I have worked for NetBackup Technical Support as a Staff engineer for long time. Customers don’t call us when things are working great; they need our help when they are not getting what they want from the product. Naturally, a seasoned engineer in support is continuously dealing with weaknesses or defects in the product more than its strengths.
Recently, I watched a demo of protecting virtual machines using a competitor’s product. This product’s primary backup server (equivalent to a NetBackup master server) runs only on Windows. The product installation setup screen reminded me of Windows 3.1 installation back in 90s during my high school days. What a nostalgic feeling! It prompts the user for a few inputs, goes and copies a few files, comes back and asks a few other questions, then it does something else and so on. It also prompted for reboots a couple of times. The partner consultant who was installing the software pretty much had to baby-sit the whole process. Remember that we have not even accounted for the time it takes to install Windows operating system, Windows updates, IT mandated applications for security and compliance etc.
Well, after a few hours of big installation project he was kind to show me how to protect virtual machines. Setting up deduplication pool for virtual machine backups took sometime. I also noticed that he was predefining the deduplication chunk size to 32Kb for VMware backups. A big alarm popped in my head. This is operational nightmare. How do you deduplicate across workloads? Finally he set up the agent for VMware and added a few VMs for backup. The backup job started. It felt painfully slow. I am not going to reveal the actual performance stats. For a built-your-own type of backup system like this, mileage varies.
This reminded me of how simple it was when my colleague George Winter and I setup NetBackup 5220 in another partner’s lab (this partner is Datalink, headquartered in Eden Prairie, Minnesota) for benchmarking VMware VADP using a mini-datacenter based on Cisco UCS, NetApp FlexPod and vSphere 5 infrastructure. We spent a lot of time building this datacenter. However we managed to setup the backup environment in less than 45 minutes end-to-end. This includes racking the appliance, power-on and configuration! During configuration, the appliance asked us all the questions up-front so that we could go for a coffee when it is doing its setup.
Once the appliance was up, all that I needed to do to start backups was to define the backup host, which will do VMware backups and provide credentials to access the vCenter server. The VMware Intelligent Policy in NetBackup gave us a quick way to discover and protect all the virtual machines under the vCenter server right away.
Now coming to backup performance… George and I have spoken about this a lot in multiple VMware user group and VMworld events. For details, I recommend watching this webcast. It is suffice to say that we managed to push VMware vStorage APIs to the limit, just from a single NetBackup 5220 appliance!
The moral of the story… At times I need to really see what competitors do (rather than what competitors say) to appreciate how we do better. I take my hat off to NetBackup engineers behind the scenes who are working around the globe to make the lives of backup administrators better. They made NetBackup 5220 happen. A solution way too forward for that other product to even come close.