“We had duplicated backup systems that didn’t fit our IT any more,” said Jérôme Chapelle, infrastructure manager at Franprix. “Our daily backups started every evening at 10pm and went on until 2pm the next day. If you wanted to restore a file deleted in error during that time, you had to wait for the backup to finish. It really put a block on things.
“Added to that, the process generated numerous errors that we spent an incredible amount of time fixing. That meant our team of five could never get started on other projects.”
Franprix’s IT infrastructure comprises a dozen physical servers that run about 600 virtual machines (VMs).
Modernisation to VMware was carried out, and after that, the double backup setup was put in place. Based on tape and designed for physical servers, it presented numerous constraints, including the need to deduplicate data upstream or create virtual machines to restore to.
“Backup is always the poor relation in IT,” said Chapelle. “It doesn’t get the investment, but when it doesn’t work, it’s a disaster.”
Challenges of price, scalability and performance
By 2018, the situation had become untenable and the decision was taken to find an alternative. Without a lot of time to test the solutions available, Franprix chose from market leader Veeam and rising star Cohesity.
“Cohesity seemed very innovative, but was also quite expensive,” said Chapelle. “And with our IT hosted in the datacentres of [parent group] Casino, Veeam presented a better financial opportunity because the Casino IT team also needed to invest in a new backup system. Consequently, Veeam allowed us to make a group purchase.”
Beside cost, Franprix was more interested in Veeam from the start because it brought the promise of scalability and the ability to continue to function, no matter the hardware upstream of it. As it happened, it functioned from the start to back up virtual resources from VMware vCenter.
The group had envisaged that, from 2018, it would upgrade to disk arrays capable of taking snapshots, and that was what happened when Franprix invested in Pure Storage hardware for its VMs.
But it was upon carrying out validation tests that another metric won over Chapelle’s team. “We were struck by the performance,” he said. “The length of backup jobs was slashed by two or three times.
“The same was true for restores, including for those that involved redeploying a complete functional copy of an application to emergency hardware in the case of an incident.
“Previously, this type of procedure – which we carried out regularly as part of recovery tests – took three days. With Veeam, there is an Instant Recovery function that allows redeployment of a system in a few minutes.”
Veeam Backup & Restore was finally deployed at the start of 2019. The software runs as one VM among the others and looks after 600 production VMs totalling 80TB.
Backups are run every day, with Chapelle estimating 16TB of changes per day, and sent to a Data Domain array where they are stored after deduplication. To date, there is 23TB of backup data consolidated on the Data Domain.
“All backup jobs run at night and are completed when we arrive in the morning,” said Chapelle.
“That said, errors still occurred during backups. Sometimes it was due to a Windows virtual machine that crashed during the process. Sometimes the Data Domain momentarily locked one of the user accounts that Veeam was trying to write backups for. We don’t really know why these things happened, but Veeam always detected them and automatically relaunched jobs until they succeeded. We don’t have to fix things ourselves now.”
He added: “The time that we have gained has allowed us, for example, to start work on the creation of automated processes that improve efficiency when responding to partners.”
Going beyond VM backup
Franprix has also invested in the Veeam ONE console to monitor backups, although Chapelle uses it for more than that in practice.
“In fact, Veeam ONE goes beyond just backups,” he said. “It brings visibility into all resources in the virtualisation infrastructure.
“It warns us if things are not quite right, such as if 20GB of RAM is allocated to a VM when 4GB would do. It’s a very powerful tool. We use it a lot for capacity planning, to know how best to launch new projects with the resources we have.”
Finally, since 2021, Franprix has started to look into backing up data in cloud services, in particular Microsoft 365 (Teams, OneDrive, SharePoint, etc).
“We have found a supplier that hosts backups of these services in its own datacentre,” said Chapelle. “The interesting point is that it allows us to restore data from these backups from the Veeam Backup & Replication console. It was exactly what we were expecting when we were looking for a backup solution that would stay compatible with the evolution of our IT systems.”