Veritas raises the bar with NetBackup 4.5

We review the latest version of NetBackup. Find out why you may want to upgrade.

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I recently implemented the latest version of NetBackup for a large client, and my experience mirrored that of other NetBackup users I've talked to: If you're currently using a pre-4.5 version of NetBackup, or are using another product that you're unhappy with, NetBackup 4.5 is a vast improvement.

What's Hot
Calendar scheduling
Vastly improved Windows and Unix GUIs
NetBackup Vault is fully integrated into NetBackup
Lets you create up to 10 copies of each backup image
A policy or schedule will use the first available storage unit in a group
Motif interface is history
Easier-to-use Oracle backup and recovery wizards

The latest version lets users cancel jobs instead of killing them, and includes calendar-based scheduling and a fully integrated NetBackup Vault, as well as many others features. In fact, NetBackup 4.5 contains more than 100 new features and enhancements since NetBackup 3.4. I'll concentrate on features that have created the most discussion among current NetBackup users.

One big difference between NetBackup 4.5 and its predecessors is the use of new terminology. With 4.5, Veritas has created common terminology for NetBackup and Backup Exec. The biggest terminology change is the use of the term "policy" instead of "class." This article uses the proper 4.5 terminology.

Calendar-based scheduling
Perhaps the most commonly requested feature for NetBackup was calendar-based scheduling, and it's finally here. Prior to 4.5, you could only schedule backups based on frequency (e.g., every n days). You can now schedule backups based on a specific date, day of the month or week. You can even combine them and schedule a backup on a day of the week and month (e.g., the first and third Wednesdays of every month). And frequency-based schedules are available as well. I found the calendar-based scheduling interface easy to use.

You can now create up to 10 copies of each backup image. Prior to 4.5, you were limited to two copies per image. Up to four of these copies can even be created simultaneously using the new inline tape copy feature, which allows you to create your original and copy at the same time. The inline tape copy feature, however, is only available if you purchase NetBackup Vault.

While I understand this feature has been often requested, I prefer to make copies after backups are done, which verifies that the original is readable. It takes a bit longer, but requires the same number of drives. You need two drives to make two copies of the tape simultaneously, and you'll need two drives to copy that same tape after the backup is done. It would be useful if you could use inline tape copy to create your on-site and off-site copies. That way, NetBackup Vault could automate the verification of both tapes.

NetBackup Vault has now been completely integrated into NetBackup. The configuration of all vaults, vault profiles and the scheduling of vault runs are all done within the NetBackup GUI. It no longer requires professional services to implement NetBackup vault, and you no longer need to manually edit dup_param files, or run cron jobs to kick off a vault run. You simply create one or more vault profiles using the NetBackup GUI, then create a policy (class) that runs those vault profiles using schedules that behave just like the schedules you're already familiar with. Veritas has also reduced the initial price of NetBackup Vault. (As of this writing, you need to be running NetBackup DataCenter to purchase Vault.) NetBackup administrators used to bpvault will find NetBackup Vault easy to use. Users who haven't previously purchased NetBackup Vault need to read its manual prior to using it, which is still a far cry from bringing in a consultant.

Prior to 4.5, you needed to choose a storage unit by name, or select "any available storage unit." It wasn't possible to use multiple storage units and state a preference for one over the other. To solve this problem, NetBackup 4.5 introduces the concept of storage unit groups, a pseudo-storage unit comprised of other storage units in a particular order. You can then assign that storage unit group to a policy or schedule. That policy or schedule will use the first available storage unit in that group. If the first unit in that group is unavailable, it will try again until it finds an available unit.

New GUI interfaces
The pre-4.5 Java interfaces for Windows and Unix left a lot to be desired in speed and functionality. Unix administrators therefore clung to their Motif interface - and weren't looking forward to its removal in 4.5. I've used both the new 4.5 Unix Java GUI and the native Windows GUI, and I honestly don't miss the Motif interface. Both interfaces have been redesigned, and are easier to use. Both GUIs now look almost the same, but you still can't perform multiple select/changes in the Java GUI.

Upgrading issues
NetBackup's configuration files now contain an MD5 signature
Veritas changed the names of many commands to reflect the new terminology
A new binary database format results in much faster searches, but doesn't support compression of older entries
Some shell scripts may need minor modifications

Instead of having a different window for every function, the new GUIs use the standard Microsoft Explorer-style interface with categories on the left and content on the right. If you prefer multiple windows, you can create an additional window at any time by right clicking on an item and selecting "New Window from this point." One nice feature is when you move from one section of the GUI to another and back, that section of the GUI remembers where you were. For example, if you were currently editing the policy Elvis, then left the policy editor to look at the list of pools, and came back to the policy editor, the Elvis policy would still be active in your screen. One other important feature is that the activity monitor now shows all types of jobs, including verify, duplicate, import, catalog backup and vault runs. Clicking on a restore in the activity monitor also now displays some data behind the restore, including what's being restored and the current status of the tape mounts.

These new interfaces don't suffer from the performance problems of their predecessors. I ran the Windows version of the GUI in California and administered a NetBackup server in Oregon using a VPN connection across the Internet. Performance was more than acceptable given the circumstances. I also used the Java GUI across the same connection with similar results.

If you are an Oracle shop that's resisted using RMAN do to its complex syntax, the Oracle backup and recovery wizards in NetBackup 4.5 may change your mind. Using these wizards, I was able to train several DBAs on how to backup and recover their databases using RMAN - without looking at a single RMAN script. These wizards automate the creation of your RMAN scripts for backup and recovery. You can use many of the features of RMAN without needing to learn its syntax. The recovery wizard guides you through a complete recovery, asking you the appropriate questions, such as whether or not to apply all archive logs, what to do with read-only datafiles, and whether or not to use open resetlogs and recovering to an earlier point in time. Once you've answered all these questions, click OK and your database is restored and recovered to the point in time you requested.

Easy upgrade?
Most users have experienced an easy upgrade. They simply uninstall NetBackup 3.4, install NetBackup 4.5 and then install the first maintenance release. Don't worry about the uninstall removing your current configuration. Just answer "yes" when the uninstall program asks if you are uninstalling as part of an upgrade. It removes the software, but leaves your configuration files.

You must be running NetBackup 3.4 to install NetBackup 4.5. This means that if you're running a previous version of NetBackup (e.g., 3.2), you must upgrade to 3.4 before you can upgrade to 4.5. There's no known way to get around this requirement.

You'll need to have all of your license keys handy if you're upgrading from a version prior to 3.4, You'll need those keys to install NetBackup 3.4 or 4.5. If you believe you have the right license keys, but can't find them, your sales rep can provide you with a temporary evaluation key while you sort this issue out with Veritas.

Those who use the command line interface should be aware the names of many commands have changed to reflect the new terminology. Commands that required the name of a class now expect the name of a policy (e.g., bpcllist –c is now bppllist –p ). The old names and options are still available in this version, but Veritas has said they will be gone in the next version. One annoyance I found was that the man pages didn't work for both names. This is true for users who have written shell scripts using the NetBackup command line interface. Those users will want to test all their scripts against NetBackup 4.5 prior to running the upgrade. Although it appears that most commands are backward compatible to the old commands, some commands have changed both their options and the format of their output.

Another issue to be aware of is that many of NetBackup's configuration files now contain an MD5 signature. If you have scripts that edit configuration files directly, make sure these files don't contain an MD5 signature. (Look for a line that says #VMD5_DIGEST.) If they do, and you edit them without using a NetBackup command or the GUI - you'll render these files useless. For example, if you use vi or notepad to change any of the values in the file /usr/openv/netbackup/db/class/ /info, the policy in question will disappear from the NetBackup GUI and will no longer run. However, if you edited this file using a NetBackup command, it would be fine.

The binary database format is optional when upgrading to 4.5, resulting in faster searches, and requires less space per file per backup, but it doesn't support compression of older entries. This means users who aren't compressing their catalog should see a decrease in the total size of the NetBackup catalog, but users that are compressing a significant percentage of their catalog will see a growth in the size of their index. Also, if you choose to upgrade your catalog to the new binary format, the conversion process can take a long time for a large catalog.

If you haven't written a lot of shell scripts and seriously customized your environment, upgrading is easy. Even if you did, most shell scripts work with 4.5 with minor modifications. In addition, the NetBackup product management and product development teams are to be commended for what appears to be a solid, feature-packed release.

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Does NetBackup 4.5 meet your needs? Post your opinions or questions and find out what your peers think here the week of October 21.

This was first published in October 2002

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