Backing Up Snapshots For VMware

Written by William Roush on April 17, 2016 at 8:01 pm

Sometimes backing up snapshots is useful, lots of applications don’t do it out of the box… so how are we going to accomplish this?

Why Backup Snapshots?

While everyone would jump on board the “snapshots aren’t backup” train (which I’m a proud member of) there are reasons you may want to backup snapshots. One of the biggest reasons I would is that certain tools like TeamCity can leverage snapshots as checkpoints to boot up your build agents from, and when you go to restore your virtual machines it would be nice to not have to recreate snapshots.

I’m sure there are many other perfectly valid reasons to need long-lived snapshots (especially on non-production development/testing machines), so why not support that recovery mode?

The Problem

As far as I’ve seen, all backup software squashes your snapshots, restoring a virtual machine results in you having a single state, all snapshots are erased. Ouch! We’ll need to get clever.

Doing It With Veeam

This isn’t the best way to do this, but so far it seems to be the easiest. File copy jobs. We want the entire state of the virtual machine, all of it’s files, it’s snapshot descriptor files, everything. Now there are a few downsides to this:

  • Your backups will be larger – Veeam only backs up the current state, we will be backing up all states. You need to store all the snapshot deltas and any memory snapshots.
  • File lock issues – We’ll need to resolve issues with backing up a powered-on virtual machine
  • Storage – We don’t get clean vbk files, we’ll have full copies of whatever exists on the datastore
  • Versioning – If we want to keep multiple copies over time, we’ll probably want to automate versioning our backup folders folders.
  • Tape – We lose some visibility pushing backup files to tape instead of the vbks (though this only applies to higher licensing tiers that can leverage that).

Doing it With Powered Off Virtual Machines

Easy enough, we want to pick the folder that the virtual machine is in on the datastore, and back it up. Everything should go smoothly and file locks shouldn’t bite us.

Doing it With Powered On Virtual Machines

This becomes extremely tricky, you need to back up only the unlocked files, this also means that the current state will be trashed (if this isn’t OK, we can automate a NEW snap prior to the job running and commit it on completion). Here are a list of what I’m backing up to test this:

  • [VM]-000001.vmdk – Our VMDK for our current state (this is bad due to locked file)
  • [VM]-aux.xml
  • [VM].vmx – Virtual machine configuration file
  • [VM]-ctk.vmdk
  • [VM]-Snapshot15.vmsn
  • [VM]-000001-ctk.vmdk
  • [VM].vmdk – Our base VMDK metadata, our snapshot
  • [VM].vmsd
  • [VM].nvram
  • [VM]-flat.vmdk – Our base VMDK with our data on it, our snapshot

These files were locked:

  • [VM]-000001-delta.vmdk – Our delta file for our current state (after our snap)
  • [VM]*.lck – Anything with a “lck” extension appeared locked.

When restoring the file we’ll create an invalid delta file to put things into a somewhat OK state, SSH into you hypervisor, navigate to your virtual machine’s directory and type this (replace “00001” with the number of the delta you’re missing):

touch  [VM]-000001-delta.vmdk

This will create an empty VMDK delta file, it’s invalid and your machine will not boot, but from this stage you can revert back to the last snapshot, setting everything in a correct state.

The easiest way to do this would be just to add all files to the file copy job, and let those that are locked fail, a script will handle this best being as Veeam’s UI will not let you multi-select files, and selecting the folder results in a failure of the entire backup on the first locked file.

You miss out on a lot of nice to haves, restoring this involves copying the files back to the datastore (can be done with a file copy job in the reverse direction) and adding the machine to your inventory manually, but you cannot restore to a newly named virtual machine, you’ll have to restore as-is and rename after it’s done. Be aware too: transfer speeds seemed to suffer a lot for this kind of backup setup.

Additionally this has worked under lab conditions, so please, as with any backup test it first! Let me know if it works for you.

 

If there is enough interest maybe I’ll write up some PowerShell scripts to automate some of the more tricky stuff and post it.

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