As most managed services providers (MSPs) are aware, backing up your vSphere servers is crucial to safeguarding your organization’s continuity and data. Backing up virtual machines on vSphere is a key part of maintaining service availability, with backups being fundamental to restoration activities in the event of an emergency.
Although establishing backup processes is a good start, there are several other best practices MSPs can implement to make these processes faster, more robust, and more dependable. Moreover, by taking best practices into consideration, you can help ensure your backups are valid, secure, automated, free of human error, and operating at maximum efficiency.
How do I back up a VM in vSphere?
The following best practices will help you perform a virtual server backup in a way that achieves maximum security, efficiency, and speed. When implemented, these practices will reduce your backups’ susceptibility to errors and provide an effective solution.
1. UNDERSTAND THE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN GUEST-LEVEL AND HOST-LEVEL BACKUPS
There are two different approaches to Hyper-V VM backup, both with advantages and disadvantages that help MSPs meet different needs. Guest-level backups resemble physical machine backup, and work at the VM level. Host-level backup works at the hypervisor level and backs up entire VMs, including their configurations.
Host-level backup methods can back up VMs regardless of the operating system running in them. You can also back them up completely, which can be an advantage when working with customers with lots of virtual machines—simply because it’s easier to manage backups for a smaller number of host servers than it is to manage backups for every single individual virtual machine. However, this can quickly cause data overage charges when handling a large number of VMs.
Guest-level backups offer the advantage of protecting specific workloads running on each individual virtual machine. Host-level backups can recover entire VMs or specific files but cannot offer recovery in the context of any applications. If you’re looking for specific items from an application on a backed-up VM, guest-level backup of that VM is the answer.
Additionally, if a hypervisor doesn’t support a guest OS, a guest-level backup method is the only way to create an application-consistent backup. Despite an industry-wide push to recommend host-level backups, there are actually many instances in which guest-level backups are a viable and preferred option.
2. ENCRYPT VM BACKUPS
Making sure your VM backups are secure is a crucial part of safeguarding your system. The possibility that someone might gain unauthorized access to any unencrypted backups leaves your MSP incredibly vulnerable.
To effectively secure your backups, encrypt them both while they’re at rest and while they’re in transit. This ensures the data is encrypted when it’s moving and when it’s in storage. This type of end-to-end encryption reduces vulnerability.
3. STORE BACKUPS OFF-SITE
Having multiple backup copies is a well-known best practice, because it ensures you’ll always have at least one recoverable backup copy of your data. Off-site backup storage offers important protection against things like building fires, floods, or natural disasters. If you store your only backups in the same place as your production data, they won’t help you in these scenarios.
4. REMEMBER THAT VMWARE SNAPSHOTS ARE NOT BACKUPS
Treating VMware snapshots as backups is, unfortunately, a common mistake. Although snapshots offer a great way of rolling back your environment to a state you know to be error-free, they shouldn’t be used as an alternative to backups.
A snapshot is a delta disk and a memory state file that captures the state of a VM at a specific point in time. The reason a snapshot cannot be used as a backup is because the snapshot disk is dependent on the parent disk and all other earlier snapshot disks in the chain. In other words, if any component in this disk chain gets corrupted, the whole chain is corrupted. Snapshots are stored alongside standard VM files in the same environment, which means that if something happens to the infrastructure supporting it, your snapshot files are just as vulnerable as the VM disk files.
A vSphere backup, or any other backup, must not be dependent on any part of the production infrastructure for recovery. In an emergency scenario, using a snapshot instead of a backup could be the difference between data recovery and data loss.
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