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Backup reporting tools

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Different approaches
There are a number of differences among backup reporting products. None of the differences, however, make the products better or worse than the others; they are just different ways to accomplish the same thing.

Take agents, for example. Some products require you to install agents--or data collectors--on your backup servers and/or clients. The use of agents makes installation more difficult, but the agents make data collection a little easier. On the other hand, an agentless design is cleaner, and doesn't require updating every system when you upgrade the reporting software.

Another design difference among these programs is the control console; some use a Web-based console, while others provide a native console. A Web console is more ubiquitous, but a native console can often provide more detailed reports because the reports aren't constrained by HTML/XML.

You'll also need to determine if you want your reporting product to talk in real-time to your backup server or at preset intervals (e.g., once an hour). Real-time reports can provide more up-to-date information, but they also place a greater load on your server, and can take longer to generate data.

Passive or active reporting is another consideration. A product that supports active reporting can page you when bad things happen, while a passive program would not provide those kinds of alerts. Not all products support active notification based on established parameters.

A product designed by your backup software company may work more seamlessly and provide better backup reports, but it probably won't report on multiple backup products. There are, however, exceptions. For example, Computer Associates' BrightStor Portal can report on Legato's NetWorker, Tivoli Storage Manager (TSM) and Veritas' NetBackup and Backup Exec--along with the full line of its BrightStor backup products.

Many standalone backup reporting tools report on more than one backup product. But that raises another issue: Do you want a common view with common terminology across all products, or do you want a report that has been customized for a particular product? For example, if you're a TSM customer, you may want a reclamation report, while a NetBackup system would have no such report.

Some other considerations that will help determine your choice of backup reporting products include:

  • Do you want a reporting tool or a management tool?
  • Do you want to be able to configure your product in the tool? Most of these reporting products don't do that.
  • How easy is it to create customized reports? Do you need to learn SQL?
  • Which database product does the backup reporting tool use to store its data? Are you going to need a new DBA, or require your current DBA to learn a new database?
  • What environment does the backup reporting product run in--Windows? Unix? Both?
Any one of these backup reporting products (see "Backup reporting tools.") will help you know if your backups are working. As the products mature, vendors will be adding advanced features such as warning you which backup devices are likely to fail; notifying you if there's a configuration change in your storage area network; or even suggesting ways to improve your system.

This was first published in July 2004

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