Product: Vembu BDR
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Recently, I was asked to review a product from Vembu called BDR On Premise Backup with Optional Cloud DR. As a Microsoft storage MVP, I work with a lot of different backup applications, but admittedly I was not familiar with Vembu or their produces. Normally when I write a review I like to jump right in and get my hands dirty, but in this case I decided to reach out to Vembu first so that I could learn a little bit more about their BDR backup application.
During my conversation with Vembu, I learned that their goal was to create a high quality, but low cost backup. They wanted to build a product that would be intuitive and easy to use, and that would also give small and medium sized IT shops access to some of the capabilities that are often found only in the more expensive backup suites. Armed with this information, I set out to see whether or not Vembu makes the grade with their BDR backup application.
The Deployment Process
Vembu offers a few different options for deploying their backup software. As you would probably expect, you can download either a Windows or a Linux version of the backup software. Your other option is to download a pre-configured virtual appliance. Virtual appliances are available for VMware (in OVF format) and for Hyper-V (in VHD format). There are also virtual appliances available for XenServer and VirtualBox.
Prior to the review, I was asked to evaluate the VMware virtual appliance. I was able to download the virtual appliance from the vendor’s Web site. The download consisted of a 3.74 GB ZIP file, which contained the actual OVF file, along with documentation files and some client builds. The virtual appliance provisions roughly about 216 GB of space within the VMware datastore and requires 16 GB of memory to run.
Normally when I write a review, I try not to look at the product documentation until after the review is done because I want to see how easy the product is to use. In this case I needed the documentation because I had to look up the default authentication credentials (root and password). As I did, I found that the virtual appliance deployment guide was well done, and easy to follow. Incidentally, the default password has been removed since the time that my review was written and the administrator is free to supply their own password.
The virtual appliance is an Ubuntu based virtual machine. After logging in, I followed the instructions to make sure that Mysql, Mongo, and the VembuBDR services were running per the instructions. I didn’t actually have to do anything because the services started properly.
At this point a FireFox browser opened and I received a login prompt (both the username and password are admin). It was here that I got a little distracted. Over the last few years I have reviewed plenty of products that are based in VMware virtual appliances. Normally the virtual appliance is really bare bones and contains exactly what is needed in order for the product to function and nothing more. After all, you don’t want to waste resources on your virtualization host or introduce potential vulnerabilities through unnecessary code. However, Vembu’s virtual appliance was anything but barebones. For better or worse, it even included a browser shortcut to Amazon, as shown in Figure A. However, I am told that these extras will be going away in the next version.
Figure A: The virtual appliance included a shortcut to Amazon.
After logging in, the software asked me to specify a time zone, a vembuBDR ID and a storage volume. Once I had configured these basic settings, it was time to use the software.
The Test Drive
The first time that I tried to use Vembu BDR, I encountered two minor problems. The first problem was that I received a message saying that my trial had expired even though I had just installed it. It was later determined that I received this error because I had accidentally downloaded an outdated virtual appliance. The reason why I mentioned this particular problem was because the problem forced me to contact Vembu and gave me the chance to experience their technical support. The people that I dealt with were knowledgeable and courteous and were able to diagnose and fix my problem in a matter of minutes.
The other problem that I encountered was that for whatever reason my mouse was unable to click on some of the menu options. Rebooting the BDR appliance did not correct the problem, but rebooting my VMware server did fix the problem. As such, I am assuming that the problem was probably VMware related and I seriously doubt that it was an issue with the virtual appliance itself.
For my test drive I set up two demo virtual machines. One of these virtual machines was running Windows Server 2012 R2 and the other was running Windows 8.1. My plan was to create a backup of the two VMs and then check to see if Vembu BDR used deduplication as a part of the backup process. From there, I planned to delete the two virtual machines and see if I could recover them.
Before I could back up the virtual machines, I had to install a client component VM. I initially assumed that this client component was a backup agent, but later discovered that the client component is an interface, not an agent. Installing the client component resulted in a shortcut for the Vembu BDR Web client being installed on the VM’s desktop.
At first I assumed that the Web console on the client was probably a self-service restore utility. However, I later realized that it was the mechanism for creating backup jobs. The Server Management console includes options such as List of Clients, and Virtual Drive Management, but there is no option to create a backup job. That must be done through the client Web interface, as shown in Figure B.
Figure B: This is the client Web interface.
As I worked my way through the interface, I discovered that image backups are not supported for Windows 8.1 clients, as shown in Figure C. I was only given the option of performing a file level backup. Even at that, when I attempted to save my backup I received the warning message shown in Figure C, indicating that I would only be able to restore files and folders, but not the operating system. Clearly it was time for a new plan.
Figure C: Image backups are not supported for Windows 8.
Figure D: Windows 8 file backups do not support OS restoration.
Since my original plan wasn’t going to work, I decided to see if I could perform a host level backup. Although the client’s Web interface seemed to be geared toward backing up that client, there was a VMware option on the Backup menu. Clicking on that option gave me the chance to make Vembu BDR aware of my VMware server. From there I was able to configure a VMware backup with relative ease. You can see the VMware backup configuration options in Figure E.
Figure E: It was relatively easy to back up my VMware server.
I have to admit that I really liked the screen that was displayed while the backup was in progress, because it gave me lots of useful information. You can see what this screen looks like in Figure F.
Figure F: This is the screen that is displayed during a backup.
My backup completed in a reasonable amount of time and upon completion, the backup was listed within the Backup Server interface on the list of backup clients. As you can see in Figure G, the backup consumed 149.51 GB of space. By way of comparison, the virtual machines on my VMware server were actively consuming approximately 285 GB of space, so the deduplication process saved about 136 GB of space on the backup target yielding a space savings of nearly 50%.
Figure G: The backup is listed on the client list.
The next thing that I tried to do was to mount the backup as a virtual drive. The virtual drive allows you to explore the backup and to perform granular restoration. In theory the feature could even be used for a virtual to virtual conversion because the software allows you to download virtual machines in various formats. As you can see in Figure H for example, I was able to download a VMware virtual machine in Hyper-V (VHD) format. Since the time of the review, VHDX support has been added as well.
Figure H: You can download a backup in multiple formats.
I have to admit that I did have some trouble mounting the virtual drive. The software will not allow you to mount a virtual drive while the backup is in progress. I tried suspending, and even aborting the backup, but the backup was still listed as being in progress, even though I received messages stating that I had suspended and / or aborted the backups successfully. Even deactivating the backup did not change the backup’s status. After about fifteen minutes the backup status changed on its own, so it is possible that I wasn’t being patient enough. I am not really sure why I initially had difficulties with changing the backup status, but I was using slow hardware so I am willing to give the software the benefit of a doubt.
Next, I decided to try a restoration. As you can see in Figure I, you have the option of restoring directly to VMware or performing an instant boot. I decided to try out the option to restore the VM to VMware. In doing so, the software simply asks you which backup and virtual machine you want to restore. You must then specify the restoration target and a set of credentials and you are on your way.
Figure I: You have a couple of options for restoring the backup.
Vembu BDR has followed the growing trend of using subscription based licensing as opposed to offering customers a perpetual license. Vembu offers free image backups and file backups for desktops and laptops. At the time that this review was written, Hyper-V (2 socket) image backups cost $14 per month and physical server and VMware (2 socket) image backups cost $20 per month. Vembu also charges $14 per month for application only backups of physical servers and file level physical server backups are $7 per month. Vembu also offers cloud DR storage at ten cents per GB per month.
All in all, I think that Vembu gets the job done and it has a nice feature set for a modestly priced backup application. However, I do wish that it was possible to perform image backups of desktops. After my review was complete, I was told that Vembu BDR will allow image backups to be made of desktops that are running an OS other than Windows 8.1. Even so, I have not verified this capability and the fact that image backups are not supported for Windows 8.1 seems like a big obstacle to achieving overall data protection. The software is geared toward medium and small businesses and many smaller businesses have a very real need for desktop backups. Sometimes file level backups just don’t meet an organization’s needs. Vembu has indicated that they will support image level backups for Windows 8.1 in the upcoming version 3.0.
My other concern with the software is that I think that Vembu could make the interface more intuitive. Everything made sense to me once I got used to the Vembu way of doing things, but there was definitely a bit of a learning curve. Some of the ways in which the interface works just do not seem logical. For instance, if you look back at Figure G, you will notice that my backup is listed under the client name (in this case, Desktop) even though the backup is a VMware ESX backup and has nothing to do with the client. I have been told that the next version of the software will use a different, much cleaner interface and that the client will reside on the server.
When I write a review for this site, it has become customary to assign the product a rating of between zero and five (with five being the highest). In accordance with the rating guidelines, I give Vembu BDR a score of 4.2 out of 5, which is a VirtualizationAdmin.com Silver Award.
VirtualizationAdmin.com Rating 4.2/5