Magic behind NetApp VSC Backup/Restore

netapp_dpNetApp Virtual Storage Console is a plug-in for VMware vCenter which provides capabilities to perform instant backup/restore using NetApp snapshots. It uses several underlying NetApp features to accomplish its tasks, which I want to describe here.

Backup Process

When you configure a backup job in VSC, what VSC does, is it simply creates a NetApp snapshot for a target volume on a NetApp filer. Interestingly, if you have two VMFS datastores inside one volume, then both LUNs will be snapshotted, since snapshots are done on the volume level. But during the datastore restore, the second volume will be left intact. You would think that if VSC reverts the volume to the previously made snapshot, then both datastores should be affected, but that’s not the case, because VSC uses Single File SnapRestore to restore the LUN (this will be explained below). Creating several VMFS LUNs inside one volume is not a best practice. But it’s good to know that VSC works correctly in this case.

Same thing for VMs. There is no sense of backing up one VM in a datastore, because VSC will make a volume snapshot anyway. Backup the whole datastore in that case.

Datastore Restore

After a backup is done, you have three restore options. The first and least useful kind is a datastore restore. The only use case for such restore that I can think of is disaster recovery. But usually disaster recovery procedures are separate from backups and are based on replication to a disaster recovery site.

VSC uses NetApp’s Single File SnapRestore (SFSR) feature to restore a datastore. In case of a SAN implementation, SFSR reverts only the required LUN from snapshot to its previous state instead of the whole volume. My guess is that SnapRestore uses LUN clone/split functionality in background, to create new LUN from the snapshot, then swap the old with the new and then delete the old. But I haven’t found a clear answer to that question.

For that functionality to work, you need a SnapRestore license. In fact, you can do the same trick manually by issuing a SnapRestore command:

> snap restore -t file -s nightly.0 /vol/vol_name/vmfs_lun_name

If you have only one LUN in the volume (and you have to), then you can simply restore the whole volume with the same effect:

> snap restore -t vol -s nightly.0 /vol/vol_name

VM Restore

VM restore is also a bit controversial way of restoring data. Because it completely removes the old VM. There is no way to keep the old .vmdks. You can use another datastore for particular virtual hard drives to restore, but it doesn’t keep the old .vmdks even in this case.

VSC uses another mechanism to perform VM restore. It creates a LUN clone (don’t confuse with FlexClone,which is a volume cloning feature) from a snapshot. LUN clone doesn’t use any additional space on the filer, because its data is mapped to the blocks which sit inside the snapshot. Then VSC maps the new LUN to the ESXi host, which you specify in the restore job wizard. When datastore is accessible to the ESXi host, VSC simply removes the old VMDKs and performs a storage vMotion from the clone to the active datastore (or the one you specify in the job). Then clone is removed as part of a clean up process.

The equivalent cli command for that is:

> lun clone create /vol/clone_vol_name -o noreserve -b /vol/vol_name nightly.0

Backup Mount

Probably the most useful way of recovery. VSC allows you to mount the backup to a particular ESXi host and do whatever you want with the .vmdks. After the mount you can connect a virtual disk to the same or another virtual machine and recover the data you need.

If you want to connect the disk to the original VM, make sure you changed the disk UUID, otherwise VM won’t boot. Connect to the ESXi console and run:

# vmkfstools -J setuuid /vmfs/volumes/datastore/VM/vm.vmdk

Backup mount uses the same LUN cloning feature. LUN is cloned from a snapshot and is connected as a datastore. After an unmount LUN clone is destroyed.

Some Notes

VSC doesn’t do a good cleanup after a restore. As part of the LUN mapping to the ESXi hosts, VSC creates new igroups on the NetApp filer, which it doesn’t delete after the restore is completed.

What’s more interesting, when you restore a VM, VSC deletes .vmdks of the old VM, but leaves all the other files: .vmx, .log, .nvram, etc. in place. Instead of completely substituting VM’s folder, it creates a new folder vmname_1 and copies everything into it. So if you use VSC now and then, you will have these old folders left behind.

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One Response to “Magic behind NetApp VSC Backup/Restore”

  1. NetApp VSC Single File Restore Explained | Niktips's Blog Says:

    […] one of my previous posts I spoke about three basic types of NetApp Virtual Storage Console restores: datastore restore, VM […]

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