In these days of RAID arrays, redundant components, and server clusters, tape backups have been shoved out of the data-protection limelight. Backups have never been glamorous, but they remain your best defence against data loss. In such a mundane field, you might think there is little room for innovation and even less for surprise. But Backup Exec Multi-Server Edition 7.3, released just after changing hands from Seagate Software to Veritas, is both innovative and surprising.
Computer Associates' ArcServeIT has been the de facto choice for corporate backup for Windows NT. ArcServeIT has its appeal, particularly if you're running the UniCenter framework, but after working with it for years, I've become a Backup Exec convert.
Backup Exec's unique combination of features, including SQL Server 7.0 support, Linux backup agents, support for Windows NT clusters, and a capable command-line interface, puts it in the lead in the features race.
With Backup Exec Multi-Server Edition 7.3, one system can become the backup server for all of your Windows NT, NetWare, Unix, and Linux systems. This eliminates the need for per-server tape drives and gives you single-console control of all of your backup and restore tasks. With all of your data backed up to one system, you can avoid the expense that lost data can cost your company.
In addition, Backup Exec helps manage your media. You can easily execute established best practices for tape rotation and retirement.
I tested Backup Exec on a variety of servers in my lab. My primary Windows NT test server ran three SCSI tape backup devices. I tested Backup Exec's Linux, 32-bit Windows, and SQL Server 7.0 agents with other servers. To create data to archive, I filled a Consensys RAIDZone 10-drive array unit with 100GB of uncompressible data.
Unlike ArcServeIT, Backup Exec uses simple serial numbers to unlock the software and options you bought. Once installed, Backup Exec's wizard senses and displays your backup devices. In my testing, the backup software had no trouble identifying and working with the devices attached to my server.
If you have an autoloader that supports six media, Backup Exec can set up your backups for you. The Low Administration Backup wizard lays out a nightly schedule that backs up all of the data on your server and automatically cleans the tape drive after a week's work. For more control, run the Job Creation Wizard, or skip straight to the full management console.
Backup Exec excels at tracking and managing your media. You can create multiple media pools using tapes mounted in autoloader magazines or loaded into drives by hand. You add new tapes to your global pool by writing a short ID header to the tape and then dragging the tape's icon from the global pool into the media pool.
When you write the label, Backup Exec begins tracking details about the medium. You tell Backup Exec how long to retain the data on the tape before overwriting it and how much work the tape should do before it's trashed. Once you arm Backup Exec with all these details, it will manage your media for you.
If a tape goes bad, Backup Exec will scrap it and ask you for another tape from the same media group. If another tape is already available in an autoloader slot, or an unallocated tape is found, Backup Exec will proceed, informing you of the substitution with an alert.
Backup Exec works particularly well with multiple drives. You can pool drives to spread backups across several devices. If you have multiple drives of the same type, combine them in a cascading pool or tape RAID array, a $1555 option. If any drive in a pool or array fails, Backup Exec will automatically reschedule jobs to healthy drives.
Backup Exec's various agents work simply and flawlessly. A system agent lets you choose which drives or paths to publish to the server. Those published drives appear in the Backup Exec management interface; just click in the system's box to back up all of its published drives. The database agents show databases, tables, and system structures. The SQL Server agent backed up my lab's SQL Server 7.0 machine without a hitch.
Two of Backup Exec's many charms knocked me out: the Intelligent Disaster Recovery (IDR) option and the Windows NT Agent Accelerator. The IDR feature creates what amounts to a one-button restore: you boot from the IDR media, built by IDR, and Backup Exec restores your server to its precise state at the time of the backup. IDR will create bootable floppies or tapes on tape drives that emulate CD-ROMs at boot-up, but my favourite option is the recordable CD. After you feed in the parameters, IDR creates an ISO 9660 image file. Burn that image to a CD, and you have an instant recovery disc that can recover even a completely trashed server.
My pet peeve with remote backups is the impact they have on network performance. Unlike other backup software, Backup Exec's Windows NT Agent Accelerator optimises the traffic it creates. The accelerator takes Backup Exec's file selections and accumulates the data of multiple files into an efficient stream before sending them. File-management overhead is eliminated, and one LAN can support more simultaneous remote backups.
My only complaint is that Backup Exec's interface may be too friendly. If you are having trouble with hardware, the packaged error messages may not give you enough information to identify the problem. Even when things are working well, I want to be able to receive more detailed status messages and see the commands going to the drives and their status being returned.
Otherwise, this backup solution seems perfect. The surprise is Backup Exec's price. For $2180 you can back up to one server as many servers and workstations as you like, and Veritas does not limit the number of backup devices or media cartridges one server can manage. I tried to trip it up by taking drives offline, damaging tapes, and inserting the wrong media, but nothing I did caused Backup Exec to skip a beat.
The bottom line *****
Veritas Backup Exec Multi Server Edition 7.3Summary: With one box you can back up your Windows, NetWare, Macintosh, Unix, and Linux servers and clients. The Intelligent Disaster Recovery Option burns a bootable CD that restores any NT server.
Business Case: Backup Exec can pull data from agents on different types of servers, making obsolete your Unix backup scripts and NetWare utilities. Backup Exec's handling of simultaneous backups to multiple tape drives lets you centralise the entire process.
Pros: Easy user interface; Efficient handling of multiple simultaneous backups; Fast recovery from failures; One-step disaster recoveryCons: Real-time status should be more informativeCost: Single server $1086 RRP; Multi-server $2180 RRP.
Platforms: Server - Windows NT Workstation, NT Server 4.0. Client - 16-, 32-bit Windows; Unix; Linux; Macintosh; NetWare.
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