Backing up Virtual Servers with Backup Exec and x64 Hosts

Recently I installed VMware's VMware Server on an HP Proliant G5 ML370 running Windows Server 2003 Enterprise x64 Edition. Using the x64 version of Windows 2003 has many advantages compared with the 32-bit version when you use it as the host OS of Windows 2003. The two biggest advantages are increased memory support and more efficient use of the 64-bit processor. Windows 2003 Standard x64 Edition can address up to 32GB of memory compared with the 32-bit standard version of Windows 2003, which supports only 4GB of memory. If you install Windows 2003 Enterprise x64 you can address up to 1TB of memory, whereas the 32-bit enterprise version of Windows 2003 can address up to 64GB of memory. In the virtualization environment, the ability to address large amounts of memory on the host OS is a significant advantage when you plan to run multiple virtual guests on the host.

Using the x64 version for the host OS also allows you to run x64 versions of Windows 2003 as the guest OS as long as the server supports 64 bit virtualization technology such as Intel’s EMT-VT processor. To my knowledge, all ML370 G5 servers support x64 guest OSs using VM Server. To get a backup of the host and virtual server guests, my original plan was to use Backup Exec installed on the host to back up the host and virtual servers using an HP Ultrium 960 drive. However, when I tried to install Backup Exec, I received an error message that I couldn't install Backup Exec with the x64 version of the OS. I did some research and found that Backup Exec uses a native 32 bit file system that prevents it from running on an x64 OS. Backup Exec can back up a remote server running an x64 OS using an x64 remote agent, but you can't install Backup Exec on an x64 OS.

This put a wrench in my plans. I had a couple of options. I could purchase a separate server, install a 32-bit version of Window 2003, and dedicate it as a backup server. Another option was to install a 32-bit version of Windows 2003 as a guest server and run Backup Exec from within the guest server (all of the existing guests were running the x64 version of Windows 2003). I decided to install Backup Exec on a guest server running the 32-bit version of Windows Server 2003.(I could also use the 32-bit guest OS to run Group Policy Management Console (GPMC), which can be installed only on the 32-bit-version of Windows 2003. After installing the 32-bit version of Windows 2003, I shut down the guest server and modified the settings. I added a generic SCSI device to the guest server and selected the server host’s SCSI adapter and SCSI ID that the tape drive was installed on. After I created the generic SCSI device for the guest server, I started the Backup Exec installation. Backup Exec was able to detect the tape drive and installed the Backup Exec driver for the HP Ultrium tape drive. After the Backup Exec installation was complete I installed the x64 remote agent on all host and guest servers. I ran a test backup and the backup completed with no errors. I’ll run some additional tests, but so far so good.

One common strategy for backing up virtual servers is to run an image backup of the guest servers over the weekend, then run differential backups during the week. Using this strategy, you'd need to run two restores to get the server back up and running and gives you a lot of flexibility if you need to restore a virtual server guest on a different host. But, since Backup Exec was running on one of the virtual guests, it made this backup strategy more difficult. Backup Exec has the ability to run pre and post commands before and after a backup job, so you can write a script that shuts down the virtual server guests prior to the backup, then restarts them after the job is completed to obtain an image backup of the virtual server guests. Obviously you can’t shut down the virtual server guest that’s running Backup Exec, because the backup will fail. To get around this problem, you can manually shut down the virtual server guest that’s running Backup Exec and burn the virtual guest’s configuration files and disk files to a DVD. Running the backup server in a VM makes the complete restore of the host server and all guest servers more difficult because you have the additional task of creating the guest server that's running Backup Exec before you can restore the other guest servers. But having a copy of the virtual server on DVD will simplify the restore process. Of course you won’t have an up-to-date image of the virtual server running Backup Exec unless you continually update the image, but that shouldn’t be too much of an issue. In a full recovery scenario, you'll probably need to catalog some tapes before you can restore, but that shouldn’t take too much time. Running Backup Exec in a virtual server guest is not the ideal situation, but it’s a lot cheaper than purchasing a dedicated standalone backup server.

Tip – Tyton Wire Marker Tape
When we wire up a rack-mounted Ethernet switch, we use the Panduit style cable managers for a very clean look. Unfortunately with all the patch cords mounted in the wire manager, it’s very difficult to tell what patch cord is mounted to a given switch port. To get around this problem, we label both ends of the patch cord with the patch panel port number, which makes it easy to identify which patch cable is plugged into a given patch panel port and switch port. Often these labels can come loose and over time fall off. We have found that the Tyton wire marker tape labels stay on patch cables the best. Give them a try; they’re not cheap but they do stay on the patch cable. You can more information at

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