Appassure 5 Backup: Installation and Configuration Review

As promised this is the first of a couple articles on the backup products I have been watching. I plan to go through them in alphabetical order, starting with Appassure and ending with Veeam. In the middle I plan to also check out Avamar (Including the VMware vDP), Backup Exec, and Unitrends. These reviews will have some space between them because of limited RAM in my lab, because of this I can only test one product at a time. Without further a due…

It has been a few months since I have worked with AppAssure, I believe the last version I worked with was four dot something, and it was mainly used through its Kaseya integration framework. This time I am looking at the latest and greatest, AppAssure 5, and using its interface without any third party plugins.

Setting up a “Core”

To start my testing I created 2 new Windows 2008 R2 virtual machines on my home lab, one would be my primary Appassure “Core” and the other would be a secondary core that I would use for testing local replication. I started off with 4GB of RAM in my primary and 2GB in my secondary, but I eventually bumped the primary to 8GB.

Before we get started let me explain the term “Core” as used by Appassure. A Core is a Windows machine that has Appassure Services installed. A core is responsible for scheduling jobs, processing data for dedplication and placing that data on a backup repository. It is also responsible for testing SQL backups and maintaining a catalog of what a repository holds.

The installation process was super easy, I just downloaded the installer and ran it… clicked next about 10 times and that was it. It was nice enough to download and install all of the prerequisite software automatically and install it. After the installer finished I went to the web interface and started with the setup wizard. Before we get to the wizard though you will be asked to enter your key, take care of that first and then you will see the setup wizard.

Setup Wizard Step 1: Name the core

The first thing I did was name my primary core APPASSURE1

Setup Wizard Step 2: Create a repository

Next up we need to define where we want our backup files to go, in this case I had a second VMDK drive mounted to my cores at E: so I picked E: and also specified that I wanted the repository to be 500GB in size. Note this is a required step… you have to specify how large to make the repository, and when you do so Appassure will go out and eat up all the space right away. After a week of testing I only had 94GB of data in the repository but it was still using all 500GB on the drive. I assume this is because it does global deduplication and they want to make sure that their space is in tack and nothing else can use it.

Setup Wizard Step 3: Email Notifications

For me this step was option… after all this is a lab environment and I really dont care if the backups fail. But if you like your job… you should probably configure this 🙂

Setup Wizard Step 4: Create Encryption Key

This step allows you to pick the password that will be used to encrypt your backup files… it is also the password you need to provide to access your backed up data in the event you lose your core and need to rebuild it. KEEP THIS SAFE!

Setup Wizard Step 5: Deploy Agent

This step allows you to download the Appassure agent to whichever machine you are running the wizard from to protect that machine. Personally I skipped this step and planned to use the bulk deploy wizard later on.

Ok, now that the wizard is complete we see the home screen…

At this point we have the product installed but we have protected no machines.

Replication Setup

If you are installing a secondary core where you want to replicate you backups to, follow the same steps as we did to install the primary core. After you have installed your secondary core you just need to make your way over to the “Replication” tab on the primary and add the secondary core into the Outgoing Replication list.

That is pretty much it, now when we protect a machine we can select if we want to have that machine replicated to our other core.

Protecting Machines

Now that we have the application setup we might as well use it. So lets take a look at the different ways we can protect our machines.

Your options include:

  • Active Directory
  • vCenter
  • Manually

My first try was with vCenter, however it blew up with some message about how the certificate was not found, or something like that… I assume this is because I’m running vSphere 5.1 in my lab and Appassure currently only supports 5.0. I did point Appassure at a 4.1 vCenter server later in my testing efforts and found that it worked fine.

 NOTE: By default if you deploy agents remotely, and tell Appassure to automatically protect the machine, after installation the machine WILL REBOOT AUTOMATICALLY.

Agent Deploy with options to auto reboot and protect the machine
Agent installation with automatic reboot turned off

If you do not want the machine to reboot automatically you need to turn off automatic protection and uncheck the reboot machine option, or install the agent manually.

If you are having problems determining if the agent is installed on a machine check for the Appassure service, or for the presence of an AppRecovery folder in the Program Files directory on your C: drive. After you have successfully installed the agent, the next step is to create a protection schedule. Do that by going to the “Machines” tab, and then clicking on “Actions” in the top right corner. Enter the machines admin username and password along with its IP or Hostname. After doing so you will then see the options to protect that machine.

Retention Policies can also be customized to fit your needs per machine if needed.

To verify that your machines are being backed up you can navigate to the “Tools” tab and on the left bar there is a “Reports” section. Insite you wont find much… which seems to be a big concern of many appassure users (they are asking for better reporting)… but you can see a decent amount of information about your backups.

An Appassure compliance report

Replication: Getting your stuff offsite!

This has to be one of the stronger points of the Appassure product. Replication with Appassure is stupid easy, all you need is another core… it doesn’t even have to be your core. In fact Appassure has a strong managed service provider following, so if you are looking for someone to host your backups at a secure facility there are many to choose from. But if you already have infrastructure somewhere else, then all you need is another Core server at that site and you’re good to go!

To setup replication you login to your primary core server and select the Replication tab, then select “Add Remote Core” from the “Actions” menu on the right. The wizard will ask you how to connect to the remote core and after communications have been established you’re ready to tell it which machines to replicate.

Replication Setup

After that the remote core is listed on your local core under the Outgoing Replication section.

Remote Core listed in local core under outgoing replication

 What about Restoring things?

Because Appassure protects physical machines as well as virtual machines we have a bunch of options for restoring things.

They include:

  1. File level recovery
  2. Bare Metal recovery (back to a physical box)
  3. Recovery to a Virtual Machine
  4. Rollback (pushes hard drive into to a Bare Metal instance or a running server)

While I did not restore any of my lab VM’s during this review I have restored both an Exchange server and a SQL server with previous versions of Appassure and there were no real flaws or major issues with the restore process.

So what is my opinion?

If you have a mixed environment of physical and virtual machines I think that Appassure could be a great solution for you. It does have some quirks (but all backup applications do), but overall it is a OK solution. I still have some questions for the guys over at Appassure, and as soon as I hear back I will update this post, but my biggest reservations are around the SQL attach-ability testing as well as some other focal points like reporting and integration with vSphere. For example in previous editions of Appassure you were required to have your Core running a particular version of Windows in order for Item level recovery to work, and in Appassure 5 it looks like you need to have a local instance of SQL that matches your production version of SQL in order to do those attach-ability checks.

Overall I like Appassure, they have come a long way since I first saw the product and I think with a little more maturity and Dell’s pocket book it could be a major player in the backup space. I like its simplicity when it comes to setup and replication, but it does lack some things like a wider OS support list (it is getting better though), and vSphere integration (think CBT), but their agent does a bunch of that work for them. Overall, if you are 100% virtualized, Appassure would not be my first choice, but if you need support for physical machines then this is defiantly on the table. It makes DR for physical servers as easy as DR for virtual servers, maybe I am just spoiled and don’t have to worry about physical servers these days.

Anyhow stay tuned as this article will surely be updated as I learn more.

Note: This is not a compensated review,  I have received nothing other than an extended trial license for testing and reviewing the product in this post.

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24 Responses to "Appassure 5 Backup: Installation and Configuration Review"

  1. great stuff, looking forward to read the Veeam Installation and Configuration blog but hope in Veeam you will enhance the blog by putting the best practices for each scenario such as Pure VMs, vs Physical Veeam Server + Proxy VMs, and pure Physical Servers for Veeam Backup.

    Thanks,

  2. What about the version 5.0 ?
    Did you suceed in BMR process on same material? different material too ?
    Which CAB’s drivers did you used for the PXE boot cd ?

  3. BMR to a virtual machine works great to me but BMR to a similar or dissimilar physical machine doesn’t work as expected… Maybe you could try it and tell me more about it !

    Good luck

  4. I need to urge everyone to NOT use this crappy software. I work for a medium sized VAR, and we have had nightmare after nightmare with Appassure, and the results from our peers are the same. Take it from someone who has been running this for sometime, with an install base in the double digits.

    RUN AWAY!!!

  5. Dave, could you be more specific please and give some real arguments to your claims? I am interested in that software, but your post seems to be more like jealous shout from competitor than from somebody with real experience…

  6. Dave: I’m also interested in knowing why you, a medium sized VAR, was having nightmare after nightmare with AppAssure. We’ve been using Replay 4.x for more than 4 yrs to protect all our Windows workloads including Exchange 07/10 and SQL2005/8/8R2/12 and Replay just works as advertised. In fact, in a recent incident, one of our physical Exchange 07 servers (Ironically, a Dell server hosting the mailbox role) had problems w/ the DARC 6i, glad we had the Virtual Standby server in place. We mounted the VS image & redirected the LUN to the VM. The RPO/RTO were under 2 hrs including 1-1.5 hr attempted to work around the failed RAID controller. Sweet dreams for us knowing our servers are protected by Dell/AppAssure at 1 hr interval w/ Recovery assured.

  7. FYI – DO NOT BUY APPASSURE – THERE IS NO SUPPORT. We purchased AppAssure last week and had some issues rolling a virtual machine back to a snapshot…actually, the rollback feature just doesn’t work, but that’s beside the point.

    We called AppAssure support to see why we couldn’t roll back our test VM to an earlier point in the day. We get some guy on the phone that is repeating the manual to us word for freaking word (…ok…I was getting really nervous at this point). This guy quickly can’t figure out our issue and say’s he’ll escalate it to level 2 support. I think great, someone who may know wtf they’re talking about! Not…he say’s level 2 support will call me back.
    Level 2 support has not called me all day!!! Imagine if this had been a real virtual machine that needed to be restored. I’d probably be in some serious shit, if not fired!!!

    I’ll be seeking a full refund next Monday even if they fix our issue. I need a product with 24/7 support…real support.

  8. Do NOT EVER use AppAssure. We rolled it out in our environment 6 months back, and life at work is now a living hell. This shit is simply just not working. I spend all my time at work and my spare time to fix all the issues and babysit this piece of shit. We went from DPM to AppAssure because we felt we had to spend too much time with the dpm issues, but this seriously got 1000 times worse. We will go back to dpm now, or maybe have a look at Veeam. Anyway, take my advice and don’t waste your time and money on AppAssure.

  9. Good review. We used Replay 4 and graduated to AppAssure 5 after Dell bought out AppAssure. Went through a time when support was non-existent, but it has gotten better.

    This past summer, they released some updates that were not ready for prime-time and many users described nightmares in updating and losing repositories, failing replications. Luckily, we stayed with what seems to be a fairly stable version.

    You can read about these nightmares for yourself here: http://en.community.dell.com/techcenter/data-protection/f/4816/t/19591098.aspx

    BTW… hate to be a picky grammar person, but…

    It’s “without further ado”, not “without further a due”

    Reference: http://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/without+further+ado

  10. Nope, I havent had any experience with the product. But I might be able to talk one of my co-workers into it who uses it fairly often. Is there anything specific you are looking for ?

  11. We have an existing implementation of Avamar and we are deciding if we want to expand on it or move everything to AppAssure. I’m reading everything I can about AppAssure and how it compares to Avamar.

  12. I havent messed with Appassure for a while… but I have to think that Avamar is probably more feature rich… but if you arent going to use those features its a toss up.

    Are you using both in your environment today?

    If so do they both meet your RPO RTO needs?

    Do they both do restores at various levels (if required) meaning granular, VM level, disk level Bare metal etc.

    Thats the awesome part of being the IT admin… its totally your choice. But its a bitch at the same time, because backup is one of those things that if you need it and it dont work… you probably wont work there anymore either LOL

  13. Avamar in production and AppAssure in test. Both meet RPO and RTO. Avamar has more features as you said and I think it is better for VMWare image backup and restore. We are about 75% VM. Problem for Avamar is that AppAssure is half the price and may meet our requirements but not as nicely. If that makes sense.

  14. Justin,
    If I have cores in NYC and LA, would you use same core? For example, LA backs up to core NAS partition1. If I am going to have NYC replicate to that same NAS, do I setup a different partition/core on that same NAS or use the same core as LA uses (partition1). Trying to decide if I need to partition NAS for LA/NYC cores into two partitions or use same single partition.

    Thanks

  15. Hey Wally,

    Honeslty I havent used Appassure since the time when Dell bought them. I would call support or look for a VAR that still sells it. As I haven’t kept up on their tech for like 3-4 years.

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