NetBackup master server and VMware vCenter

3. The control and command center

vCenter server is the center of an enterprise vSphere environment. Although the ESXi hosts and virtual machines will continue to function even when vCenter server is down, enterprise data centers and cloud providers cannot afford such a downtime. Without vCenter server crucial operations like vMotion, VMware HA, VMware FT, DRS etc will cease to function. A number of third party applications count on plug-ins in vCenter server. A number monitoring and notification functions are governed by vCenter. Hence larger enterprises and cloud providers deploy vCenter on highly redundant systems. Some use high availability clustering solutions line Microsoft Cluster Server or VERITAS cluster server. Some deploy vCenter on a virtual machine protected by VMware HA that is run by another vCenter server.

NetBackup master server plays a similar role. It is the center of NetBackup domain. If this system goes down, you cannot do backups or restores. Unlike vCenter server which runs on Windows (and now on Linux) you can deploy master server on a variety of operating systems like Windows, enterprise flavours of Linux, AIX, HP-UX and Solaris. NetBackup includes cluster agents for Microsoft Cluster Server, VERITAS Cluster Server, IBM HACMP, HP-UX Service Guard and Sun/Oracle Cluster for free. If you have any of these HA solutions, NetBackup lets you install master server with an easy to deploy cluster installation wizard.

An enterprise vCenter server uses a database management system, usually Microsoft SQL Server, for storing its objects. NetBackup comes with Sybase ASA which is embedded in the product. This is a highly scalable application database. No need to provide a separate database management system.

In addition to Sybase ASA database, NetBackup also stores backup image metadata (index) and other configurations in binary and ASCII formats. The entire collection of Sybase ASA databases, binary image indexes and ASCII based databases is referred to as NetBackup Catalog.  NetBackup does provide you a specific kind of backup policy called Catalog backup policy to copy the entire catalog to secondary storage devices (disk or tape) easily. Thus even if you lose your master server, you can perform a catalog recovery to rebuild the master server.

In VMware, you might have dealt with vCenter Server HeartBeat. This feature provides you that capability to replicate vCenter configuration to a remote site so that you could start the replicated vCenter server at that site in case of primary site loss. NetBackup goes a bit further. Unlike vCenter HeartBeat which has Active-Passive architecture, NetBackup provides A.I.R (Auto Image Replication). When you turn on A.I.R for your backups, NetBackup appends the catalog information for the backup in the backup image itself. The images are replicated using storage device’s native replication engine. At the remote site you can have a fully functional master server (which is serving to media servers and clients locally). The device on the remote master server domain which receives A.I.R images can automatically notify the remote master. The remote master now imports the image catalog info from storage. Unlike traditional import processes where the entire image needs to be scanned for recreating the catalog remotely, this optimized import finishes in a matter of seconds (even if the backup image was several terabytes) because the catalog info is embedded within the image for quick retrieval. The result is Active-Active NetBackup domains at both sites. They could replicate in both directions and also act as the DR domain for each other. You can have many NetBackup domains replicating to a central site (fan-in), one domain replicating to multiple domains (fan-out) or a combination of both. This is why NetBackup is the data protection platform that cloud pilots need to master. It is evolving to serve clouds which typically span multiple sites.

vCenter integrates with Active Directory to provide role based access control. Similarly NetBackup provides NetBackup Access Control that can be integrated with Active Directory, LDAP, NIS and NIS+. NetBackup also features audit trails so that you can track users’ activities.

One thing that really makes NetBackup stand out from the point solutions like vRanger, Veeam etc is the ability for virtual machine owners (the application administrators) to self serve their recovery needs. For example, the Exchange administrator can use NetBackup GUI on client, authenticate himself/herself and browse Exchange objects in backups. NetBackup presents the objects directly from its catalog or live browse interface depending on the type of object being requested.  The user simply selects the object needed and initiates the restore. NetBackup does the rest. There are no complex ticket systems where the application owner makes a request to backup administrator. No need to mount an entire VM on your precious ESX resources in production just to retrieve a 1k object. No need to learn how to manipulate objects (for example, the need to manually run application tools to copy objects from a temporary VM) and face the risks associated with user errors. All the user interfaces directly connect to master server, it figures out what to restore and starts the job on a media server.

Well, so NetBackup is an enterprise platform that makes a traditional VM administrator to a cloud pilot of the future. It is nice to see that NetBackup has support for various hardware and operating systems. Is there a way to deploy a NetBackup domain without building a master server on my own? The answer is indeed yes!! NetBackup 5200 series appliances are available for you for this purpose. These appliances are built on Symantec hardware and can be deployed in a matter of minutes. Everything you need to create a NetBackup master server and/or media server is available in these appliances.

Next: Coming Soon!

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NetBackup domain and vSphere domain

2. The resemblance is uncanny

When you took your first class for VMware vSphere, you would have noticed that VMware platform is based on three-tier architecture. It is quite easy to learn NetBackup if you are already a certified VMware professional.

You have virtual machines; this is the life blood of the organization. This is where your applications are running.  Multiple virtual machines are hosted by ESXi hosts. Multiple ESXi hosts are managed a vCenter server. That is how the scalability is achieved and vSphere became an enterprise platform.

NetBackup pioneered this model more than a decade ago. It features three tiers. At the lowest level is NetBackup clients. Multiple clients may be protected using a NetBackup media server.  Multiple media servers are managed by a NetBackup master server.

NetBackup and vSphere: Architecture
NetBackup and vSphere: Architecture

NetBackup clients can be a physical systems (a Windows PC, a Mac, a UNIX system hosting an Oracle database etc.) sending backup streams to a media server. In a virtual environment, it can be a virtual machine or a physical system that can read data from VMware datastore. It is important to remember that your production virtual machines themselves do not stream backups, that operation is offloaded to a dedicated VM or a physical system. This system is known as VMware backup host. Thus NetBackup is providing agent-less backups for your virtual machines.

Now let us look at the media server. In terms of our architectural comparison, we compared a media server in NetBackup domain to an ESXi host in vSphere domain. Just like ESXi hosts have storage connected for serving virtual machines, media server has storage attached to it for serving backup clients. The storage connected used by ESX hosts is referred to as data store or primary storage.  It is on primary storage that your production virtual machines and applications live. The storage attached to media servers are known as secondary storage or backup storage. It is used for the purpose of storing the backups.

You know that ESXi systems can support multiple kinds of data stores. You have NFS data stores and VMFS data stores. You also know that VMFS can be on direct attached, Fibre Channel SAN attached or iSCSI SAN attached. Similarly media server can have secondary storage attached to it. There could be plain disk storage, capacity managed disk storage, deduplicated disk storage or even a tape library.  The disk storage may be directly mounted on media server or being served from dedicated storage server.

We know that multiple ESXi hosts can share the same data store. Similarly it is multiple media servers can share a storage server or tape library. Just like how VMware DRS can start VMs based on where least ESXi hosts, backup jobs are load balanced across media servers.

We know that vCenter is really the center of vSphere. vCenter is the management control station. Similarly, NetBackup master server is the center of NetBackup. Just like vCenter, master server hosts a central database and manages data protection for the entire backup environment.

In a vSphere domain ESXi (the ESXi hypervisor) and VMs coexist in a physical system. In NetBackup domain the media server and clients are almost always on different physical systems. There are some exceptions to this rule.

vCenter is generally a separate system for enterprise environments. For smaller environments, it could also be a VM on and ESXi host. Similarly, NetBackup master server is a separate system for large environments. It may also coexist with a media server.

It is worth mentioning that NetBackup also has a fourth tier. It is called NetBackup OpsCenter. NetBackup OpsCenter can do management and reporting on a number of NetBackup domains that are served by different master servers. This layer makes NetBackup even better scalability. You may have data centers across the globe. A NetBackup master server at each data center managers its own media servers that are protecting the clients. All these master servers report into OpsCenter. This is it like a super control and command center. By logging into this central OpsCenter dashboard, you can get a single-pane-of-glass view for the entire data protection infrastructure.

For a very crude comparison, think about vCenter Server Heartbeat that lets you manage multiple vCenter instances. OpsCenter is like vCenter heartbeat but much superior. OpsCenter is a standalone system with its own database for manages, monitor and report tasks. vCenter Heartbeat is more or less a glue that makes it possible to view all instances of vCenter from a single vSphere client GUI.

That is it for today! We will move on to details on each of these three layers in subsequent blogs.

Next: NetBackup Master Server vs. VMware vCenter Server

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