Backup exec gets big boost

Version 9.0 has a surprising number of features that enable it to work with newer storage technologies.

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Veritas recently released Backup Exec 9.0, the latest iteration of an application with a long history. Veritas also has a family of backup applications--its flagship product NetBackup was reviewed in Storage magazine (see "Veritas raises the bar with NetBackup 4.5").

Industry analysts predicted Backup Exec might be folded into NetBackup, in the same way that Computer Associates (CA) folded its disparate ARCserve/Cheyenne Software acquisitions into BrightStor Enterprise editions. Instead, Veritas put its full support behind both the legacy and the future of Backup Exec 9.0. That sort of vendor panache warrants a review.

Our test platform
We developed a test platform that was used to test not only Backup Exec, but several different backup application platforms in future issues. While in no way empirical, the prototype/sample enterprise platform represents a cross-platform representation of what many readers have in their data centers.

A hybrid Gigabit Ethernet/Fast Ethernet infrastructure was developed utilizing three types of network operating system platforms, along with five types of clients. We added four major popular host applications to the mix: Microsoft Exchange 2000, Microsoft SQL Server 2000, Oracle 9i, and Lotus Domino. Oracle 9i and Lotus Domino are installed on Windows 2000 Advanced Server and Linux.

The network operating system hosts included UnitedLinux (as released by SuSE) Microsoft Windows 2000 Advanced Server (SP3 and revs. to Jan. 2003) and Apple's Xserve OS/X 10.2.3. Unfortunately, Xserve support is sparse, and done as a client with Backup Exec 9.0 at best. Clients chosen included Windows 98SE, Windows 2000 Professional; Windows XP Professional, Apple OS/X 10.2 and Linux 2.4 (SuSE 8.1). We patched all server, client and application platforms to recommended levels as of December 2002.

We used a Compaq DL580 server (four 1.8GHz Xeon CPUs) as the Windows 2000 Advanced Server platform. The DL580 contained 8GB of DRAM, two internal SCSI drives (of four possible) and an Emulex 2FC 9000 series adapter. The Emulex FC adapter in turn was connected to a JMR JBOD array. Linux testing was performed on a Compaq DL380 server (dual 733MHz CPUs) containing 2GB of DRAM and three internal SCSI drives. Two Apple Xserves (4GB DRAM, twin 833MHz PowerPC CPUs) containing four ATA100 drives, running OS/X 10.2.3 were also connected. Each server was connected to an Allied Telesyn GbE switch, and in turn to a Compaq GbE/Fast Ethernet switch to clients.

Backup Exec exists in an OEM form in most versions of Microsoft Windows--called backup.exe--starting with Windows 95. In Microsoft's server editions, Backup Exec is similar to the Unix/GNU Tape Archive (TAR), a minimalist application dependent on the host operating system for most of its actions. Veritas' Backup Exec was a platform that matured both on Microsoft Windows and Novell's NetWare.

Before the introduction of Windows 2000, backup hardware support in Windows server was--to put it kindly--quite weak. As a result, backup software vendors had to work closely with hardware storage vendors on compatibility issues or build drivers themselves. Veritas' relationship with Microsoft helped, but Veritas was caught in the same trap that other backup software makers were: revision synchronization problems.

The Windows 2000 server platform now seems to negate the need for combination-specific drivers, and Veritas depends on the Windows infrastructure exclusively for backup device compatibility. That's refreshing.

Testing
Where compatibility permitted, we attempted a full backup, then a bare metal restore to each server, client and then each application. We tested using StorageTek's T9940B running on a Windows 2000 Advanced Server to perform the common denominator backup of the platforms (server, MS Exchange, MS SQL Server, Oracle 9i/Windows, and Lotus Domino/Windows) after wiping all platforms clean.

We restarted an identical backup job afterwards, and then attempted a bare metal restore of a Windows client--which was contained on the same media--to see if the backup software was capable of backing up and restoring concurrently.

What we learned
We initially received "gold" software prior to the product's release. A subsequent comparison verified we had what you'll find in the market. Printed documentation wasn't available at test time, but wasn't really needed. This is a thoroughly wizard-driven product, although a command line interface is available.

Veritas' claim that Backup Exec can be installed in 10 minutes was no fabrication. We popped in the CD, answered a few questions and without rebooting, we had Backup Exec 9.0 ready to work.

Backup Exec 9.0 initially couldn't find our StorageTek T9940B tape drive. Tools included with Backup Exec 9.0 let us find the nature of the problem--a T9940B Windows driver installation problem. The problem was no fault of Backup Exec 9.0 since it no longer uses many specialized drivers and depends on Windows and a device's maker to stabilize communications. Veritas helped us find the problem.

The interface and infrastructure to Backup Exec 9.0 is highly centralized, and information on the Windows 2000 platform was intuitive and simple to find. The primary user interface is centralized, and can be accessed remotely via an add-on package, which wasn't tested.

The license for Backup Exec 9.0 includes the ability to use "one robotic tape library," with additional libraries supported at an additional cost. Unlimited standalone drives are supported, however, and as Backup Exec 9.0 immediately finds Fibre Channel (FC) and SCSI drives, this shouldn't present a problem for the needs of many organizations.

Operationally, it consists of building a backup plan, managing devices, managing media, setting alarms and reports and then putting things into motion. The Backup Exec 9.0 documentation tends to put the cart before the horse, and a thorough read of the administrative documents is suggested.

Performance results were impressive, despite the fact that several of the platforms we wanted supported were only partially serviced. Backup Exec 9.0 blazed through Microsoft Exchange and bare metal Windows client restores. The mixed backup and restore wasn't as fast as some other backup products we tested--more about this comparison in my next article--but was well within acceptable limits.

Microsoft Exchange backup and restore options are stunning--and staggering. Few organizations that run Exchange 2000 have had error-free operation of Exchange for many reasons, ranging from logarithmic growth to various stability problems (viruses, Active Directory changes, etc.). It's possible when using Backup Exec 9.0 to surgically back up various components of Exchange components and stores in ways that can permit a rapid rebuild, should that become necessary. This is a place where a tight relationship with Microsoft has paid off for Veritas and Backup Exec 9.0 users.

The Linux relationship
Linux is more problematic. Bare metal restores aren't possible, and Backup Exec recommends that Oracle 9i running on Linux requires Oracle to be shutdown. We found that to be impractical, so it wasn't tested. Lotus Domino on Linux suffers the same fate. Macintosh support is acceptable, although Xserve is treated as a client and a number of processes with open files on Xserve are skipped. Bare metal restoration of Mac platforms seem to be restricted to OS/X (10.2+).

Overall, we found the user interface seductive, because it uses well thought-out menu selections. Management reporting and exception handling was also good. The alarm feature (a warning that the tape drive was offline) worked as advertised. Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP) support isn't easy, but can be made to work.

Backup Exec 9.0 is a strong choice if an organization is highly Microsoft-focused and/or uses Microsoft Exchange. The lack of strong support for Linux as a platform may change, but the product is less of an enterprise platform for its lack of Linux and Xserve support.

This was first published in March 2003

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