Comparing differences in vSphere Data Protection versions

Rob Bastiaansen

VMware's vSphere Data Protection, which first appeared in vSphere 5.1, gives system administrators the option of backing up virtual machines (VMs) with a built-in tool instead of a third-party backup product.

There are some limitations to the free, built-in version of vSphere Data Protection (VDP) -- the number of machines you can back up and the amount of backup storage space that can be used -- but VDP Advanced, the paid version released in March 2013, stretches these limitations and adds new features.

What is the same?

VDP Advanced is largely the same as the free version. Installation, management and backup, and restore are done the same way. Also, the advanced edition uses the same type of backup location and file-level restore capabilities.

What is different?

Before looking into the technical details, let's look at the pricing. VDP is available for almost all vSphere customers. The Essentials Kit doesn't contain VDP, but the Essentials Plus Kit does.

For the VDP Advanced edition, customers have to pay a per-CPU license with a list price of $1,095. It can be purchased by all vSphere customers and the VDP Advanced edition is included in the vSphere with Operations Management Enterprise and Enterprise Plus acceleration kits for six CPUs.

What do customers get with the advanced edition?

First, the limits for storage and number of machines that can be backed up are expanded. The storage capacity for deduplicated backup increases from 2TB to 8TB. The number of virtual machines (VMs) that can be backed up increases from 100 to 400.

The number of appliances that can be used in a single vCenter installation remains 10 for both editions, so the advanced edition sets the maximum number of VMs back up to 4,000. That is likely a theoretical maximum, because the storage limitation will probably prevent customers from creating backups of that number of machines.

One feature specific to VDP Advanced is the ability to back up applications that reside inside a VM. Instead of just creating a backup of the entire VM, administrators can select specific data from applications to back up. Currently, the two applications that are supported are Microsoft SQL Server and Microsoft Exchange Server. For both, an agent can be installed into the virtual machine, after which a backup of individual items can be created. For SQL Server, this means that when creating a backup job, individual databases or logs can be selected for backup and restored individually. For Exchange, the individual items that can be backed up and restored are databases, mailboxes and messages.

Is VDP Advanced worth the cost?

Customers who want to move from the free to the advanced edition can upgrade their appliance -- including the backup database -- to the advanced edition.

But when is it a good idea to upgrade? For organizations that do not want to invest in expensive backup, basic VDP is a good starting point.

When organizations grow and install more servers -- ESXi and VMs -- the demand for more granular backup and restore might increase, including the need to back up databases and mailboxes and restore them individually. In that scenario, it is worth looking into the advanced edition of VDP.

At that point, do the math and calculate what VDP advanced would cost compared to a third-party backup application, taking into consideration future growth plans. Even with the Advanced VDP, some limitations remain in place.

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