By Alison / Last Updated September 5, 2022

Case: Best practices for Hyper-V backups

 

My question is regarding best/easiest/cheapest ways to backup what I've got. Main concern is backing up of the Guest as it is the one that runs all the services and holds the data. The host is only the host with nothing else on it (but would be nice to have it backed up too if possible). Having mentioned that I am looking for the cheapest option I must add that in fact I'd prefer FREE (if possible).

- spiceworks.com

Microsoft Hyper-V is a free, enterprise-class Type 1 (bare-metal) hypervisor that allows you to create and run virtual machines on a single hardware, maximizing the use of hardware resources to provide secure sandbox environments for development and testing.

In order to ensure disaster recovery from accidental loss, you need to implement a smart and appropriate backup strategy. Before developing your own backup strategy, you probably have the same question, what are the Hyper-V backup best practices?

Hyper-V logo

In this article I will introduce you the most commonly used solutions to backup Hyper-V virtual machines, and 10 useful tips you should follow when developing a backup strategy.

Best backup solutions for Hyper-V virtual machine

To show you the Hyper-V backup best practices, we should first discuss what options are available. It should be noted that Hyper-V checkpoint cannot replace backup, just as VMware VM snapshot ≠ backup. Therefore I will not describe it as a backup method in the following article.

Generally speaking, there are 4 frequently used Hyper-V backup solutions:

Manually copying VM folder: Copying VM folder is enough to recreate VMs, but you cannot restore directly to Hyper-V, instead you need to create new VMs and then attach VHD files. Considering the convenience, I don't think this is the best way to backup Hyper-V VMs for free.

Export and import feature: The Hyper-V export and import feature can also serve the purpose of backing up virtual machines. However, it does not provide basic features such as deduplication, compression, encryption, etc., so it is not considered a perfect backup method either.

Select Export

Windows Server Backup: In addition to backup once, you can use it to schedule automatic backups while a VM is running, or store backup to remote shared folder. It is an ideal way for users running a small number of VMs and small to medium-sized companies. However, it still has the disadvantage of not being able to monitor backup progress and verify backup consistency.

Specialized backup software: If you want to achieve more efficient and customizable Hyper-V backup experience, you may need a backup product with better functionality, consider System Center Data Protection Manager (DPM), or reliable third-party software.

Here the last 2 methods are recommended, and I will mainly illustrate them in the following.

Practice 1. Use Windows Server Backup for Hyper-V virtual machines

Windows Server Backup is a built-in feature from Windows Server 2008 that provides backup and recovery options for Windows server environments. Here's how to enable it in Windows Server, and use it for Hyper-V backup.

How to add Windows Server Backup from Server Manager:

1. Launch Server Manager. Click Manage and select Add Roles and Features. Click Next on the wizard.

Add roles and features

2. Select Role-based or feature-based installation as the Installation Type. Click Next.

3. Select the Server from the server pool. And click Next on Server Roles page.

4. On Features page, find and check Windows Server Backup in Features list. Click Next to install.

Install Windows Server Backup

How to use Windows Server Backup to backup Hyper-V VMs:

1. Back to Server Manager. Click Tools and select Windows Server Backup.

2. As you can see, you can choose Backup Schedule, Backup Once, and Recover in Actions menu. Here we click Backup Once for demonstration.

3. In pop-up Backup Once Wizard, select Different options and click Next.

Backup options

4. In Select Backup Configuration page, if you want to choose a specific folder or files, select Custom and then click Next.

Select backup configuration

5. Click Add items to select the Hyper-V VM you want to back up.

Add items

6. Specify the Destination Type and click Next. As you can see, you can choose backup to local drive or network share.

Specify destination type

7. Select the Destination location and click Next.

Specify destination location

8. Confirm the settings and click Backup to start.

Windows Server Backup has some limitations in practice:
For example, it won't shrink the diff area to less than 1/8 of target volume size, so it may not remove old backups sometimes and therefore cause the "not enough space on the disk" error. Also, the Backup Schedule of WSB only allows for "Once a day" and "More than once a day". Learn details in Windows Server Backup limitations.

Practice 2. Use specialized tool to perform Hyper-V VM backup efficiently

In the previous section I described how to use the native tool Windows Server Backup to backup Hyper-V VMs. As you can see, although easier than manually copying the VM folder, WSB still has the disadvantage of being complicated to operate and not capable of monitoring the backup status.

Therefore, next I will describe how to use a dedicated backup tool to perform Hyper-V backup more easily and quickly. Here I introduce you to a free Hyper-V backup software -- AOMEI Cyber Backup. It offers you the following benefits.

Agentless Backup: create complete and independent image-level backup for Hyper-V VMs.
Multiple Storage Destinations: backup to local or network share destinations.
Automated Execution: create backup schedules to automate virtual machine protection.
Perpetual Free: you can use AOMEI Cyber Backup Free Edition with no time limit.

AOMEI Cyber Backup supports Hyper-V in Windows 8/8.1/10/11, Windows Server/Microsoft Hyper-V Server 2012 R2 and later versions. Next, I will demonstrate how to backup and restore multiple Hyper-V VMs. You can click the below button to download the freeware.

Download FreewareVMware ESXi & Hyper-V
Secure Download

*You can choose to install this VM backup software on either Windows or Linux system.

Hyper-V backup best practice with AOMEI Cyber Backup:

1. Bind Devices: Access AOMEI Cyber Backup web client and navigate to Source Device > Hyper-V > + Add Hyper-V to add a Hyper-V host. Click next to the host name and select Bind Device.

Add Hyper-V host

2. Create Backup Tasks: Navigate to Backup Task and click + Create New Task. Specify the Task Name, Backup Type, Device, Target, and Schedule as needed.

Create a Hyper-V backup task

  • Device: cover multiple VMs (10 on Free Edition) on the host in one backup task.
  • Target: You can select to back up to a local path, or to a network path.

Backup Target

  • Schedule: Choose to perform full or incremental backup, and automate execution daily, weekly or monthly according to the frequency you specified.

Set up a backup schedule

3. Click Start Backup you can select to Add the schedule only, or Add the schedule and start backup now.

Start backup

4. When you want to restore VMs: Navigate to Backup Management > History Versions and select the VM you want to restore, all restore points related to the VM will be listed on the left.

Restore from history versions

Select one and click > Restore to open the restore wizard. Specify to Restore to original location, and click Start Restore.

✎While the Free Edition covers most of VM backup needs, you can also upgrade to enjoy:
Backup cleanup: Configure a retention policy to auto delete old backup files and save storage space.
Restore to new location: Create a new VM in the same or another datastore/host directly from the backup, saves the trouble of re-configuring the new VM.

Backup Cleanup

10 useful tips for Hyper-V backup best practices

In this section, I summed up 10 useful tips for Hyper-V backup virtual machines. They basically cover the entire process of setting up a Hyper-V backup policy:

  • Tip 1 - 3: The preparation before backup
  • Tip 4 - 7: The considerations when backing up
  • Tip 8 - 10: The maintenance work after backup

Tip 1. Update: Keep Hyper-V and backup software up to date

Windows regularly adds extensions and bug fixes to Hyper-V, many are related to Hyper-V Integration Services. To make sure you have all the latest Microsoft bug fixes and interoperability fixes, you better check that you have applied all Windows updates before backing up.

Tip 2. Services: Enable and update Hyper-V integration services

Hyper-V Integration Services are services that allow virtual machines to communicate with Hyper-V hosts. It works in coordination with VSS services to stop virtual machines and refresh data correctly during the backup run, allowing backups of the guest operating system to be in a consistent state. It is shipped in Windows OS by default, but you still need to keep it up to date.

Tip 3. Resources: Prepare enough disk space, CPU, and RAM

Virtual machine backups can be very large and take up disk space. Ensuring that you have reserved enough free disk space, and providing enough CPU and RAM for backups, can avoid failures due to lack of space, increase backup speed.

CPU

Tip 4. Choose host-level backup instead of guest-level backup

There are 2 types of Hyper-V VM backups: host-level backup and guest-level backup.

Guest-level backup is a method of backing up VMs as if they were physical machines by installing agents on each VM, and is not capable of backing up the virtual environment and configurations.

Host-level backup is a method of backing up virtual machines at the hypervisor level, allowing a complete backup of the entire virtual disk, and the configuration files that store the CPU, memory, network, and other settings. It is the preferred type for Hyper-V backup virtual machines.

Tip 5. Hyper-V Checkpoint cannot replace backup

Checkpoint, also known as snapshots, is a fast and effective way to roll back a VM to the point in time when the checkpoint was taken. It can be used as a temporary, short-term means of VM data protection.

Checkpoint vs backup: Checkpoint cannot replace backup, for it depends on the parent disk, if the parent disk is deleted, checkpoint itself is not sufficient for VM restore. Moreover, the incremental disk files created after creating a checkpoint can grow large and take up disk space, thus affecting the VM performance.

Hyper-V checkpoint

Tip 6. Application-aware mode, forever-incremental backup with RCT, compression and encryption

Application-aware mode relies on VSS to create application-consistent VM backups, providing additional checks during the backup preparation phase, to ensure the correct state of the application (for example, SQL Server, Exchange Server, or Active Directory) is put into the backup.

Forever-incremental backup with Resilient Change Tracking (RCT) allows backup vendors to make use of this native feature for capturing only the changes since the last backup. It can improve the efficiency of copying data, make backup process faster and take up less space.

Besides, if you want to save space and the time for moving backups, you can also consider compressing backups at a certain level. And when you store backups offsite, please always remember to encrypt your backups in order to avoid leaking important data.

Enable trusted platform module

Tip 7. Schedule automatic backup and deletion

In practice, the data on your VMs is updated all the time, and you may need to back up more than one VM. Schedule VM backups is the best insurance against accidental loss of up-to-date data.

How often to perform full backups, whether you need incremental backups, when taking backups that do not conflict with other schedules, how long backups need to be kept, etc. are all issues to consider. Besides, it is also necessary to delete old backups regularly to ensure good use of disk space.

Tip 8. Keep 3 copies on 2 types of media with 1 offsite

Usually, if you only have one backup, you may not be able to restore VM in time once it corrupted, and you may even lose important data. Therefore, it is recommended that you follow the 3-2-1 principle to keep enough backup copies.

3—Keep 3 copies of data: one original and two backups

2—Store backups on 2 types of media: local server and cloud service (better encrypted)

1—Keep at least 1 backup offsite

3-2-1 backup rule

Tip 9. Verify backup availability regularly

It is also important to regularly test the availability of your backups after they are completed. This prevents data loss due to backup corruption or failure when needed, ensures immediate restore of your VMs, and maintains business continuity.

Tip 10. Distinguish different VM backups

After you backup Hyper-V virtual machines, remember to differentiate between the different backups to avoid errors during Hyper-V VM restore.

Summary

Implementing a good and proper Hyper-V backup strategy can ensure timely disaster recovery and data security, maintains business continuity.

In this article, I summarized 10 Tips for Hyper-V backup best practices, introduced 1 common native tool and 1 dedicated backup tool for Hyper-V backup virtual machines.

Nowadays it is commonly accepted that a dedicated backup tool can better protect your Hyper-V VMs with more comprehensive functionality. If you are looking for an affordable professional backup software, you can try AOMEI Cyber Backup free edition.