Indexing guest OS files in Veeam

So you may have noticed that when you’re configuring a backup job in Veeam Backup & Replication there is an option to ‘Enable guest file system indexing’. The menu tells us it will “create catalog of guest files to enable browsing, searching and 1-click restore of individual files” which sounds quite important but then it also says that “indexing is optional and not required to restore instant file level recoveries”. So you may be thinking whats the point of it then or whats the advantage here and should I enable it?

What is it? Allows you to perform searches within guest OS files stored inside the backups without having to mount the backup files first.

How does it work? It’s worth pointing out that Veeam is agentless so this indexing happens without agents, nor does it need to scan the whole file system, instead when a backup job runs, during the guest OS freeze process, Veeam creates a catalog (or index) of the VM guest OS files by directly reading from the NTFS Master File Table (MFT). For a typical VM, the required data is captured and parsed nearly instantly, which Veeam calls Instant Indexing. After the index has been created, this information is stored on the Veeam Backup & Replication server.

Before going further let’s just cover the services that are running this show, basically, there is a windows service named ‘Veeam Guest Catalog’ service which runs on each Veeam Backup & Replication server and is running on the Veeam Backup Enterprise Manager server. This service enables the guest OS file indexing feature.

The ‘Veeam Guest Catalog’ service on the Veeam backup server works as I described at the beginning of this article,  by collecting indexing data from backup jobs running on itself and then the storing of this data locally in the Veeam Backup Catalog folder.

The ‘Veeam Guest Catalog’ service on the Veeam Backup Enterprise Manager server works a bit differently though, it basically functions as a global, federal catalog service. It communicates with Veeam Guest Catalog services on all our Veeam backup servers connected to Veeam Backup Enterprise Manager and performs the following tasks:

  1. Replicates indexing data from Veeam backup servers to create a federal catalog
  2. Maintains indexing data retention
  3. Lets you search for VM guest OS files in current and archived backup file

For both Veeam Backup & Replication servers and Veeam Backup Enterprise Manager servers, the default location the Veeam Backup Catalog is the same;  C:\VBRCatalog folder

After indexing data has been replicated from our Veeam Backup & Replication server to our Veeam Backup Enterprise Manager server we can browse any VM backup for OS guest files. Just remember that for VMs processed without indexing, you can only use browsing or Quick search to find the necessary file within the selected restore point. Advanced search capabilities (including search through multiple restore points) are available only for VMs processed with guest indexing enabled, i.e .you can only browse and search for files in the selected VM backup at a specific restore point only if ‘Enable guest file system indexing’ was not enabled.

Worth mentioning is that if you are using Veeam Backup & Replication Standard then you can only search through available restore points on disk in the catalog. Compared to Enterprise or Enterprise Plus license edition which keeps index files for backups that are currently stored on disk and for archived backups i.e backups stored on tape, this means you will be able to browse and search through backup contents even if the backup in a repository is no longer available.

Because Veeam Backup Enterprise Manager can federate multiple Veeam Backup & Replication servers, the feature not only enables searching across multiple Veeam Backups for any file on a backed up VM’s but when used in conjunction with Veeam Backup Enterprise Manager, it enables searching across supports multiple Veeam Backup & Replication Servers, we can search for files no matter which B&R server was used to back them up.

How do I use it? You will need Veeam Backup Enterprise Manager installed and configured along with the Veeam Backup & Replication server that performed the backup of the VM you wish to search will need to be added to the Enterprise Manager.

Once the Veeam Backup & Replication server is added you simply open up Veeam Backup Enterprise Manager, open the Files tab and go to the Search tab.

In the VM name field, select the VM that you want to browse and type the name of the file you are searching for in the search field.  Simple

Should I enable it? If you don’t care about guest OS file searching across multiple restore points then you don’t need to enable ‘Enable guest file system indexing’. You can still browse backed up VM Guest OS Files select but it will be individual restore points which are at one restore point at time.

Sounds pretty I/O intensive? Veeam Backup Enterprise Manager can process indexing data by itself which is perfectly fine for most environments but there is an option to deploy a separate Veeam Backup Search by using Veeams integration with MS Search Server. When using MS Search Server it improves search performance by offloading the guest file system catalog to its own dedicated server. This could be useful in cases where you need to search across a significant number of backups (thousands of VMs) for better search performance.

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