Data Protection for Free: What are the Limits

It is possible to get data protection for your virtual and cloud environments for free today, but there are are often limits. Trialware as it is called provides just enough of a taste for the data protection tool to convince you to buy the versions with more capabilities. However, for the SMB, the free versions may be good enough. The concept of ‘good enough’ is one that travels through the virtualization and cloud environment architectures with respect to security, data protection, and hypervisor feature sets as often as higher licensing levels are mentioned, why, because cost matters. But from a data protection perspective what do you get for free? Here is a short comparison of the free products and features.

There are two forms of free data protection, those that are time locked and those with reduced functionality. Symantec, Acronis, PHD Virtual, Quest, etc., in fact most virtualization backup tools, fall under the category of time locked trials. In essence, you have access to the full product for anywhere from 15 days (Acronis) to 30 days (most of the rest). In my opinion, time locked versions do not provide enough time to determine if software will do as you expect.

Do as you Expect

You would expect all time-locked virtualization backup and data protection tools to not only backup but restore virtual machines and individual files and they all do this, but what you do not know is how they react to the ever changing nature of your virtual and cloud environments. You can only guess in a short period of time. In our lab, at The Virtualization Practice, we have been running different backup tools head to head, and a report will soon be out, but we were not looking at the speed of data protection or the quantity of data sent over the wire, but how the tools responded to and kept up with the changes to the virtual environment. We are looking at the problem areas that pop up from time to time and how the tools respond. Our analysis is far from done as we need to run even more tools looking for the pain points. But what we found is that some tools do not do as we expected, they behave differently depending on the virtual and cloud environment.

Three of our constant virtualization backup pain points are how these tools backup VMware vCenter and other virtual environment management tools, how they respond to possible low disk space restrictions, and how they report failures back to the administrators involved in virtualization backup and data protection. These three issues you may never encounter unless there are failures to backup, your virtual environment has a glitch that impacts the ability to make snapshots (or use whatever mechanism the tools is using to produce backups), or you are low on temporary backup storage disk space that is used in a disk to disk to archive storage data protection mechanism.

With one tool, for example, we have found that data protection works as expected for 30 days (just enough for a time-locked demo) but fails on the 31st fairly consistently. We never did find out the cause of this failure but if we were not watching it daily we would never have been notified. This type of long term usage failure would have been disastrous in production. Granted, the latest version of the software has hopefully eliminated the failure (we will be testing that starting next week). While for the trial period it did as we expected, it failed just after the trial period, which made the software difficult to use at best.

So what do we expect from our data protection software? We expect regardless of free vs cost, it to work and inform us if there are any problems with any backup or restoration, and more importantly to just work.

Data Protection for Free

There are two companies that stand out for offering free software without time locks, but limited in functionality. The first is Veeam, an old hand in the virtualization backup and data protection arena and the second is Quantum with its vmPro software. Both offer  backup and restore functionality that we expect but with some limits. Those limits are:

  • Quantum limits your backups to 1 TB of deduplicated storage. Which really implies you can backup more than 1.5TBs of virtual machines (depending on deduplication ratios). In all other ways the vmPro software is a full version of the software.
  • Veeam limits your backups to just their VeeamZip tool without the ability to natively schedule backups or in other words an ad hoc backup mechanism that is performed manually. Yet, you can use this mechanism to backup all your VMs one at a time.

Nothing is 100% for free but these tools can get you started with virtualization backup within your environment for an extended period of time. For an SMB, they may actually be all you need, depending on your patience on manually backing up your data, or dealing with limits in the size of your data. Which for more than 6-10 VMs may be too limited (depending on the size of your VMs that is).

When you use free data protection tools there are choices you must make, there are different mechanism to put into place to use those tools. Such as scheduling manual use of the tools, ensuring limits are not exceeded which could actually limit how your VMs are laid out on disk. So some architectural changes may be required.


When looking at data protection tools for the virtual or cloud environment, it is best to test before you buy, testing becomes invaluable to determine if these tools fit within your virtual environment. But if you do not currently have a virtualization aware backup tool and a disaster is heading your way (such as the next super storm) an you have some warning, download a free (even time-locked) data protection tool and get your data outside the storm radius some how.  For an SMB, one of the free tools may be sufficient even for the long term, but for an enterprise, try before you buy software, is invaluable to determine if the software fits your requirements and solves those pain points you may have.

What are your data protection pain points within the virtual and cloud environments?

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