Backup Exec Protects for a Price

SAN MATEO (05/08/2000) - Tape backup strategies and tools are essential components of an enterprise failure-recovery scheme. As networks grow, connecting more users to more data, tape is increasingly used for storing large files offline. A suitable enterprise backup strategy balances the requirements of basic data protection with quick, automated access to archived files.

As a total backup solution, Veritas Software Corp.'s Backup Exec 8 is in a class by itself. This new release pools and clusters backup servers, shares tape devices among servers, and manages multiple servers from a single console.

Support for single-drive tape libraries is now standard, making Backup Exec more enterprise-ready out of the box. With agents for most popular operating systems, you can migrate from per-server backups to a completely automated, centralized, enterprise-wide strategy. Backup Exec 8 integrates perfectly with Microsoft Windows 2000, coupling with the OS's new features rather than treating a Windows 2000 server as if it was running Windows NT. For all these pluses, I give Backup Exec 8 a score of Very Good.

I would be an unabashed fan of Backup Exec 8 were it not for its a la carte bundling. Veritas fails to make clear which features are optional and which are not, leading to frustrating installation-time surprises. Loading up the initially $795 Backup Exec 8 for typical enterprise use raises its cost to nearly $5,000. Veritas should offer a Backup Exec bundle that includes all essential enterprise components. Still, compared with Computer Associates' ArcserveIT, Backup Exec shines in key areas including ease of use, bulletproof lights-out operation, hardware compatibility, and software integration. Some of these advantages come from Backup Exec's marriage to Windows servers; unlike ArcserveIT, Backup Exec's server component will not run on Unix servers.

However, a Windows server running Backup Exec will back up Unix, NetWare, Macintosh, and Windows hosts through the LAN using native agents.

I tested Backup Exec 8 on a network running a mix of systems. I installed the server software on a Windows 2000 Advanced Server system with a 500MHz Pentium III CPU and 256MB of RAM. I then set up a group of test clients and servers running Windows 2000 Server, Windows 98, and Red Hat Linux 6.2. Then I installed a Backup Exec agent on each remote machine.

For these tests I used a trio of tape devices from Benchmark Systems: a seven-cartridge DLT tape library and two DLT1 drives in external cabinets. The Benchmark drives are cartridge-and driver-compatible with Quantum DLT 7000 drives, but the DLT1 has a native capacity of 40GB per tape.

No sweat

Although Backup Exec 8 is a comprehensive solution, its installation requires almost no effort. As long as you have your backup devices connected to the server (or, if you used shared devices, to the network), install-time wizards will get you ready for your first set of backups. This ease and automation is common to all Backup Exec activities. For example, when I installed the Backup Exec agent on a remote client, it registered itself with the backup server.

From then on, making a backup of that remote client was as easy as checking a box. There is no need to set up shared folders of files that you wish to back up.

It is best to buy and install at the same time all of the Backup Exec 8 options you need. Most shops will consider Veritas' open files, intelligent disaster recovery, and tape library expansion options as critical. If your facility uses SAN (storage area network) tape devices, you'll need the shared storage option as well. The optional SQL Server and Exchange agents use specialized Microsoft backup APIs. Those give you fine-grained control over backups -- to choose individual tables, for example, in SQL Server, or specific folders and users in Exchange -- and ensure that restored data will work with the application.

Backup Exec's intelligent disaster-recovery feature captured my interest in the prior Windows NT release (7.x). This option creates a bootable CD-ROM, or a bootable tape if your device supports it, that restores a failed machine to a point-in-time state. There is no need to reinstall the operating system and applications. Unfortunately, Veritas did not implement bootable CD-ROM support for Windows 2000 servers. Instead, the boot image is written to floppies. That significantly lengthens your recovery time and exposes you to media failures.

Even hampered by floppies, point-in-time recovery still works and is an invaluable feature.

Going to the library

With one hard drive holding as much as 70GB of data, few organizations base backup strategy on single, manually-loaded tape drives. Backup Exec 8 now includes support for single-drive autoloaders with no limit on the number of tape slots. Backup Exec's management of libraries has always been impressive.

The new release lets you partition library slots, assigning a block of slots to one or more servers. You'll know exactly where each critical server's latest tapes are located. If I used a multimagazine autoloader such as the Exabyte 440, I'd implement partitioning to assign each five-cartridge magazine to a group of servers.

A library with more than one tape drive requires Veritas' library expansion option. Backup Exec will work the drives together or separately. Given two or more drives, the RAIDirector option uses multiple drives for one backup job.

The result is increased performance, higher capacity, and data protection -- if you use mirroring or parity striping. I tested RAIDirector on a striped pair of Benchmark DLT1 drives and found that it cleanly halved backup time without making device, media, or job management more difficult. If you prefer, Backup Exec will independently manage library drives. It manages multiple backup jobs simultaneously and will keep all of your library drives busy at once. If a drive fails, Backup Exec will take that drive offline and continue.

Up to date

Maintaining current backups on a large network is a challenge, but it's one that Backup Exec 8 handles gracefully. Its built-in media management tracks every cartridge from cradle to grave. Backup Exec automatically cleans your drives at scheduled intervals and retires aged tapes. On-disk catalogs remember the contents of every tape you've ever used. Each tape's catalog is stored on the tape as well, covering you in the event of a backup server failure. If your tapes have bar codes, Backup Exec will automatically write tape headers matching the bar code ID. I labeled all the tapes in my changer with one operation.

Windows NT was relatively easy to back up: Grab all the files you see plus the Registry, and you've got a complete backup. Windows 2000 complicates backups with new features such as the Encrypting File System, disk quotas, remote storage, reparse points, and sparse files. Unlike backup software written for Windows NT, Backup Exec 8 will restore Windows 2000 servers and all its component services precisely to the backed-up state, ready to roll. I tested this by purposely destroying the contents of a Windows 2000 Advanced Server.

Backup Exec's disaster-recovery software guided me through restoration of the full backup, then the incremental backup. After rebooting, my server was complete.

Windows 2000 Advanced Server supports and exploits clustering. If a clustered server fails in midbackup, Backup Exec will sense this and restart the backup job on another server in that cluster. If you cluster your backup servers, fail-over will re-queue pending jobs on the secondary server without wasting media. Backup Exec inherently shares devices with other Backup Exec servers.

The latest release will also work with Windows 2000's remote storage feature and with devices connected to a SAN.

Backup Exec 8 certainly continues in its predecessors' worthy tracks. If you can handle a bit of sticker shock early on, you'll find Backup Exec 8 well-suited to nearly any enterprise backup task you throw at it. Backup Exec 8 earns a Very Good score.

Tom Yager is an InfoWorld senior analyst. His book Windows 2000 Web Applications Development is due this spring from Prentice-Hall. He can be reached at tom_yager@infoworld.com.

THE BOTTOM LINE: VERY GOOD

Veritas Backup Exec 8 for Windows NT/2000Business Case: Backup Exec 8 running on a Windows 2000 server will protect the data on all the servers in your network, regardless of their operating systems.

Backup Exec 8 is easy to install and use, but the cost of essential options adds up fast.

Technology Case: Backup Exec uses OS-specific agents to back up data on remote servers and clients, backing up special data unique to that OS. Version 8's cluster support automatically resumes backup operations interrupted by server failure.

Pros:

+ Easy, wizard-driven setup

+ Standard tape library support

+ Solid Windows 2000 state backup and (optional) disaster recoveryCons:

- Many necessary features available only as costly options- Lacks CD-R/CD-RW disaster recovery option for Windows 2000Cost: $795; options from $195 to $4,995.

Platform(s): Server: Windows 2000, NT 4.0; Client: Most Windows, Macintosh, NetWare, and Unix systemsVeritas Software Corp., Mountain View, California; (800) 327-2232; www.veritas.com.

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