vSphere without vCenter Use Cases for Backup in Homelab

  • 20 October 2020
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I had a discussion recently about backing up ‘standalone’ ESXi servers, without the vCenter Server application. The discussion started around we were sharing my homelab but the use case became attractive for retail, edge and other ROBO scenarios. 

Why no vCenter Server Application?

I do not run the vCenter Server Server Appliance (vCSA) at home simply because I don’t need it. At home I recently simplified my home lab. In March and April, I had to work from home for a while and it made me think about the home lab since I wasn’t travelling. I upgraded to a new host (still on vSphere) but really don’t need the vCSA. I do *not* use the free ESXi hypervisor, as I use the vExpert license on the host to unlock the full APIs that I need for backup. 

In our work lab environment, we definitely use the VCSA for a number of environments and if I need that type of environment, I’ll do that over there.

It’s interesting when you use the ESXi host in a licensed mode, it allows a number of Veeam capabilities:

  • Veeam ONE monitoring
  • Veeam Backup & Replication backups, replicas and more

I also save a lot of memory on the host (important on a single host) and it makes the system startup quicker. Inside of Veeam Backup & Replication, a standalone host looks like this:
 

The Standalone Host section is where you’d see indeed just a standalone host. It’s something we can use for effectively all types of backup and recovery jobs. 

Adding a host, you can see this option where it states a standalone host is supported to be added. Note, the free ESXi is not supported as the APIs for agentless backups are not exposed to Veeam Backup & Replication:

Use Cases outside of Homelabbing

While my homelab use case makes sense, not every production environment would however. The one big omission would be vMotion. Sure there is Veeam Quick Migration for free, but for a edge, ROBO, etc. type of deployment; I’d want to consider vMotion.

There also are considerations around updates made easier with vCenter, but again there is a use case for a simple deployment where easy is easy.

Every time I share the ESXi host without vCenter, I feel like I’m the only one doing it. How about the cool kids here, is anyone else doing this?


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I’ve been doing this for quite a while too. It all depends on what someone is looking to learn or test. Sure, certain vSphere features like moving a VM between datastores require a vCenter to do it easily, but if you are trying to learn Veeam then most likely one or two standalone hosts will suffice.

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I rarely see standalone hosts in the wild. Mostly in smaller environments with only one or two hosts without shared storage; so vCenter doesn't add many benefits there. Replication and planned failover could be an alternative for vMotion and HA.

 

In Veeam, by the way, a standalone host needs to be added if you lose your vCenter and need to restore it.

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Exactly right, @regnor .

As a best practice, I usually recommend to Customers to have one of the ESXi added as standalone, by IP. So in worst-case scenario like the whole AD/DNS, plus vCenter is down. At least they can fire the recovers to that node quickly.

It does not hurt to have it there, ready to rock’and’roll. Great post @Rick Vanover !

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If you’re small enough to be going standalone, do you even care about vMotion? I’d argue that you’re sacrificing some functionality for ease of use, and likely cost savings…

I think it’s the classic “it depends”. Do you care about uptime in a home lab, and therefore need vcenter? Probably not. Would I want to run a critical business app without that protection? Probably not.

Interesting thought experiment...

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Exactly right, @regnor .

As a best practice, I usually recommend to Customers to have one of the ESXi added as standalone, by IP. So in worst-case scenario like the whole AD/DNS, plus vCenter is down. At least they can fire the recovers to that node quickly.

It does not hurt to have it there, ready to rock’and’roll. Great post @Rick Vanover !

Yes, that is the reason for the Stand alone ESXi server as IP address under the VBR console.

 

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Happy to share this:

  • There was a setup we made a few years ago, our sites were having a vsphere cluster (2 hosts cluster) and we had the 3 license bundle (Vspher eessentials).
    We made a DR plan that consisted in deploying a third ESXi Host, Full of RAM, Local Disk, and deployed there the VBR, the Local Repo, The Replicas and a Deduplication appliance for long retention backups.
    for security reasons also out of the vCenter Scope, Domain, etc. Just an Stand Alone ESXi, also our of the Server Room (Different location, same building).
  • In my personal usage, I do Like using Stand along ESXi in My home lab as a Fundation Machine, All my home lab is based on a ESXi, running a Nestead Cluster and all the necesary VMs for it, and protecting them with my VBR NRF License, and the vCenter for test, but as an applinace inside of this Stand Alone ESXi, just to manage the cluster, nothing else.
  • I do love the idea of Stand Alone ESXi Hosts!!
    No DNS, purely IP Addresses to avoid any dependency to AD, DNS, vCenter, ETC.
    My final usage was, with no Vsphere HA capabilities, no vCenter, was to replicate my vms between ESXi hosts using VBR, pushing replicas into the contrary ESXi, emulating a sort of HA - DR, those replicas were triggered every 4 hours, so the RTO was up to 4H, and saved my bacon a few times!

cheers.

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