Storage

Perform painless backups with Veritas Backup Exec

Problems with typical archiving software make a necessary job more difficult than it should be, but Veritas' widely distributed Backup Exec makes archiving a snap. James McPherson describes some of the features of this powerful program.


Archives are at the heart of all disaster recovery operations. Restoring files and rolling back changes are daily chores in most organizations. To help you stem the tide of unwanted support calls, the Veritas Corporation developed an effective backup software product line called Backup Exec. Backup Exec is a familiar multi-platform utility that is often bundled with DLT drives. It comes in server versions for Windows NT/2000 and NetWare, client versions for Windows 95 and 98, Macintosh 7.0-8.6, and a suite of *Nix clients (SCO, Sun OS, Solaris, HP/UX, AIX, and Linux). I’ll explain how to install and use Backup Exec, and how to get the most out of the software.

Installation
Installation of the backup server, referred to as a media server, is a typical process, which I’ve listed below:
  1. Accept the software license.
  2. Choose between installing Backup Exec and the Remote Administrator. The Remote Administrator allows control of backup jobs from a remote machine.
  3. Identify an existing installation of Backup Exec 8.5 or later. This allows the installation to acquire information on media servers and network settings.
  4. Choose options to install.
  5. Drivers For Tape Drives is recommended if this is a dedicated Backup Exec archive server. If you use other archive software, you’ll want to skip this option.
    You can selectively install Veritas drivers for Documentation, Robotic Tape Library support, SQL Agent (to archive active Microsoft SQL servers), Exchange Server Agent (to archive active Exchange 5 and Exchange 2000 severs).
  6. Decide if Backup Exec should share robotic tape libraries.
  7. Provide an administrator login.
  8. Decide if you should keep the existing drivers or use Veritas’ optimized drivers if they are installed.
  9. Confirm the installation selection.
  10. Reboot if drivers were updated.

You’ll want to read the included driver FAQs before installing the Veritas drivers. They should provide improved performance, since no one bothers to write custom drivers anymore without a very good reason; however, my hardware didn’t have a Veritas driver, so I can’t state this as a fact.

Default configuration
When you run the media server for the first time, it will ask a few questions about options before you can start creating backup jobs. You can change the options later, but it’s always better to set the defaults correctly from the beginning. The first option is to configure the overwrite protection. The safest choice is Full protection, since this will keep any unexpired media from being overwritten. The Partial setting is only applicable if you have archives from a previous version of Backup Exec that you’re willing to overwrite. Choose None if, for some reason, you aren’t concerned about deleting old archives willy-nilly.

Backup Exec does include a Windows-compatible virus scanner, and it can connect to virus software on other platforms that you can configure to automatically run before starting a backup. Information on the virus scanner is rather sparse, so it’s definitely not a primary solution. It can be updated easily, but its effectiveness is uncertain. I would recommend acquiring a standard virus scanner and scheduling it to run prior to your archives. Remember to start it early so that it will finish before the backup job starts.

Backup Exec will ask you to confirm any tape drives you have. You can also archive files to a hard drive or drive array. At a bare minimum, you should locate these backup folders on a separate partition from the data you’re storing. A better choice is to a completely different drive or drive array to prevent a disk failure from eliminating both your data and your archives. Even if you don’t plan on archiving to a hard drive, I’d consider configuring a backup folder on an unused drive. These drives are handy for small jobs that you might want to drop onto a CD as a file or to use as additional backup media if your primary media is filled.

Backup Exec features
Backup Exec doesn’t try to confuse administrators by using a special Veritas-only language. Anyone familiar with the nomenclature associated with archives will find little to worry about in the backup process, so I’ll spend most of my time targeting the features that really set Backup Exec apart.

The first thing you’ll see is the Backup Exec Assistant, an included wizard that’s supposed to make things easier. Personally, I found it to be nothing more than a glorified table of contents, since the primary interface uses fairly self-explanatory tabs for navigation. However, I’m sure that someone unfamiliar with archival software could find it useful. For this article, I’ll use its layout to help those following along.

Monitor jobs
This is the queue of scheduled, completed, and in-progress jobs. You can modify or cancel jobs as needed from this window.

Create a backup job
Backup Exec has a few more options than the typical backup utility, but it presents them in a clear way that doesn’t induce confusion. You have a total of seven types of backup jobs: full, differential, incremental, copy, working set, daily job, and archive.

The first three are the traditional selections used for a routine archive strategy. A full backup is just that: a backup of all files in the specified locations. The other two are partial backups, storing only files that have changed under specific conditions:
  • Incremental backups are the smallest, and thus fastest, partial backup as they only store files that have changed since the last full or incremental backup.
  • Differential backups will archive all files that have changed since the last full backup, regardless of any other differential backup jobs, which causes them to take longer each time.

The remaining backup job types don't reset the counter used by differential and incremental jobs. This lets you make an additional archive of a set of files, perhaps for use off-site or as a means of compacting files to be sent to another site, without interrupting your normal archive schedule:
  • The copy job simply stores a list of files you select.
  • Working sets will store all files within the selected directories that have changed within a specified number of days.
  • Daily job is just a working set with a range of one day.
  • An archive job will back up the selected files and then delete them from the server. This is particularly useful when retiring or closing a project. Simply archive the associated files and place the media in your storage vault with the rest of the project documents. If you need the files later, you won’t find yourself searching through various archives looking for the “final” version of the project.

The type of job you’d use will depend on your exact circumstances. You’d typically use copy jobs to make a spare backup or physically transport a set of current files, working sets to take a snapshot of recent events, and archives to safely clean off files.

Most people use a mix of full and partial backups in their backup plan. Full backups tend to be scheduled on a weekly or monthly basis, unless your data set is small enough to allow more frequent backups. However, most of the time you’d combine a full backup on a monthly or weekly schedule with a daily partial backup. The size advantage of incremental archives makes them most people’s first choice; however, if you need to do a complete restoration of a machine, you must first run the last full backup and then all of the subsequent incremental backups. This can be time consuming, and it does bear some risk since damaged media can prevent a file from being restored. Differentials work best when there isn’t a lot of data changing between full backups that would cause you to span media. Differentials are also superior when it comes to restoration, since a restoration only requires a full backup, and the latest differential to perform a complete backup will only set you back to the point of the previous differential.

Run a one-button backup job
Running a one-button backup job is the easiest way to back up your Backup Exec server. It will immediately begin a complete backup job. This doesn’t increment the archive counter for incremental or differential jobs, so it’s a useful way to get a complete snapshot of a system, such as before maintenance or patching. Combined with a disaster recovery boot disk, it can ensure a quick and relatively painless recovery from software upgrades gone awry.

Create a restore job
Using the restore feature is like using the Windows Explorer: Select the backup you wish to access, and then select the files. The only other option is to determine the location. I recommend using a standard restore location for any partial restoration so users can review the files. I can’t count the number of times I’ve restored a file, only to discover the user provided the wrong file name.

Create an automatic backup strategy
This wizard is perhaps one of the most useful tools to the novice archivist. It quickly coaxes you through the steps required to configure a reasonable series of automatically scheduled backup jobs. By default, it will configure a four-week rotation cycle of full backups with daily differential backups that are all verified. Unlike many programs, it assumes the user is bright enough to leave the archive server on and schedules the jobs for 7:00 P.M., after the normal business day, with the full job occurring Friday nights.

The wizard is just as useful to the more experienced administrator because it allows significant customization. For those who don’t want differential backups, you can also use incremental or even working set jobs. Full and partial backups can be scheduled to run at different times, and you can run more than one full backup per week, skip days entirely, or run both an incremental and partial backup on the same day. You can even assign full and partial backups to different devices or drive pools. You can specify overwrite and append durations separately, as well as the use of scratch media and verification of jobs.

Confirm backup devices available
This reruns the hardware wizard to ensure that Backup Exec can talk to your devices. You should only need this immediately after installation or when troubleshooting hardware.

Create disaster recovery boot disk
This feature lets you create a bootable CD, DVD, or even a tape to facilitate quick recovery in the case of a total failure. Combined with the most recent full backup and incremental and/or differential backups, it can get a failed system back online quickly. On a system with failed drives, you’d normally have to install the operating system and get the Backup Exec software operating before you could even begin to restore the system. With the disaster recovery boot disk, you boot the system immediately into a format that can begin the restore. This feature isn’t directly available from Backup Exec if your CDR/DVDR isn’t on the supported hardware list. If it’s not, you can make an ISO image to be burned on the media.

Create a cascaded drive pool
A cascaded drive pool is a group of identical devices that are to be used in a particular order. Without a tape library, you’d need to manually swap tapes to enable spanning, even if you had multiple drives. With a cascaded drive pool, you can set the identical drives to operate in sequence, automatically creating an archive of spanned tapes. Configuring a cascaded drive pool is simple, but it does require the devices to use identical drivers. Firmware can be different, which may allow different support for hardware compression. By default, a cascaded drive pool will disable hardware compression on all devices if one of them doesn’t support it. They can be manually reenabled; however, this might cause a problem when restoring a large archive since some media will be compressed, while others won’t.

Create a drive pool
Drive pools are similar to cascaded drive pools, except that the drives are allocated dynamically as needed. Because the archive can span a variety of devices, depending on the needs of the job, this is not recommended for long-term archives. However, it’s more than adequate for incremental or differential backups.

Create a media set
Media sets are groups of storage media that have the same levels of protection. Media sets are useful for adding an extra layer of protection to your backup strategy. There’s no worry that a onetime job will overwrite protected media.

Configure Backup Exec settings
These settings are Backup Exec’s default configurations. You can configure most jobs manually, but these settings are useful for the one-button backup and the Windows Explorer backup jobs. Here you’ll configure support for various network environments (AppleTalk, NetWare SMS, Domino), as well as any service agents such as Microsoft SQL and Exchange server backups.

Choose your storage media carefully
In theory, Backup Exec can utilize all forms of storage media, including tape drives, hard drives, CDR/W, and DVD R/W. It supports tape drives using either the existing drivers or Veritas’ own optimized drivers. However, you can only use optical drives if they’re supported by Veritas. The list of compatible optical drive hardware is unusually difficult to track down, as the package is based on the CD/DVD mastering package MyCD. Furthering the confusion, MyCD was recently sold to Veritas’ business partner, Stomp Inc., and renamed RecordNow Max. Ultimately, I found my 32x CDR wasn’t supported, nor were several other recent high-speed CDR/W drives. So, if you have plans to rely on an optical drive solution, pay strict attention to this list.

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