Retrospect Shines in Windows Backups

Dantz Development Corp. Retrospect has long enjoyed an excellent reputation among Macintosh users, and beginning with Retrospect Backup Server 5.0, Windows users can benefit from this solid, well-designed workstation backup product. System managers will find a lot to like about Retrospect -- it's fast, easy to use, reliable, and very affordable. It also makes desktop backups and restores simple to do, which is what managing a network is all about.

Other networked backup products require fairly large servers and store the desktop computer's information on their hard disks. The entry-level cost of this type of software can be breathtaking, ranging from $9,900 to $50,000 to back up 100 clients. In contrast, Retrospect runs on a modestly sized server and backs up data directly to a tape drive. Best of all, the entry price is surprisingly low at $795 for a 100-client license.

For system managers who need to back up less than 100 nodes, Retrospect Backup is also available in workgroup and single-machine versions.

Retrospect is an established product with a mature installation routine and great usability. However, the only supported drive in my lab was an old, slow DDS-1 DAT drive. Despite its age, Retrospect pushed data to the drive as fast as any other product -- including server backup software from Cheyenne, NovaStor, and Veritas.

Retrospect uses a server-centric approach to management, which makes backups easy for end-users because the system manager is the only one who needs to worry about the details. Using the Retrospect's server-based control program, I added the clients to a backup group. At the appointed times, Retrospect backs up the online computers to the tape drive.

Because the Retrospect server polls the known and defined subnets, it is not designed to support dial-up clients over a public access network. If you need to back up telecommuters' systems, consider Connected Corp. Connected Online Backup or Veritas TeleBackup instead of Retrospect.

Retrospect backup groups can have different backup rules assigned to them, which can be created manually or via the wizard interface, allowing the system manager to determine how often machines will be backed up. The rules setup takes advantage of any opportunity to complete a backup: If a portable computer is disconnected from the LAN before it's fully backed up, the backup will continue the next time it is connected. During my test, the rules operated as expected.

Retrospect prompted me to create media sets, each of which contains a complete backup set for all of the clients it covers, and to rotate them on a regular schedule to make sure I had more than one copy of my data. Retrospect maintains a database of the files in each database, allowing the backups to proceed quickly. It makes only one copy of any specific file during the original backup, then, during subsequent backups, it looks at the file's attributes -- file size, name, last modification date, and the contents of the file -- to make sure that the file is the same as one already on tape. Thus the first backup I ran was somewhat time-consuming, but after that, backups were completed quickly.

Retrospect shines when it comes to restoration of drives. The system manager can easily restore any file, set of files, or directories to a PC, and Retrospect will handle the details, allowing you to restore from a single tape set so you don't have to know on which tape the data is located. However, it only needs to access any tape once.

Disaster recovery is more difficult than restoring files and directories. You must reload your OS, any essential patches and updates, and the Retrospect client to a temporary directory, at which point you can restore the system over the network. If you need to do this, instead use a product such as Symantec Ghost or PowerQuest DriveImage to restore an image of the configured system first. I hope that Dantz will add an option to create bare-metal restore CD-ROMs, even if it is an add-on module.

I encountered only one failure while testing Retrospect. To test its restoration capabilities, I backed up a Windows 95 system that was using Novell's 32-bit client software as its main network driver, blew away the drive, reloaded Windows 95 as directed -- but without the Novell client software -- and then did a restore. The client software insisted that a key file was corrupted or missing. However, the file was on the backup.

Uninstalling and reinstalling the NetWare client allowed the client software to function normally, but Dantz is looking into the matter, which they think may be a registry problem.

Retrospect can also perform a rollback, which restores a PC to contain exactly the same files it housed during any previous backup. This feature is useful after an ill-advised configuration change or when a new program was installed that seemed to cause a problem.

In general, I was very impressed with Retrospect. It's easy to be charmed by a product's low entry cost only to learn that it has steep hidden costs, but Retrospect shouldn't lead you down that nasty path. The management console is easy to use and end-user involvement is kept to a minimum. Retrospect can also back up Windows and Mac clients to the same server.

For system managers who want a simple and easy-to-control backup product, Retrospect Backup Server 5.0 is worth a good look, and the fact that it is much less expensive than the competition just makes it all the more attractive.

Mike Avery (mavery@mail.otherwhen.com) is a networking consultant based in Beaumont, Texas.

THE BOTTOM LINE: VERY GOOD

Dantz Retrospect Server Backup 5.0

Summary: This PC backup product is easy to use and rich in features. It quickly backs up and restores on-site PCs and Windows NT servers with minimum hassle and at the lowest price around.

Business Case: Retrospect Backup is smooth, powerful, and inexpensive, weighing in at about $800 for a 100-node license, while its main competitors cost tens of thousands of dollars for comparable features and a similar license.

Pros:

+ Inexpensive

+ Easy to install

+ Easy operations

+ Excellent maintenance of data integrity during restoresCons:

- Not well-suited for remote backups

- Disaster recovery more difficult than necessaryCost: Server and 100-node license, $795; tape drive requiredPlatform(s): Server: Windows 95/98, Windows NT; clients: Windows 95/98, Windows NT/2000, any PowerPC-based MacintoshDantz Development Corp., Orinda, Calif.; (925) 253-3000; www.dantz.com

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