the error was not actually problematic and that any confusion was a direct result of my being unfamiliar with the software.

The problem that I had with the software reporting unrecognized key presses however, was a little bit more serious. Yes, I eventually found a workaround to the problem, but in my opinion the software should have worked the same way whether I was connected to my Hyper-V server locally or remotely. After all, I work with the server remotely on a daily basis and have never experienced a problem related to RDP connectivity.

With all things considered, I give Unitrends Backup Enterprise a score of 4.0 which earns it VirtualizationAdmin.com Silver Award.. All in all, I think that Unitrends has a solid product and that the feature set is on par with what Hyper-V administrators need. At the same time however, the interface was a little bit quirky at times. Thankfully, any quirks that I encountered did not seem to have any negative impact on my ability to protect my virtual machines.

VirtualizationAdmin.com Rating 4/5

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Learn More about Unitrends Enterprise Backup for Hyper-V or Download it Free.

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The Author — Brien M. Posey

Brien M. Posey avatar

Brien Posey is an MCSE and has won the Microsoft MVP award for the last few years. Brien has written well over 4,000 technical articles and written or contributed material to 27 books.