Tactical Advice

Windows Servers Backup for Continuous Data Protection

Symantec Backup Exec 11d for Windows Servers addresses the data blind spot.
This story appears in the September 2007 issue of BizTech Magazine.

Although backing up data regularly is a necessary part of routine disaster readiness and contingency plans, encrypting that data can make a major difference if backup tapes are lost or stolen.

Now imagine end users recovering their own files — without IT coming to their rescue. Further imagine continuous data protection that eliminates the need for daily backups. These are the promises of Symantec Backup Exec 11d.

Rossmar & Graham, a property management company with 200 employees, recently upgraded to Version 11d to back up their Lotus e-mail system. Stefanie Ehrsam, director of information systems for the Scottsdale, Ariz., company, says 11d supports the Lotus environment without requiring the purchase of separate add-on agents, which helps reduce costs.

“We want to ensure that, for any event, if the server goes down for hardware problems, we can get back up as soon as possible,” she says.

End-User Advantage

The Backup Exec 11d for Windows Servers eliminates the drudgery of making daily backups through its continuous data protection — not only for Microsoft Windows environments, but also for Microsoft Exchange Server, SQL Server, SharePoint Portal Server and Active Directory. Although installation was easy, it did take quite a few steps to complete. Once installed, it took less than 15 minutes for users to arrange and start backup procedures.

Backup Exec 11d supports both disks and tapes, and recovery is easy enough for unaided use. During the test, users merely had to follow the guidelines of the application wizard and its intuitive interface. A feature called Backup Exec Retrieve (a Web-based file recovery tool) let users do just that — retrieve their own files — without having to call in the IT department.

Not only were backups faster, but the users liked that recovering critical data, servers and/or workstations (including individual mailboxes, messages and folders) took only minutes. Additionally, Backup Exec can restore to hardware that is dissimilar to the hardware on which the data was originally stored.

Backup Exec 11d also let the users customize more than just “failure” parameters. For instance, we could specify how often backups took place and whether new backups overwrote previous ones or were added to them.

Some businesses, however, prefer to conduct backups through the IT department. At Rossmar & Graham, the IT organization performs nightly backups, Ehrsam says, because “we do not want end users to have access to that data.” The IT department archives or saves all company e-mails to a DVD for future reference and backs up e-mail on a six-week cycle, she says.

If you’ve got some particularly meticulous users, Backup Exec can be set to duplicate backups to tape at more frequent intervals and even set to automatically duplicate to tapes in the event you have a shortage of disk space for overwriting previous backups.

Why Backup Exec 11d Works for IT

For 11d, Symantec has enabled encrypting backup data under both 32-bit and 64-bit operating systems. For this review, we used it in an environment with multiple servers, desktop and notebook computers, and two offsite remote offices. If you’re protecting a remote server, or when you’re backing up data to tape, Backup Exec for Windows Small Business Server provides Advanced Encryption Standard 128-bit and 256-bit encryption. For added flexibility, it can be set to encrypt only specified data or backups you intend to warehouse elsewhere.

Backup Exec supports large Windows environments (with multiple servers), established storage area networks, workgroups and offsite offices. It also provides disk-to-disk-to-tape data protection and recovery.

IT personnel will particularly appreciate the central management features. Most Backup Exec agents and options run remotely and are administered locally off the media server but will protect remote servers and their applications, such as SQL Server and Exchange or Oracle databases.


Photo: Steve Craft
“We want to ensure that, for any event, if the server goes down for hardware problems, we can get back up as soon as possible,” says Rossmar & Graham’s Stefanie Ehrsam.

Instead of using remote agents, Rossmar & Graham runs the Windows backup utility, Ehrsam says. “We run all our databases from Exchange. We then push the batch file from the server and back it up as a regular file,” she explains. “It’s an excellent way to back up the files, and it’s cost effective because we do not have to purchase the agents.”

Backup Exec does not require a dedicated server. Many customers use another server in their environment and dual-purpose it as the backup server. The remote agent technology lets users manage and protect systems over the local area and wide area networks by installing a remote agent on that system. Not requiring a full installation of Backup Exec on each protected system reduces its overall footprint.

Another plus is the program’s ability to repair itself. After setting a threshold at which it will “fail” tasks that have stalled, it recovers them using made-to-order rules that users establish upon installation. Those error-handling parameters take into account the number of attempts and re-attempts of each failed task, as well as the period of time between attempts.

Disadvantages

The test experience with Symantec’s Backup Exec 11d was mostly positive, but a couple of features could use improvement. What caught my eye initially was the long list of numbers that composed the license key, which had to be entered again and again upon install. But that was just a minor inconvenience. Otherwise, one possible issue might arise if your company wants to cease making backups the old-fashioned way and opt for continuous data protection only. In that case, it seems like overkill to purchase a product that does both. Symantec could probably substantially reduce the price of the Backup Exec if it offered the software without conventional backup ability — but then it would be a different product.

For this review, we did not upgrade from a previous version, and there have been reports of problems involving tape restore when upgrading from Version 10d to 11d (on Windows Vista and XP systems).

Another frequent complaint centers on an error message, classified as a “warning,” indicating that a particular “directory partition has not been backed up since at least the following number of days” and then noting the days, which delays backups.

“We have experienced a lot of media alert messages, which still stay displayed until answered,” Ehrsam says. “And we can’t have someone sitting at the server all night to watch for these, so it would delay our backups from finishing. We got around this by setting up automatic responses to the questions.”

Symantec advises users to ignore the error message because the backup is taking place — it’s just that the application is not resetting the bit. It seems Symantec will likely have some tweaking to do to fix this small glitch.

CEO Takeaway

With the onus of regulations such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 and the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, digital data has become increasingly subject to regulatory constraints and will remain so for the foreseeable future. Backup Exec 11d can address:

• Instant messaging, e-mail and other electronic records documentation requirements under Sarbanes-Oxley’s data retention regulations.
• The archiving requirement in HIPAA and SEC Rule 17a-4 imposed on health-care and financial organizations.
Douglas Schweitzer is an Internet security specialist and author of several information security books. He holds A+, Network+, iNet+ and CIW certification.
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