Thursday, 20 August 2009

Tech Review - PHD Virtual esXpress

I posted a few weeks ago about PHD Virtual technologies release of esXpress version 3.6, on this post I delve into each new feature and the benefits that you can acheive with your virtualised backup strategy;

Company Background

PHD Technologies was formed in 2002 and they are based out of Mount Alington New Jersey, USA. They have well over 1600 customers and this customer base includes big enterprises such as Siemens, Barnes and Noble, Tyco and are extremely popular and big in the SMB Space and the Academia space.

Technology Background

PHD provides organisations with a cost effective and robust solid backup tool, esXpress is now in its 3rd generation and has been designed to combat the problem of backup in Virtualised estates since the ESX 2.x days. Now in the 3rd Generation release esXpress provides core functionality and technological advances that give PHD a leading edge against other players in the space and allows them to compete for Enterprise custom due to the extensive technical offerings.

PHD utilise VBA (Virtual Backup Appliances) to perform backup and restore from either a connected RDM Disk to your Virtual ESX Hosts, an NFS Share or even backup to a VMDK file. VBA's are something PHD has architecturally used within its product set since 2006, they enable backups to be performed with the following benefits for your Virtualised estates:

Esxpress 3.6 benefits

Vsphere 4 Support

3.6 provides full support for this and also has a VC Plugin which is supported on the vCenter client. Additional admin is performed either via a Web interface which provides you with the ability to manage the backup environment from any desktop and not have to worry about having to install GUI's wherever you go or want to check and manage backups.

Data Deduplication

Massive reductions in backup space requirements can be acheived by using this feature. With VM's being backed up with VCB using conventional backup products like Backup Exec or even Netbackup performing inline dedupe operations is not capable natively by the underlying Backup software, you need an appliance or piece of additional software to do that at additional cost. esXPress 3.6 Provide Data deduplication inline completely free of charge within your license entitlement. Dedupe in esXpress is claimed to provide upto a dedupe ratio of 25:1.

The real magic in esXpress happens on what PHD call there Dedupe appliance, this dedupe appliance is built using the PHD San appliance which is available to download additionally at, this appliance can provide you with the option of using shared VMFS across Local DAS storage on your ESX hosts without buying a full backend SAN. When using the Dedupe appliance and backup method incremental VM restoration is also possible for deduplicated backup.

EsXpress Deduplication technology also means you can backup and restore any delta changes across your VM's, this is extremely beneficial for remote located VM's, the delta block change capability means that you can exploit use of the WAN to backup across sites to reap the benefits of a complete centralised backup strategy, using a centralised backup stategy provides you with benefits such as reduced manpower overheads to change backup media and monitor jobs remotely, improved security of having data stored offsite, reduction in possible Tape vaulting costs and many other benefits pertinent to your organisation when removing remote infrastructure.

Improved restores and backup streaming

In my opinion restores are the most important aspect to consider for of any backup technology, it is no good backing up quickly if the restore activity is long and increases your RTO time. File level restores in VCB Virtual backup software is never quick, mainly due to you having to mount the VMDK and then extract the file, for a 15-20GB file this can take considerable time. Esxpress 3.6 has improved multi user point and click restore functionality from within the esXpress java GUI, the extraction is made possible by unique executable file format and not a TAR similar file.

Total backups per host is always a limiting factor in virtual backup architectures, VMware VCB has a recommendation (setup dependant) of 4-6 concurrent jobs per ESX Host, esXpress 3.6 now can allow backup of a total of 16 concurrent jobs per ESX host, meaning shorter backup windows.

Product Summary

ESXpress is a great backup tool and touts some great niche technical features, this is most certainly a good product to use in the SMB space due to the lack of requirement to use VCB and can be used within the larger virtualisation estates with the concurrency and deduplication benefits.
I think the most attractive component in esXpress is its Dedupe capability and the fact you can exploit a side benefit of this in remote backup across your WAN, centralised backup is becoming a very popular strategy in virtualised estates.

Check out esXpress at its website and a full 30 day demo available on For any Vmworld attendees they are also on the exhibitors stand #1502 at Vmworld 2009 in San Francisco so check them out and pass by the stand.

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