Backup Exec has been the best-selling backup program for Windows servers as long as they've been around. As a result, it has developed an image as being a bit old-fashioned: a conventional, reliable program that performs scheduled full and incremental backups to tape but lacks cutting-edge features such as continuous data protection, and suffers from limited scalability.
We're here to tell you that if you haven't looked at Backup Exec in a few years, you may be surprised to see just how much its various owners, ending with Symantec, have added to this stalwart.
Backup Exec now includes the Continuous Protection Server (CPS) system for Windows, SQL Server, and Exchange servers. CPS can integrate with the core Backup Exec console so an administrator can monitor both CPS processes and regular backup chores from a single console, and spool data protected by CPS to tape for longer-term storage.
The CPS agent allows an admin to back up to a remote CPS server and throttle how much bandwidth the backup will take. Once CPS has backed up files, users can conduct self-service restores from a Web site on the CPS server.
New iterations of the core Backup Exec application always have included a few fresh features, and version 12 is no exception: In addition to support for the latest versions of Windows, it can perform individual-item restores from database backups of SharePoint and Exchange servers. Version 12 also can back up Symantec's Enterprise Vault Exchange archiving system, and, through integration with Symantec's Endpoint Security, automatically start backup jobs when Symantec raises the global threat level.
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Most significantly, Backup Exec 12 gains the ability to copy backup data to the Symantec Protection Network service across the Internet, providing a convenient way for small and midsize businesses and remote offices to automatically send their backup data off-site.
The service, known as SPN, costs from $1 to $2 per stored gigabyte per month, depending on volume, a bit more than consumer-oriented online backup services such as Mozy or Carbonite, but comparable with business-oriented services such as EVault. Symantec duplicates all SPN data to multiple data centers and integrates on-site backups for fast restores with online backups for disaster recovery, making it more likely that small and midsize business users will cover all their bases.
Like many IT managers, we've installed plenty of previous versions of Backup Exec. So it only took about two hours to install CPS and the core backup server and push agents out to our file, SQL, and Exchange servers. At installation time, Backup Exec sends users to the SPN Web site to create an account, which also generated a free account with the NCC Group's KeyVault to store our online backup encryption key.
We then went through the process of setting up several media sets with different data-retention periods and backup destinations, including a network-attached storage appliance for backup to disk; our tape library; and SPN, which sent us from Backup Exec to the SPN Web site to create an account.
With continuous data protection via the CPS service, backup to disk, tape, and now online, Backup Exec 12 might be intimidating to a first-time user. After all, having all those options means having to choose among them, so creating a backup scheme the first time can be daunting. Fortunately, Symantec provides wizards for common tasks such as media rotation or incremental forever backups with periodic synthetic full backup, but most admins occasionally will need to refer to the two-volume user's manual.
Once the housekeeping was done, we created a series of backup-to-disk jobs and set them to automatically copy their results to SPN. The next morning, we discovered the power supply on the Exchange Server had blown, for reasons unknown. We restored it via Backup Exec to another server in a dramaless process.
|CLAIM: The latest version of Symantec's Windows-centric backup program supports even more data sources, including Windows Server 2008. It's the first commercial backup program to integrate with a storage-as-a-service product.
CONTEXT: There are lots of backup programs on the market, from old warhorses like CA Arcserve to upstarts such as Microsoft's own Data Protection Manager, but Backup Exec remains the market leader. That's thanks to a combination of ease of installation, ease of use, and support for applications and platforms that's both broad and deep.
CREDIBILITY: Backup Exec 12 is an evolutionary, not revolutionary, upgrade. Symantec Protection Network integration is a good solution for companies that can't, or don't, move their data off-site on a regular basis, but Backup Exec 12 could do better with individual file restores from the SPN storage service.
Backup Exec wouldn't be our first choice for backing up the petabyte data center, where EMC's NetWorker or Symantec's own NetBackup would be more appropriate, but it's no longer the lightweight "workgroup" backup software that enterprise admins looked down their noses at in the 1990s. With the right options, Backup Exec can back up Macintosh, Unix, and Linux hosts as well as NetApp and IBM filers via Network Data Management Protocol, and Window servers. When one backup server can't handle the load, administrators can add the Central Administration Server Option to manage multiple media servers from a single console, allowing any media server with free cycles to process the next backup to a shared disk repository or SAN-attached tape library.
Sadly, version 12 continues a few of our long-term annoyances with Backup Exec. We'd like to be able to set up an incremental forever configuration, for example, but Backup Exec's synthetic full backup feature is destructive, making each synthetic full backup the base of a new cycle and the oldest restorable data. We want to be able to spool off a synthetic full backup at month's end for the archives, as rival products allow, without deleting last Thursday's backup.
Even more annoying, Symantec still hasn't figured out a way to build backward compatibility into Backup Exec, so if you want to send backups to SPN, you'll have to upgrade not only your media server but also your CPS server and the agents on all your servers. We'd also like to see Symantec add the ability to restore files from Backup Exec backups through the SPN Web site, as it does for workstation backups. This could speed the disaster recovery process because important files could be downloading while Backup Exec is still being installed.
These few issues aside, Backup Exec deserves its place as the best-seller among Windows backup programs. Relatively easy to use, with wide platform and application support and good reliability, small and midsize organizations with up to 100 servers to back up would need a good reason to go elsewhere.
Backup Exec is priced at $1,163, plus $695 for each server agent. Both prices include one year of support. Additional options for Exchange and SQL server range from $695 to $1,863 each.