First off let me say that Avamar is a great product and hopefully this won’t sound like a rant. I started working with Avamar last year and quickly saw the value in this product which provides enterprise class data protection (backups) to disk. The architecture I went with consisted of large centralized grids, multiple datastore nodes with a utility node, which would be hosted in regional datacenters with remote locations having smaller configurations of either a single datastore node or small grid setup. So at a high level remote sites would backup locally then replicate to a grid in one of the regional datacenters. The local backups in the datacenter would replicate to another datacenter as well. This way there is redundancy for site and datacenter backups while providing a way to do local restores.
Avamar easily showed it’s power in reducing backup windows and reducing the amount of data put on LAN/WAN with source side deduplication for backups and replication. Even the first system backed up benefited from the deduplication and transferred roughly 80% of it’s data across the wire. Avamar backs up the data once so the first time pass will have a greater hit but all subsequent backups are incremental or blocks that are not already on the datastore. The more data in Avamar, the better the deduplication. This also helps reduce the amount of storage needed to store backups which could effectively yield a higher amount of data being protected than whats actually being stored on disk. Avamar also has a image proxy appliance for backing up virtual machines in vSphere which were easy to setup to start backing virtual machines agent-less. Not only is there an appliance that can be used to backup virtual machines there is also the Avamar Virtual Edition. This is an appliance that gets you all the features and functionality in an easy to deploy virtual machine where you have to supply the storage. It only supports a limited storage capacity and there is no supported grid setup but it works really well for those smaller locations.
Now, I talked about some of the goodness of Avamar but there is a flip side. When I say “Avamar has lots of Ying but not so much Yang” I’m simply stating that Avamar has a lot going for it with a solid set of core features and functionality but it’s lacking in some key areas. One of those areas is in the ease of configuration. EMC support actually has to do a lot of the setup and configuration. This can be a good thing but something as simple as the Active Directory integration setup could be a long drown out setup with EMC logged in at the command line. Replication setup is also something that needs improvement because you can only setup a single replication cron job from either the Enterprise Manager or the Avamar Administrator java application. That brings up another area of improvement and in my opinion the most important thing which is the management of Avamar.
There are two separate management consoles that can be used to do certain things Avamar like managing clients or checking backups. This can leave the consumer confused as to which tool should be used for what. The enterprise manager is web based and the avamar administrator is a java application and they both seem to be a bit disjointed and unfinished. The avamar administrator is not too bad and once you get where everything is you can be productive but you can lose yourself in all the windows which can be opened at one time that all look somewhat the same. I can go on with some of the small things like having to click the “show sub-domain groups”, why not make this a default' I use a Mac and the java application looks different. Not so much that I can’t find my way around but some of the elements don’t work the same. So a user interface change is needed in my opinion to add more functionality for configuring things without needing EMC support or going to the command line. And this change should also bring a more clean look and feel with a single pane with easy transitions from one area to the next. Plain and simple just make the management as powerful as the core features and functionality so that Avamar can have balance.
Well, maybe I did rant just a little but there more good to say than bad with Avamar when it comes to protecting data, reducing LAN/WAN traffic, reducing backup windows, etc.
I wanted to give some insight into how Avamar protects VMware virtual machines. I have been using Avamar 6.0.x and most of the management and configuration from a Mac. Since the operating systems running on the Avamar servers and proxies are linux, having a terminal comes in handy. Plus the management using Avamar Administrator uses Java so it can be used on Windows, Mac or Linux. If your on a Windows system the Avamar Administrator console is a bit more attractive but offers the same functionality. The management of Avamar needs a bit of work and from the grape vine I hear the next release, which is coming soon, will fix a lot of the issues I’ve complained about in my previous post. Either way data protection and recovery with Avamar is pretty solid once you have all the pieces setup and ready but if your looking for easy, look elsewhere. PHD Virtual Backup fits the bill for easy but it only covers VM backups where Avamar can do both physical and virtual.
First, let me give a short tour of the components we’ll need to protect a VMware vSphere environment with Avamar. This only includes the components for data protect or recovery and assumes you already have the VMware vSphere environment configured with vCenter, ESX hosts, with shared storage.
As far as the Avamar Servers and Avamar Virtual Edition (AVE) are concerned you only need one or the other for a single location. They are the backend that stores all the backup data. The Avamar VM Proxy is used to do image level backups and the Windows File-Level VM Proxy is used to do file-level restores from the image backups. This removes the need for backup agents in the virtual machines. This is how the environment layout would look.
I found the documentation very good and easy to follow but here are the basic step you’ll have to do in order to backup and restore VMware virtual machines.
Once all the setup is done you can start protecting the VMs for that vCenter Server which you’ll see in the Avamar Administrator as a domain with a Virtual Machines sub domain. Restores are pretty easy from the Avamar Administrator whether it’s for a single file or a full virtual machine. The documentation shows the process for both very well so I will not try to recreate it here. Image based backups with Avamar have been unmatched compared to agent backups. I see more successful backups without the open file errors from agent backups.