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Things That Make You Go Hmmmm – Veeam Backup Not Using Preferred Free ESXi APIs?

Alex Barrett’s SearchServerVirtualization.com VMware clampdown on free ESXi may prompt defection to Hyper-V article presents VMware’s reasons for making a request to Veeam to stop supporting Veeam Backup with the free ESXi versions. Quoting the interview from Barrett’s story:

“We provide certain APIs [application programming interfaces] and methods particular to the virtualization environment,” said Patrick Lin, the vice president of product management for VMware’s server business unit. By offering access to the hypervisor via a preferred set of APIs, “our intent is to provide a level playing field in the basis of backup,” he said.

But Veeam did not use VMware-approved methods to develop its product, said Parag Patel, VMware’s vice president of alliances. “We’re not exactly sure what they did, but it didn’t seem sound,” Patel said. “For us it’s a question of what’s built and how it’s built. … To be perfectly honest, we didn’t want to be associated with it because it wasn’t satisfactory.”

Perhaps more to the point, Veeam Backup is inconsistent with VMware’s vision of free ESXi deployments. “It’s meant to be a starter … walk before you run,” Patel said. “It’s not supposed to be for complex software environments.” With free ESXi, “you shouldn’t need a whole lot of other tools to make it work.” If you do, you are free to upgrade.

On the other hand, Barrett’s interview also helps confirm the idea that VMware does not wish


to develop free ESXi as a production offering competing with the free to download versions of XenServer 5.5 and Hyper-V Server 2008. Read the entire article, but Barrett makes the point that VMware’s decision not to position free ESXi for production use could ultimately drive current technology partners, consulting partners, and customers to build SMB virtual infrastructure solutions around the competition’s hypervisors. 

I’m not a developer and I have no idea about the restrictions of a technology partnership agreement. So all I have now is questions.

  • Why are there undocumented APIs available to use in free ESXi if they are not preferred? 
  • Why this contradiction now from a history of encouraging the virtualization community, including VMware’s own engineers, to develop alternatives to VMware’s preferred management methods? Barrett interviews Veeam in the story as well, and Veeam’s believes that adding advanced functionality to the free products provides less motivation for customers to upgrade hypervisor versions thus reducing VMware profit.
  • Are the Veaam engineers that much more resourceful that only Veeam was able to uncover these APIs? As a matter of fact, VMware admits they haven’t figured out what Veeam did either.
  • Why view Veeam’s product unsound and be concerned about association with it? Maybe if VMware’s free ESXi strategy was different Veeam’s engineering could have been called innovative.

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  • http://www.vinternals.com/ Stu

    And if VMware haven't figured out what Veeam did, how can they possibly comment on the 'soundness' of the technique. I'm calling BS! :)

  • http://www.VMDoug.com vmdoug

    Nice post Rich. I really enjoyed Alex's article, I thought it was fair and balanced. I appreciate the virtualization community's input.

  • Thomas

    What it looks like they did was use the APIs that are private APIs for how VMware can upload/download files to datastores via Browse Datastore. That is not a method that the private APIs where ever to be used and I imagine there are reasons VMware does not want to see that large amount of data going over a private API that was never intended for that amount of traffic. Not to mention by cracking that open, you took something that was private and secure and now have exposed a potential security hole.

  • http://ps.net/ Robert Simpson

    Once again, I am very impressed with Veeam's technology. They deliver value to their customers, especially those that are researching their options. I know when I was making a decision in my lab between ESXi and Hyper-V, Veeam's Backup product made my decision to choose VMware, and I ultimately upgraded to the paid version of ESXi.

  • http://vmetc.com rbrambley

    Thomas,

    Thanks for the added info on what ESXi APIs Veeam may have used.

  • http://vmetc.com rbrambley

    Robert.

    I help clients migrate from the free versions regularly. IMO customer conversions to the licensed versions of VMware hosts do not seem to be an issue. It may delay the conversion for a longer period if more advanced VM management was allowed, but the “gasoline fire” that is virtual infrastructure inevitably means more guest, more hosts, more storage, more networking ….

  • http://vmetc.com rbrambley

    Yes I agree that Alex was fair and presented both sides well.

  • Calvin

    There's a similar problem with Lab Manager in terms of public/private SOAP api's. I think in that case they've simply chosen to put a much lower priority on updating the public API's. I've been automating some stuff in Lab Manager for the past couple weeks and for the most part the public SOAP api's are mostly useless for anything more than simply turning on an existing vm. The vast majority of the what's available is in the private API, which VMware provides little documentation and absolutely no support for.

    The reasoning I've gotten on this issue is that they won't guarantee that the private API won't change with updates and that they are moving more from the private to the public API set. However, the Lab Manager sales guys are quick to tell you that you can do anything with the SOAP API that you can do with the standard interface, which is a very large stretch.

  • http://vmetc.com rbrambley

    Thanks for the info on the private APIs in LabManager too. I wonder
    how many other VMware products have the same?

    I guess the line is crossed for VMware when a company sells a product
    using the unsupported APIs, but if an individual wants to take
    advantage of them then that's easier to handle and less attention. Not
    to mention the complexity of supporting a partner product's customers.

  • Dracolith

    What'll be curious to see is if Veeam backup only stops working with ESXi free, or if the very similar FastSCP stops as well.. If they actually change to using only the public API, or add some code to block free ESXi…. OR
    Does “dropping support for ESXi” necessarily mean that future versions stop working with ESXi?

    It could just means their official position will be not to provide support services when running on free ESXi… i.e. technically the product will work with free ESXi, but it's an unofficial not-recommended use, and unsupported in the sense they won't offer support services like technical assistance in those scenarios, if you ask they'll say that the free ESXi is unsupported, unless your support agreement pre-dated 3.1, but no technical measure to stop you from doing it anyways.. (is conceivable)
    -

    Considering Veeam very publicly announced support for the free version of ESXi back in February for Veeam Backup and FastSCP, VMware has had lots of time to object.

    I would say it's pretty interesting that VMware waited to ask them to stop supporting free edition in Veeam backup… until _after_ the release of VSphere 4.0, including VSphere Essentials Plus, with VMware Data Recovery (Less than 2 weeks after vSphere's release).

    The fact Veeam is using VMware private APIs is not too surprising at all… It's basically
    impossible to implement much using the public APIs. And Veeam's product is not the only one to use private APIs.

    As far as I know it's the only one that had free ESXi support to suddenly drop it.
    Only some very basic functions can be automated with the public API. There is no general purpose API for interfacing with all host functions, e.g. You want to implement a replacement for the management console, or your own web-based management with full virtual console?

    If you're using the public APIs, forget about it, there's no way to get access to the VM console. And, if the free edition of ESXi is in use, the functions of the public APIs are hopelessly restricted, in a way that makes your alternative “VMware Console program” useless.

    This is pretty disappointing, since the VMware VI Client seems in many ways bloated and sluggish; a lean mean, multi-platform alternative could be a very beneficial thing to have…

    E.g. if the private APIs were public, I could see developing a VI client for Linux or MacOS, so I could manage from my workstation, despite VMware themselves not building one.

    My suspicion is VMware has intentionally crippled the public APIs for at least two reasons: they want the free version of ESXi to be crippled, they probably don't want a third party to be able to sell some type of “addon” that will add missing features.

    And, even for users of the paid version of VMware, I suspect don't want a third party to be able to write a complete replacement for vCenter, or to implement features like VMotion without a vCenter deployment.

    If new management functions can be created for their hypervisor, VMware _wants_ to be the only company able to make and sell the new features.
    E.g. Home field advantage

    It's conceivable a third party could do it by reverse-engineering the APIs, but I guess they better not rely on being a VMware partner if they make that key to their business model…

    And they better be prepared for VMware to take random measures to try to break their product, like changing APIs, or adding new “authentication features” designed to “secure” certain API calls, assuming they don't already..

  • Evil

    Thomas said: “What it looks like they did was use the APIs that are private APIs for how VMware can upload/download files to datastores via Browse Datastore. That is not a method that the private APIs where ever to be used and I imagine there are reasons VMware does not want to see that large amount of data going over a private API that was never intended for that amount of traffic.”

    This comment is complete nonsense. I thought Datastore Browser was specifically designed for customers to be able to upload and download ISO and VMDK files to/from ESXi hosts' local storage. Do you know any other way? And Veeam used these APIs to do exactly the same thing (upload/download VMDKs).

  • http://vmetc.com rbrambley

    Evil,

    Great point. The only difference is Veeam is initiating a snap shot
    and then deleting it during back up, but that seems trivial.

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  • jibeddari

    You could actually build a similar setup with click-automation tools like AutoIT or AutoHotkey.

    If someone did that and sold it as a backup solution, then what?

  • http://vmetc.com rbrambley

    jibeddari,

    I guess you could, but if you started selling your solution to VMware ESXi customers not just VMware but AutoIT and AutoHotkey would probably start paying attention. I think AutoIT is no longer open source and I am not sure about AutoHotkey.

  • http://vmetc.com rbrambley

    jibeddari,

    I guess you could, but if you started selling your solution to VMware ESXi customers not just VMware but AutoIT and AutoHotkey would probably start paying attention. I think AutoIT is no longer open source and I am not sure about AutoHotkey.

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