Rollout: Vizioncore Rides To The Rescue Of Overburdened VMs

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

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, or VCB, vRanger snapshots the VM, then moves the backup onto a proxy server. The proxy writes the backup into storage, leaving ESX hosts free to serve up VMs.

CONTEXT:  You'll need another backup product to swipe VM backups off the proxy server. EMC NetWorker, Symantec Backup Exec, Tivoli Storage Manager, and Veritas NetBackup can all integrate with VCB, but vRanger is small, lightweight, and inexpensive, worth adding even if you have a big storage management gun in place.

CREDIBILITY:  Backing up a 10-GB, single-volume Windows XP Pro VM took 4.5 minutes, a speedy 67 Mbps. The product still has kinks to work out, including an irritating inability to adjust backup settings once a job is scheduled. Shops with just a few dozen VMs can work around these issues, but enterprises may want to steer clear until they're resolved.

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 compatibility with a range of storage destinations, including NTFS, Linux, or VMware's Virtual Machine File System (VMFS) formats.

Backup and restore products typically require an agent for each virtual machine, but vRanger Pro acts as a go-between, eliminating the need to burden VMs with separate agents. Vizioncore's software is designed for VMware's ESX and Virtual Consolidated Backup, or VCB.

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


As you phase VMware into your infrastructure, usually through server consolidation, VM backups via typical agent-based mechanisms are appropriate for the short term. Simply keep the same agent-to-server ratio as you migrate physical servers to ESX, without 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 rival products, vRanger uses VMware's VCB, the backup enabler for ESX, to give third-party applications access to VMs. Using a process called "I/O Intercept," data arriving at the proxy server is compressed and written straight to the storage location. The proxy bears the backup burden, freeing ESX hosts to serve up VMs.

In tests, we designated a physical server as our VCB proxy server and installed VMware's VCB client and vRanger, in that order. Ensure that each ESX server in your cluster acknowledges that VCB is licensed and enabled.

We also highly recommend developing a thorough understanding of VCB's functionality, infrastructure needs, and architectural requirements before diving in to any third-party backup tool. You'll save everyone a slew of time. For example, in an ESX cluster with a SAN in the back end, the VCB proxy needs to see the same logical unit numbers, or 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, 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--a situation with the potential for disaster if an uninformed admin were to try and mount the volumes to the proxy.


The vRanger Pro software can back up to NTFS, Linux, and VMware's VMFS. Backing up to a VMFS LUN, shared among your ESX cluster hosts, has a distinct advantage in that VM backups will exist on the file system that can serve them up, giving you the option of backing up to an off-site ESX cluster. Just create a "new" virtual machine, point to the newly created backup image, and fire it up.

This isn't optimal, though, if you want to direct backups to an enterprise storage management system. The other two options, Linux and NTFS, are better choices here.

While intuitive, vRanger's interface forced us into a preset workflow to build a backup job: backup selection, backup destination, and backup options--in that order. This may be a problem if you have a cluster of several hundred VMs; we'd prefer to see the operation in reverse: Establish settings and a permanent backup destination, then select VMs. We'd also like the ability to save and edit settings.

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.

Unfortunately, vRanger's backup settings are valid only during the current session, and once you've scheduled a backup, there's no way to review that schedule inside the application. To make modifications you'll need to visit the Windows Task Scheduler and have the scripting syntax down pat, lest you foul up the job. The only other option is to reschedule entirely--the job can't be loaded back into vRanger for editing. This is an inefficient process at best, 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 virtual machine 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. Again, some additional flexibility here would go a long way to improving the product's usability.


Our tests substantiate Vizioncore's claims of fast VM backups. We achieved 67 Mbps--that's 240 Gb per hour--in a LAN-free backup scenario over a 2-GB Fibre Channel backbone. You'll need to use 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 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, those with a few hundred VMs or more may want to wait for a better management interface.

A vRanger Pro license is priced at $499, and you'll need one license per CPU socket per ESX host.,/p>

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