Rollout: Symantec's Backup Exec System Recovery 7.0

Although a bit pricey, this Windows recovery system takes away 90 percent of the pain of bare-metal restores.

April 25, 2007

6 Min Read
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Here are three words that will make any system administrator throw his arms in the air and run for the hills: bare metal restore. It can take hours to reinstall the OS, system settings, applications and data. And a single misstep can throw the whole process into chaos. Not to mention that you typically have to restore all the software onto a similar hardware platform.

While today's backup applications, such as CA's Arcserve, EMC's Retrospect and Symantec's NetBackup, make it relatively simple to replace a lost file, or even a whole data volume, they're the wrong tools for restoring a server or desktop system.

The right tool is Symantec's Backup Exec System Recovery 7.0, a standalone product for recovering Windows systems. It also can be purchased with other parts of the Backup Exec suite.

Using a program that runs on each server, System Recovery takes a snapshot of everything needed for a full restore from administrator-defined drives and saves those snapshots as a recovery point on a local drive, DVD drive, network share or any other file resource available to your server. System Recovery can make full or incremental recovery points and can make backups based on a flexible scheduler. It's Volume Shadowcopy Service (VSS)-compatible, so Exchange, Active Directory and other VSS-aware databases can be quiesced (quieted) while they are backed up.New to version 7.0 is support for Vista, x64-bit platforms, VMware ESX Server and Microsoft Virtual Server. It also adds a console for managing multiple servers from a single location.

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Recovery Time

System Recovery's real claim to fame is its Restore Anywhere feature. It can reconfigure restore points made on one server platform to a different set of hardware, which can be a lifesaver when moving software from older to newer machines. Symantec even includes a wizard to convert recovery points to VMware or Microsoft Virtual Server image files so you can restore into a virtual environment.

We put Restore Anywhere to the test by restoring a Windows Server 2003 recovery point from the oldest server in the lab, a Compaq 1850R (bought in 2000), to a new white-box server running an AMD Athlon 64 X2. The restore took about 20 minutes from the time we put the system restore disk in the CD drive. We simply mounted the share to which we had saved the recovery point and then told System Recovery which restore point to use.The first boot-up was a bit slow as it was accompanied by at least 20 new "hardware found" messages. Other than watch as each driver was found from our custom recovery CD, all we had to do was set the static IP address on each Ethernet card. Our new server, complete with all its applications, was up and running in about 40 minutes.

The key to Restore Anywhere is the recovery CD that contains all the drivers Windows needs, for both the pre-execution environment for the CD to run in and the server's operating system. In this new release, Symantec has made it easy to add drivers to the standard set on the CD, even harvesting them from the running servers, ensuring the right versions are used when moving among different hardware platforms.

Other products do image-based backups and fast OS restores, including UltraBac Software's eponymous product and Acronis Software's True Image. True Image can restore from PXE, and it supports restoring an image to different hardware, but that feature costs extra. Symantec's approach of building a custom restore CD by harvesting drivers from your running servers is easier than True Image's method, which requires building a driver repository. System Recovery is also better at incremental backups and individual file restores, especially with the Web-based Backup Exec Retrieve feature.

Bag Of Tricks

As good as it is at system drive restore, System Recovery can do more. Administrators can restore individual files from recovery points through the recovery-point browser. Even better, System Recovery includes the Backup Exec Retrieve Web interface, also used by Backup Exec Continuous Protection Server, that lets users restore files themselves by searching or browsing. Search addicts can even have System Recovery feed the Google Desktop index.System Recovery is $1,095 per server and $69 per workstation. Symantec also offers other capabilities--for additional cost. System Recovery Manager is a management console that lets an administrator view and control all the System Recovery servers and workstations in your environment. The management console costs $1,495, but if you've got more than a few machines on which to define backup jobs, it's money well spent. It can also create Backup Exec jobs to spool the recovery points to tape if desired.

Another add-on is Exchange Retrieve, which costs $995. Using it, we recovered a single message from a recovery point of our Exchange server. This was much easier and faster than the usual process of restoring the whole information store to an Exchange server or running time-consuming brick-level backups.

Users of Backup Exec, Symantec's tape backup system, can buy the limited function System Recovery Option for $695 per server, but there's no real integration with Backup Exec. Though it includes the ability to restore to any hardware and the physical-to-virtual functions, it's missing the central administration console and features like incremental recovery points and end-user file restores.

System Restore should appeal to small enterprises, but even very small companies with two or three servers and a few gigabytes of data to protect will find value. Such organizations can use Backup Exec System Recovery as their primary backup program, using low-cost portable USB or FireWire hard drives instead of tape. If they kept one on site with incremental restore points and used a rotating pair for off-site storage, it would cost about the same as a tape drive and be a lot easier to restore from.

Howard Marks is founder and chief scientist at Networks Are Our Lives, a network design and consulting firm in Hoboken, N.J. Write to him at [email protected]. 0

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