Organizations widely use the advantages of virtualization to improve hardware efficiency. Multi-level virtual environments built with hypervisor solutions such as Hyper-V can improve many internal and external workflows, from communication between employees to running client services.
Due to the importance of digital infrastructures and workflows, much of the data stored and processed by Hyper-V VMs is critical. Therefore, organizations need to protect that data from losses. Arguably, the best way to avoid data loss is to set up a process of regular Hyper-V backup.
This article covers the reasons to have a Hyper-V backup and also explains the main approaches and best practices to follow when backing up Hyper-V data, VMs and infrastructures.
Why Do I Need a Hyper-V Backup?
In the contemporary cyber-driven world, a data loss incident is not a matter of ‘if’ for an organization anymore. When more and more production processes start relying on digital infrastructures, data loss causing downtime that results in serious financial and reputational decrease is only a matter of when. For example, factors causing the loss of data include:
- Hardware malfunction
- Software disruption
- Sudden disk failure
- Accidental or malicious deletion
- Ransomware attack
- Connection issues
- Power outage
- Fire, flood, or any other natural disaster
Of course, organizations build reliable digital security systems, educate users, and try to find reliable hardware suppliers and network connection providers. However, the more complicated the digital environment is, the more vulnerabilities can appear there. An emergency may happen at any moment, and critical data loss is the most common consequence when it occurs.
At the point when the original VM data is already lost, the only way to restore that data is to use a previously created Hyper-V backup. Every organization should develop a data protection strategy and have a recovery plan to keep control over critical data and maintain production continuity even after the worst data loss disaster scenario becomes real.
How to Back Up a VM in Hyper-V?
There is a variety of approaches towards the backup and recovery processes of Hyper-V data, VMs and infrastructures. A backup approach should satisfy the organization’s needs regarding its data protection requirements and policies. The main Hyper-V backup approaches are:
- Manual backups
- Backing up Hyper-V VMs with Windows Server Backup
- The use of hardware backup appliances
- Creating VM backups with third-party software solutions.
Each of these Hyper-V backup approaches has its own strengths and weaknesses. Check them out and consider every point when developing the Hyper-V VM backup strategy for your organization.
Manual Hyper-V backup
Manual backups are the oldest approach for data protection in general. Manual Hyper-V backup has users locate and copy the data on their own, and then send that data to the destination storage.
On the one hand, manual backups are the cheapest. They don’t require any additional software or hardware installation, nor do they need the user to have special knowledge and/or experience. In fact, manual backup is free for an organization except for paying employees.
On the other hand, a reliable data protection system should minimize the probability of human errors. When going beyond the use of one or two Hyper-V VMs for personal purposes, manual backups simply cannot provide sufficient reliability and operational efficiency.
Back up Hyper-V VMs with Windows Server Backup
Windows Server Backup is a free Hyper-V backup instrument that can be considered to be the default backup, at least for what it does. You can use Windows Server Backup via the graphic wizard or the wbadmin command-line tool that comes with it. As a part of the Microsoft Hyper-V software pack, Windows Server Backup can run on Windows Server 2012 or newer as well as on Hyper-V Server.
With the Windows Server Backup console, you can create and manage Hyper-V backups, create backup workflow schedules, run Hyper-V backup sessions on-demand or automatically, etc. Volume Shadow Copy Service (VSS) and incremental backup via Resilient Change Tracking (RCT) are supported.
Although Windows Server Backup is simple, free, and relatively reliable, the solution may not meet all your needs. First of all, Windows Server Backup does not enable you to monitor backup processes or check the consistency of VMs and their apps in backups. Also, comfortably managing backup workflows in IT environments running more than three Hyper-V hosts would be challenging as well. Finally, you can’t recover particular files or objects from Hyper-V VM backups made with Windows Server Backup. To restore a single object, you’ll need to manually mount a backed-up VM first.
Hardware backup appliances
The way to quickly organize a backup process for a complex Hyper-V environment is to install a ready-made backup appliance. A contemporary hardware backup appliance carries an on-board CPU, RAM modules, network interfaces, and storage disks along with the proprietary backup software. It’s a high-performance device that can be integrated into the IT system of an organization with little to no problem. Regardless of the vendor, today’s backup appliances can provide the organization with a rich set of tools and possibilities for data backup and restore, workload replication, verification, monitoring, and disaster recovery.
The most notable downside of hardware backup appliances is the cost. The purchase of even the simplest device may require significant investments that not every organization can afford. The final price of the system and maintenance can grow bigger if the IT staff involved need to familiarize themselves with the appliance’s proprietary software before they become able to fully utilize the available functionality.
Third-party backup software solutions
Organizations want to protect their data effectively while bypassing the low reliability of manual backups, the insufficient functionality of the default tools, and the cost of hardware backup appliances. A universal software solution for a Hyper-V backup can be your first choice if you want to receive a no-compromise set of data protection tools for an affordable price.
For example, NAKIVO Backup & Replication is an agentless data protection solution providing backup and restore, replication, and disaster recovery of VMs. Additionally, the solution can help organizations protect their data and workloads in any virtual (Microsoft Hyper-V, VMware vSphere, Nutanix AHV) environment, as well as on physical servers, Windows, and Linux workstations, and hybrid infrastructures.
Modern universal backup solutions can enable you to schedule and automate backup and recovery workflows, run incremental backups with RCT, verify the recoverability of backed-up Hyper-V VMs, and control data protection activities of multiple sites and locations from a single pane of glass.
Back-Up Hyper-V: Best Practices
After you choose the data protection approach and solution, make your Hyper-V backup strategy as effective as possible. Improve the protection of your organization’s Hyper-V VMs and critical data by following the recommendations below.
Know what to back up
Before thinking about how to back up virtual machines in Hyper-V, VMware, or any other hypervisor, you need to find out which VMs in your environment require backup. The strategy depends on the structure of your environment, the amount of data to protect, the importance of the data in question, and the resources you can allocate for backup and replication tasks.
Define your production-critical workloads, as well as those processing and storing other critical data. VMs storing the data files such as important legal documents, personal data of clients, and intellectual property, should be protected and backed up according to the appropriate policies and legal requirements. When the workloads are defined, continue developing your data protection strategy.
Don’t think Hyper-V VM checkpoints are backups
In any guide on Hyper-V checkpoint best practices, this point should surely be there. Many think that VM checkpoints (aka snapshots) are backups and nothing else is required to protect data effectively. That’s not right.
In fact, a snapshot is only a rollback tool that can be used to, for example, quickly restore the default state of the Hyper-V VM after testing new features or apps with that VM. That’s correct, no snapshot is a backup on its own. Moreover, whenever a disruption occurs above the level of a VM, a regular VM snapshot cannot be used to restore data or regain access to the workload.
Run and store backups on a separate infrastructure
Running your backup software and production VMs on a single host is risky. If you run and store your backups together with the main environment, that drastically increases the chance that both the organization’s production and its backups will fall simultaneously after an incident. When backups are unavailable, encrypted, deleted or corrupted, no recovery is possible.
The best option here is to have a dedicated server to install and run backup software, and to store Hyper-V backup data. Running backup and recovery activities on a standalone hardware appliance means that the backup and production workflows do not create a performance overhead for each other. Storing backups on that appliance’s onboard disks enables you to have on-site backups for fast recovery that are still separated from the main environment.
Provide enough hardware resources
Data backup is a resource-consuming operation. Backup activities cause a high load on your organization’s Hyper-V hosts, networks, and storage subsystems. A single bottleneck issue in a CPU, network bandwidth, or RAM, among others, can result in a critical performance reduction for both your production environment and backup workflows.
Therefore, make sure that your backup infrastructure has enough CPU, RAM, network resources, and storage space to run all the required workflows and keep the necessary data backups. Additionally, your production hardware and network should have some spare capacity so that VMs run smoothly when production data is being copied to the backup repositories.
Automate Hyper-V backup workflows
Virtual environments in today’s organizations are most frequently complex, multi-level systems with tens, hundreds, or even thousands of VMs running on several hosts. However, even for much smaller environments that consist of ten workloads on a single host, controlling and running all the necessary backup activities manually would be too unreliable and time-consuming.
Automating Hyper-V backup processes can significantly increase the effectiveness of data protection. With contemporary software solutions, you only need to set up and schedule VM backups once. Then, the solution runs the required workflows automatically, which results in more reliable data protection. Additionally, automated backups can lighten the load on the IT department staff and help them spend more of their working time completing other important tasks.
Ensure backups are app-aware
Modern solutions have VSS support integrated and can run application-aware Hyper-V VM backups. Application awareness is necessary to ensure app data consistency in backups and enable seamless recovery.
In app-aware Hyper-V backups, VSS is used to ensure that application data is properly flushed from memory and frozen for a period long enough to take a consistent VSS snapshot. Such backups running critical app servers like Microsoft Exchange Server or Microsoft SQL server can help you restore production much more quickly and avoid critical data loss.
Follow the 3-2-1 Rule
The 3-2-1 rule is the data protection rule that is commonly accepted in the world’s IT-industry. According to this rule, an organization enhancing the reliability of data backups should:
- Create at least three copies of backup data.
- Keep backup copies on two or more different types of media (for example, on the HDD and in the cloud).
- Send one copy to a remote location that is digitally isolated and physically distant enough from the main server.
When following the 3-2-1 rule, you avoid a single point of failure and can quickly restore the data when a minor disruption occurs to the main site. In case of major disaster, for instance, a ransomware attack blocking the main server, critical data stored in the remote backup still remains safe and accessible.
Verify completed backups
Without a doubt, the worst moment to find out that your backups are unrecoverable is when the original data is already lost. To prevent that from happening, choose a Hyper-V backup solution that enables you to verify the recoverability of recently created or updated backups. Contemporary backup software solutions can verify backups right after the workflows are completed.
Reduce the size of VM backups
The common IT rule states that you need to have at least as much disk space for backups as you have for your production VMs. However, the better solutions on the market can help you reduce the size of backups and significantly increase the efficiency of disk usage. Backups can take up to 10 times less disk space after deduplication and compression, so you can either have more recovery points with the disk space remaining unchanged or save maintenance costs by installing fewer disks on your backup server.
Enhance Hyper-V backup data safety
Nowadays threats for IT environments are starker than ever. Hackers know how important backups are for organizations, and backup repositories are regular targets for cyberattacks. Therefore, taking care of the safety and security of your Hyper-V backup data is a high-priority task.
Data protection solutions can help you protect backups. For example, with NAKIVO Backup & Replication you can make your backups in a local Linux-based repository, on NAS, or in Amazon S3 immutable. Immutability protects backup data from changes throughout the set period, so, for instance, ransomware that successfully infiltrated your environment doesn’t encrypt or delete Hyper-V backups.
Organize disaster recovery
A carefully organized disaster recovery process can help you restore and stabilize the production of your organization after the IT environment completely fails. As every minute of downtime means financial losses for an organization, the fastest disaster recovery workflows are the best.
Today’s data protection solutions can enable you to create automated workflows for planned and emergency failovers, failbacks, and data center migration sequences across multiple sites. Moreover, custom workflows can be created for different disaster scenarios. When an actual disaster strikes, you just initiate the previously created disaster recovery workflow, and automatically restore production in minutes, no matter how bad the disaster is at the main site.
The efficiency of data protection with a Hyper-V backup depends on the approach you choose. Every approach has strengths and weaknesses:
- Manual backups can fit personal use cases. Still, they most probably won’t satisfy the needs of even the smallest organization in terms of reliability and speed.
- The Windows Server Backup tool can be a suitable and free way to back up some VMs and serve as a basic backup solution. However, a growing organization is going to require a more functional solution sooner or later.
- Ready-made backup appliances carrying high-end hardware and proprietary software mostly have advanced sets of backup, restore, replication, and disaster recovery functions. The downside is the cost – high-end backup appliances may require serious investments from an organization.
- Universal backup software solutions can offer a complete set of data protection functions beyond the capacity of any manual or integrated Hyper-V backup tool. At the same time, contemporary backup software can be more cost-efficient than any backup appliance.
Choose your approach to data protection depending on the needs and capabilities of your organization. Finding a proper balance between the functionality and the cost of a data protection solution is key in any case.