Like most IT managers, I've been in the unfortunate position of dealing with a server crash without a good backup. It's a good thing I owned the company or I probably would have been out on my rear. As it was, all I had to put up with was my partner grumbling about it for several weeks. In my defense, we did have an automated backup scheme in place. We used Backup Exec on a four-cartridge autoloader tape drive to perform a full backup every Friday and incremental backups every other workday. However, the RAID controller lost its configuration data, and our efforts to rebuild one of the lost arrays resulted in a file system that degraded a little more with each attempt to recover it.
We finally turned to the backup set as an answer. Unfortunately, we discovered that the scheduled backup jobs had been put on hold for a couple of weeks, but no one noticed it—the person responsible for switching tape sets did his job faithfully, but he wasn't expected to monitor the success or failure of each job. The result? We lost a couple weeks’ worth of files from the server. Fortunately, most of our staff was paranoid enough to keep copies of everything on their local computers.
I learned the lesson that it isn't enough to set up an automated backup scheme and rely on e-mail notifications from the backup software to give you success or failure status. Not only do you need to actively monitor the process, but you must also test the backups to make sure you can recover from them.
It took about 24 hours to perform a full backup on the crashed server, and just as long to perform a full restore. In our case, 24 hours was just too long to wait for the data to come back on line, so we started looking for a solution that would back up to hard disks (Backup Exec didn't do it at the time). One of the products I evaluated and even used for a while was UltraBac from UltraBac Software. We eventually chose a different solution because UltraBac didn't back up Service for Macintosh volumes, but I recently had a chance to take another look at the latest version of UltraBac. If you're searching for a new backup solution, UltraBac 7.0.2 is certainly worth considering.
UltraBac offers a relatively simple interface for all of its features. I found the interface easy to learn and follow, although I did have to spend a little time with it to be comfortable because the current interface is considerably different from previous versions. Setting up a backup job is still relatively easy, thanks to the Backup Wizard, which provides a list of installed agents and steps you through the process of using them to define the backup job. A Restore Wizard helps you identify backup sets and start the restore process.
A wealth of backup target options
Tape may be relatively cheap, but it just isn't fast enough for many companies’ data recovery needs. That's why many are turning to backup solutions that support backup to hard drives, CD-R/RW, NAS, and other options that enable them to recover data more quickly. With the relatively low cost of hard disks these days, sticking a removable drive on a system and using it for backup and restore is a simple and effective way to ensure quick disaster recovery. Frankly, I wouldn't use tape again, unless a client offered a compelling reason to use it.
UltraBac 7.0.2 offers a nice range of support for backup hardware. It can target backups to any local or remote tape device or to any local or remote (UNC) path. This opens up backup support to local hard disks, NAS, and remote network shares. For example, you might set up a backup server with a hot-swappable RAID5 array to hold backup images, and then use UltraBac to back up servers and key workstations to the server. Or, you might simply hang a removable drive on each server and back up each server to its local drive. The new collections of USB and FireWire drives now on the market are good alternatives to tape for local backup needs.
Image- and file-based backups
UltraBac supports image-based backup in addition to file-based backup. Image-based backup performs a sector-by-sector copy of a partition or disk. Performing an image backup requires that the file system be in a consistent state, so services that could modify the file system during the backup, such as Exchange Server or SQL Server, should be stopped while the image is created. A better solution is to separate the OS and data partitions so that the two can be backed up using different methods. For instance, you can use image-based backup for the OS partition, which changes infrequently, and rely on file backup and the necessary agents to back up Exchange Server, SQL Server, and so on. Whatever your application topology, UltraBac offers enough options and agents to give you the flexibility to build a disaster recovery scheme that makes sense for your organization.
UltraBac's image-based disaster recovery gives you the ability to recover an operating system partition directly from any network share using nothing more than a single DOS-based floppy, which the software creates for you. The recovery software supports partition and/or complete physical disk disaster recovery from local tape device or UNC disk path. You can walk up to a dead server, pop in the recover disk, boot the server, and be back up and running within minutes rather than hours.
Image-based backup and recovery also lends itself nicely to cloning workstations for users. One of the methods I've used with great success in the past is to deploy the operating system through Remote Installation Services and deploy applications through group policy. Folder redirection to a server completes the recovery scheme—users can boot a new computer, have the OS installed, log on and have the applications installed, and then start working from their documents on the server. In smaller installations, this method isn't always the best solution because it takes a good understanding of RIS and group policy to deploy. UltraBac lets you quickly clone and restore a base system for a user without relying on either of these technologies. You can then use file-by-file backup methods for backing up and restoring the user’s documents.
UltraBac Version 7.0.2 adds a new and potentially useful backup device: FTP. You can configure UltraBac to back up to an FTP server, giving you the ability to perform backups across a large network or even the Internet. The server where the archive is hosted can run any operating system that supports standard FTP protocol, including UNIX and Macintosh. In some situations, a computer running Windows XP or Windows 2000 Professional would make a suitable FTP-based backup host.
In addition to local and remote disks and tape devices, FTP, and local partitions and disks, UltraBac also supports backup to Tivoli Storage Manager servers. This integration lets you take advantage of the enterprise-wide media management tools and capabilities offered by Tivoli, and use UltraBac for its client and agent abilities. (UltraBac supports TSM API 4.2 and later.)
More agents than the CIA
In addition to FTP and TSM agents, UltraBac offers a respectable set of agents for backing up a wide range of clients and applications.
The Image Disaster Recovery Agent supports image-based backup of Windows NT, 2000, and XP systems to any local or remote path or tape device. The agent can back up all partition types, whether hidden or active, including extended partitions. The included Boot Disk Wizard steps you through the task of creating a boot disk for recovery. The disk incorporates the necessary network connectivity to get the system to access the archive where its image is stored.
The Remote/Local Server Agent compresses data before it transfers it across the network to the backup device, which decreases network bandwidth utilization during the backup. The RLSA can back up and restore system state data, which varies a bit according to operating system. On a Windows 2000 or XP computer, for example, system state data includes the registry, COM+ Class Registration database, files under Windows File Protection, and the boot files. On a Windows 2000 or .NET Server, the system state data also includes the Certificate Services database, Active Directory service, the SYSVOL directory, cluster service information, and the IIS metadirectory. Disaster recovery for any system needs to include the ability to restore system state data, and restoring the Active Directory is a necessity for domain controller recovery.
The Locked File Backup Agent gives UltraBac the ability to back up files that are locked by other applications, such as the WINS database, a user's local PST file, and so on. The agent freezes the partition and backs up the locked data, then releases it when finished. The system can continue using the locked files while the backup process takes place.
Other UltraBac agents back up SQL Server and Exchange Server data. The SQL agent can perform full and incremental database backups, and it gives you the ability to restore to the original location or redirect the restore operation to a different SQL server. The Exchange Agent can back up Exchange Server 5.5 and Exchange 2000 Server stores. The Exchange Mailbox Agent can back up and restore individual mailboxes. Both the SQL Server and Exchange Server Agents provide SMTP job notification.
The NetWare Server Agent supports backing up remote NetWare servers. UltraBac 6.x supported NetWare 3.12 or later, but UltraBac 7.0.2 doesn’t support anything earlier than NetWare 4.11. The Oracle Server agent supports both hot and cold backups of Oracle databases—whether local or remote—from Oracle 8i or later. Finally, the Auto Loader Module provides random access for single- and multiple-autoloader tape devices.
Some of these agents have requirements that the UltraBac installation process doesn’t address, so you might need to do some extra legwork before performing some backups. For example, the Exchange Mailbox Agent uses MAPI calls to communicate with the server, so you must install an Exchange Server client on the backup server and create a profile pointing to the server. The account specified in the profile must be associated with an account that has administrative permissions on the Exchange Server. In addition, you must use the same account UltraBac uses for scheduled backups to support unattended and automated mailbox backup. All of these issues are explained in the Help documentation, but it would be better if Setup addressed them during installation.
New in UltraBac 7.0.2
If you've used or evaluated a previous version of UltraBac, there are some changes that you should be aware of in 7.0.2. In addition to some of the improvements I've already mentioned, UltraBac 7.0.2 also includes:
- Backup sets that encompass the entire computer rather than just one partition.
- Support for up to 1,000 backup path devices.
- The ability to work with multiple backup sets at one time.
- Several other improvements that speed up both application startup and the backup and restore processes.
There are also some things missing, and you should take those into account as well. There are a handful of features planned for an upcoming release, including support for device sets and Exchange 2000 Server command-line restore. Support for the UNIX Server agent is planned for sometime in Q4 of 2002. Also, UltraBac has dropped MAPI notification in favor of SMTP, a move I can't quarrel with because SMTP is easier to implement. Finally, if you're looking to back up File Services for Macintosh volumes hosted on Windows NT, 2000, or .NET Server platforms, keep looking. UltraBac doesn’t back up the alternate data streams used to store the Mac data, so it can't back up and restore the Mac volumes. The company opted not to provide this capability because it isn't a feature for which they’ve seen much demand. Still, support for Mac volumes would be a nice addition.
Try before you buy
The demo version available from UltraBac's Web site includes all of the supported agents, so you can thoroughly evaluate the program's capabilities before you buy it. If you like what you see, you can buy UltraBac through several price structures, depending on the agents you need. The Single Server Edition currently lists for $495. The Small Business Edition, which includes the Exchange Server and SQL Server agents, lists for $795. You can also mix and match agents and licensing modes to suit the systems and servers you have in place.
UltraBac may not have everything, but it certainly has enough to make it a solid contender for your enterprise backup needs. Its relatively low cost makes it an attractive alternative to some higher-priced competitors. Plus, you can't beat the fact that you can try every feature before you buy it.