Published: 17 Nov 2002
Every once in a while, you stumble upon something you think will revolutionize the way people do something. I felt that way when I saw my first DVD player. I also remember the first VCR I ever saw, and feel it whenever I use my Tivo. I certainly felt the same the first time I saw BackupReport from Bocada.
|Trends and analysis reports|
Success and failure reports are noted by differently colored squares.
Storage trends report shows how much of your storage capacity is coming from each backup server.
If you're running ARCserve, Backup Exec, NetBackup, NetWorker, Omniback, or TSM, you'll definitely want to give this product a look.
Storage administrators are asked to deal with extremely complex environments today. They need to administer storage area networks (SANs), network-attached storage (NAS) and often a number of backup and recovery products. Before they start their day, they just want an answer to one question: "How did my backups work last night?" Believe it or not, getting the answer to that question can be difficult. The following are some common problems storage administrators face today.
Even if every server in your environment is backed up using the same product, it's unlikely it will be backed up by one instance of that product. Odds are that you have several backup servers-each backing up a certain number of clients. When you need to find out how backups worked last night, you'll need to point your reporting application to each backup server. There's usually no centralized way to provide a single report or graphical-based display of how backups worked in your environment last night.
Another problem is that many environments have multiple backup products. It's common to start out with workgroup level products such as ARCserve, Backup Exec, or NT Backup and eventually upgrade to enterprise-level products such as NetBackup, NetWorker, Omniback, or TSM. It's also common to keep the old product around for a long time. Sometimes this is because the environment that was being backed up by the first product is happy with it. This is especially true if it was backing up all Windows or NetWare machines. Windows and NetWare administrators often prefer the user interfaces of the workgroup level products and choose to continue to use them-even if the rest of the environment is changing to another product.
Another reason that an environment may have multiple products is if they allow individual cost centers to start with their own backup system. Then one day they try to centralize, and they find out that they've got three different backup products in house. I personally have seen one shop where they have NetBackup, NetWorker, Omniback, ARCserve, and Backup Exec. For various reasons, it's not uncommon for an environment to have multiple backup products. The following are some reasons why this can be problematic:
Different procedures. The biggest problem is that a storage administrator must understand how to use the reporting tool for more than one backup product. This increases the learning curve and increases the chance that they will not learn the advanced reporting functionality of any of the products-functionality that could provide a vital function.
Different reports. Even if the backup administrator manages to understand all of the interfaces, it will result in reports that all look different and very few of them can be prepared in a nontechnical format. Only a few of them can be viewed by end users or managers. And if they could view it, they wouldn't understand it.
Proprietary or nonexistent databases. Each of the backup products has their own reporting database. This database can almost never be queried by a third-party tool such as SQL. A few products support this functionality-but they are limited.
Every backup/reporting product that I'm aware of will show you what jobs succeeded and what jobs failed. That's good, right? What about the backup job that was made inactive last night by a customer request, but that you forgot to enable today? Most of the backup/reporting tools work only if you are logged in as administrator or root or if you're listed in their database as a backup administrator. This means that Jane has no way of finding out if her backups ran last night without asking you-resulting in more work for you and Jane.
Although some of the backup/reporting products are command-line based, many of the advanced reports are available only via the GUI, making automated reporting difficult. If you'd like to write a program that notifies you if a backup fails, you may not be able to. Even if your product supported such functionality, you'd have to write a different program for each type of backup software you are using.
Have you ever wondered if there were systems in your network that nobody told you about? They represent data that's not getting backed up, and probably won't get backed up until somebody notices-often when it's too late. I have often dreamed of scanning the network and comparing that against my backup configuration database, but never got around to writing such a tool.
|Other tools lagging|
Most backup/reporting is centered on answering the question, "How did backups work last night?" They often do little to help you understand the trends that are happening in your backup system.
What about questions like: Which clients are failing the most often? Which backup servers are failing the most often? How large are my backups today vs. this time last year?
IT departments are always looking for ways to properly document the cost of the services they provide to their internal clients. Current products have no such information available.
All of this changed when I was introduced to a product called BackupReport from Bocada. This report covers version 1.5 of BackupReport. Version 2.0 should be in beta shortly (see "BackupReport 2.0's new features").
But, what makes this product so different? It provides great reports with none of the problems listed above-without requiring you to load any software on your backup server. It does this by using your backup product's native protocols and emulating another backup server.
To use it, you first load BackupReport onto a single Windows 2000/XP system. It will then optionally probe your network and display a list of backup servers that will need to be configured. Some backup products can be automatically added, and some products require the storage administrator to configure the monitoring system as a backup server. For example, NetWorker would require notifying each NetWorker server that the BackupReport system is a valid administrator, and NetBackup would require it to be listed as a server in the bp.conf file. Once that is done, the BackupReport system appears to your backup servers as another backup server they can communicate with. BackupReport then polls each server regularly and stores the appropriate information in its SQL Server database-smaller environments can use the provided MSDE tools.
Once it has communicated with all of your backup servers-regardless of product type-you can report on all backups within your environment by logging into a single place. You can use the GUI on the system where you loaded BackupReport or you can load a remote admin console on any Windows workstation.
An example report is shown in the Success and Failure Report (see "Trends and analysis reports"). This shows how you can run a report for all backup servers and all backup clients or for selected backup servers or clients. Success is noted by a completely green square, and failure by a completely red square. Partial failure is shown as a red and green square. The report lists each client under the server that backs them up. You can then drill down on any particular client to see the backups that were performed for that client. In the screen shot, this has been done for two clients.
Of course, this product can report on the success and failure of your backups-including backups that aren't even configured to run. If a particular client or filesystem is already known to BackupReport and then suddenly disappears off of the radar, it will notify you. This means when you deactivate a particular client's backups for preventative maintenance and accidentally forget to reactivate it, BackupReport will let you know.
Going one step farther, BackupReport can even find hosts that aren't configured as backup clients at all. It starts with another probe of your network. You specify the parameters of the search, including which subnets it should search. It then compares the results of this probe to clients configured in all of your backup servers-regardless of which product they use. It then gives you a list of "orphans," or hosts that need to be backed up, but aren't. This is the tool that I always wanted to write myself, but never got around to it.
Reliability, trends and diagnostics
As BackupReport collects historical data about your backups, it is able to conduct trend analysis studies. The "Trends and analysis report" shows an example of one of BackupReport's many trend analysis reports that illustrates how much of your total storage capacity is coming from each backup server.
|BackupReport 2.0's new features|
BackupReport allows you to see the source of all of the backup data, how it has grown and how this has impacted each backup server. Reports like these can help the storage administrator easily justify capacity increases in the right places. When are your backups running? How much data is being backed up at different times at night? The load summaries report will help answer these questions.
The billing and compliance report shows you how much you should be billing back to a particular internal client for their backups and shows them how well the system they're paying for has been performing.
Areas for improvement
Although I'm OK with using SQL Server as the database engine, others have requested a Unix/Linux based version with another database. What about a Linux server with a Postgress database? Now that would be nice. It would be also nice if I could use the reporting GUI on my Linux workstation, instead of needing a Windows workstation. As to product functionality, most of the features I've asked for are being included in 2.0, including media reporting, reporting by backup job and increased HTML reporting.
Stands above the pack
There's no other product that can do what BackupReport claims it can do. Although some of the vendors whose products are supported by BackupReport have new reporting products that offer some of the functionality discussed above, all of them support only their product. This simplifies the development process significantly-as they don't have to create an agent for each platform.
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