Rollout: Vizioncore vRanger Professional 3.2

By easing the strain of virtual machine backups, Vizioncore's vRanger Pro saves time and processing power in ESX clusters.

January 31, 2008

8 Min Read
Network Computing logo

Vizioncore's new vRanger Professional 3.2 is a backup and restore product for VMware environments that complements an enterprise backup system. It can speed backup and restore times and offers additional features, including scheduling; reporting; file-level restores; and a choice of storage destinations, including NTFS, Linux, or VMware's VMFS (Virtual Machine File System) formats.


CLAIM: Vizioncore's vRanger aims to double the speed of hot backups of VMware ESX virtual machines. In concert with VMware's Virtual Consolidated Backup (VCB), vRanger snapshots the virtual machine and then moves the backup onto a proxy server. The proxy then writes the backup into storage, leaving ESX hosts free to serve up VMs.CONTEXT: Vizioncore complements the likes of Tivoli and Symantec because you still need another backup product to swipe VM backups off the proxy server. EMC NetWorker, Symantec Backup Exec, Tivoli Storage Manager, Veritas NetBackup can all integrate with VCB, but vRanger is small, lightweight, and inexpensive, worth adding even if you have one of these big guns already in place.Backing up a 10 GB single-volume Windows XP Professional virtual machine took 4.5 minutes, a speedy 67 Mbps. The product still has management kinks to work out, including the inability to adjust backup settings once a job is scheduled, and a lack of flexibility in assigning virtual machines for backup. Small and midsize businesses can work around these issues, but enterprises may want to steer clear until they're resolved.

Typically, backup and restore products require an agent for each VM. The vRanger Pro acts as a go-between for virtual machines and your backup infrastructure, eliminating the need to burden each VM with a separate agent. Vizioncore's vRanger Professional software is designed for VMware's ESX and Virtual Consolidated Backup (VCB) products. You'll continue to use your existing backup products as normal for full, incremental or differential backups to tape or disk.

Vizioncore touts this product as enterprise-ready. While it works as advertised, the management interface isn't quite up to snuff for larger organizations. It lacks flexibility in scheduling and organizing backups, for example, which may hinder IT departments working with large numbers of VMs.

Back Me Up Here

As you phase VMware into your infrastructure, usually through server consolidation, VM backups via typical agent-based mechanisms are appropriate for the short term. You can simply keep the same agent-to-server ratio as you migrate physical servers to the ESX environment, without incurring additional licensing costs.As your virtualized environment grows, however, you'll need to get more cost effective while relieving ESX servers of the load incurred by backup agents as they bang away at your VMs and ESX cluster.

This is where vRanger comes into play.

Like other products in this market, vRanger uses VMware's VCB, the backup enabler for ESX, to conduct its backup business by allowing third-party applications access to VMs. Together, vRanger and VCB move backups onto a proxy server outside the ESX cluster. This frees resources on production servers that would otherwise be used to host agents and store snapshots. Using a process called "I/O Intercept," data arriving at the proxy server is compressed into memory and written straight to the storage location, without using temp space on the proxy. The proxy bears the backup burden, freeing ESX hosts to serve up VMs.

vRanger relies on VCB to interact with target VMs and uses your VirtualCenter implementation to gather information about your ESX cluster and VMs. You'll first designate a physical server in your enterprise as your VCB Proxy server. This is where you'll install VMware's VCB client and vRanger, in that order. Ensure each ESX server in your cluster acknowledges that VCB is licensed and enabled.

Do yourself a favor and develop a thorough understanding of VCB's functionality, infrastructure needs, and architectural requirements prior to diving in to any third-party backup tool. You'll save yourself and your storage administrators a slew of time. Specifically, in an ESX cluster set up with SAN storage in the back end, the VCB proxy needs to see the same LUNs as your ESX hosts do. While VMware and Vizioncore documentation state that your VMFS LUNs also need to have the same ID for both ESX and the proxy—essentially being able to see the volumes in the proxy's Windows Computer Management—our tests show this isn't completely necessary. We simply connected the proxy server to the same SAN fabric to which the cluster was attached, and it worked just fine. This means you don't have to expose your VMFS volumes directly to your proxy, which has the potential for disaster if an uninformed administrator were to try to mount the volumes to the proxy.The Inner WorkingsThe vRanger Pro software can back up to NTFS, Linux, and VMware's VMFS. Backing up to a VMFS LUN, shared between your ESX cluster hosts, has a distinct advantage in that the virtual machine backups will exist on the file system that can serve them up, giving you the option of backing up to an offsite ESX Cluster Datacenter. You could create a "new" virtual machine and point to the newly created backup image, and start the machine up.

This isn't optimal, though, if you want to scrape your backups to an enterprise storage management system. The other two options, Linux and NTFS, are better choice if you intend to move backups off the proxy to tape or disk.

vRanger's predominate interface characteristic is a three-tabbed stepwise navigation, guiding users through backup selection, backup destination, and backup options—in that order. While intuitive, it does the force you into a prescribed workflow to build a backup job. This may not be ideal if you have a cluster of several hundred virtual machines; we'd prefer to see the operation in reverse: Establish settings, set the permanent backup destination, and then select the machines. We'd also like the ability to save and edit settings in the app.

Our first inclination was to right-click on a VM to see the available functions, but vRanger lacks a "right-click" menu, a typical part of most contemporary applications. One compelling feature is the CLI compilation at the bottom of the main application window. As you build your backup set, the CLI assembles syntax, which can be copied when complete. In observing the CLI construction, you'll see how your backup commands and schedules are compiled; learn this syntax and you could hammer out backup commands at the CLI and bypass the GUI altogether.

vRanger v3.2 runs jobs via the Windows Task Scheduler, a functional but simplistic methodology. Once you schedule and name your backup job, it populates the newly created job with the CLI syntax and the usual times and credentials you see in the Task Scheduler interface.Unfortunately, vRanger's backup settings are valid only during the current application session, and once you've scheduled a backup, there's no way to review that schedule inside the application. If you wish to make modifications you'll need to visit the Task Scheduler and know the scripting syntax down pat, lest you foul up the job. The only other option is to reschedule entirely because the job can't be loaded back into the application for editing. This is an inefficient process, particularly for organizations that manage a multitude of schedules over a large set of VMs. Vizioncore says it plans a service-based implementation and an improved scheduling mechanism within a few months.

When you schedule your VM backups, you'll be limited to three options: all machines, one machine, or machines in a folder. Your best bet? Divvy up your VMs into folders in VirtualCenter. You'll then be able to perform backups on groups of VMs, albeit only those in the folder you chose. Again, some additional flexibility here would go a long way to improving the product's usability. Note that if you have VMs that comprise multiple VMDK files, but you want to back up only certain ones, you'll have to do this on a VM by VM basis, and again, settings aren't preserved for the next session.During each backup vRanger writes out to a console window and to a log file on the proxy server. Here's where you'll find success and failure information. And, after each VM backup, successful or otherwise, vRanger populates the "Notes" field for the VM in VirtualCenter. Note that vRanger does overwrite the contents of the Notes field, so if you're using it to store other information, create a custom field and call it a day.Speedy Delivery

Our tests substantiate Vizioncore's claims of fast VM backups. We achieved 67 Mbps—that's 240 Gb per hour—on a LAN-free backup scenario over a 2GB Fiber Channel backbone. You will need to use VMware's VCB for high-speed backups. We didn't test vRanger without the VCB, but interpolating our results against Vizioncore's statistics, we anticipate a rate of 93.6 Gb per hour. Not a speed you'd want to live with long-term.

Bottom line, vRanger's application interface flow, inability to preserve settings and lack of a Windows service on which to operate will hinder it in enterprise data centers. If you can master the CLI you can effectively eliminate the GUI, but most folks won't go this route. That makes improving the interface all the more imperative.

And because vRanger was so incredibly fast in our backup tests, we found ourselves wanting the interface to be so much more.Vizioncore says vRanger is in use in some very large organizations, but based on our tests, we believe the current version is probably a better fit for a small to midsize company. Those with a few hundred VMs or more may want to wait for a better management interface.A vRanger Pro license costs $499, and you'll need one license per CPU socket per ESX host.

Jonathan Berdyck is an NWC and InformationWeek contributor. He manages a team of IT analysts for a healthcare provider based in western Pennsylvania and holds a masters degree in Information Systems Management from Carnegie Mellon University. He can be reached at [email protected].

Stay informed! Sign up to get expert advice and insight delivered direct to your inbox

You May Also Like

More Insights