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Five reliable Windows Server backup solutions

When disaster strikes (and it will), you can put the pieces back together if you've got a solid backup solution in place.

If you have a Windows server and you're not backing it up, you are tempting fate. It's only a matter of time before something tragic will happen: a hardware failure, a hacker, or a corrupted Windows update. Something will bring that server down and do everything it can to take your data with it.

Luckily, several reliable backup solutions are available for the Windows Server environment. They aren't perfect. But the five solutions discussed here have their strengths and can be depended upon to keep your data safe. Now, before I reveal the big five, I want to make sure you understand how critical it is to be backing up that data to an external drive and to rotate that drive offsite. If you're backing up drives and leaving everything onsite, should a fire (or some other catastrophe) occur, that data will be lost.

Note: This list is also available as a photo gallery.

1: Acronis Backup and Restore (with Universal Restore)

Acronis Backup and Restore (Figure A) is the backup tool I use the most. It's costly but well worth it. The newer version of Acronis does a great job of ensuring that there is room on your external drive for your latest backup. You can overwrite the old backup or go by the traditional cleanup rules established in Acronis Echo. But if you go the Acronis route, you should also purchase the Universal Restore feature. With this tool, you can take a full image of a backup and restore it to any hardware -- so long as it meets the requirements of your platform. That way, you don't need an exact duplicate of your server hardware sitting around waiting to have an image restored onto it. Acronis also has add-ons for Exchange and SQL Servers.

Figure A

Acronis Backup and Restore

2: Symantec Backup Exec

Symantec Backup Exec (Figure B) is a powerful backup solution that does a great job of "just working." And with its at-a-glance calendar, it's easy to know when your backup has succeeded and when it has worked. If you're using Symantec Backup Exec across a network (to back up clients/hosts), you can feel safe because it uses SSL for all network backup connections. Like Acronis, Symantec offers solutions for Exchange and SQL. Also, the ability to manage Vaults (backup destinations) is superb with Symantec. Just make sure that if a Vault is physically (and permanently) removed, you remove it from within the backup software. Otherwise, it will cause problems.

Figure B

Symantec Backup Exec

3: Carbonite

Carbonite (Figure C) is primarily an online backup (although the Business and BusinessPremier plans allow you to back up to an external drive). It's meant to back up data only. Carbonite is probably one of the most reliable online backup tools and can back up email, documents, POS files, financial data, pictures and other multimedia, and more. But to use Carbonite for Windows Server, you must use the BusinessPremier Plan ($229.00 per year), which will allow you to include as many servers running Window Server 2003/2008/2011 as you like. Unlike Acronis, you won't be backing up an image of your server with Carbonite -- it's a data-only backup tool. But it's an excellent addition to any onsite backup solution.

Figure C

Carbonite

4: Windows NT Backup

Windows NT Backup (Figure D) is the free backup solution that comes with any Windows Server. Why do I include it here? Although it just does data backup and doesn't offer many of the bells and whistles of the other tools, it is one of the only truly reliable backup solutions that will clear the Exchange logs for you. I always set up an NT Backup to run once a week (or month, depending upon the needs), just to have it clear the Exchange logs. Otherwise, you'll be including a lot of unnecessary data in your backups, causing their size to get out of hand.

Figure D

Windows NT Backup

5: ShadowProtect 4 (Server)

ShadowProtect 4 (Figure E) is probably the least-known product in this list. But it falls into place next to Acronis as a feature-rich tool that can do everything -- including recover to dissimilar hardware. ShadowProtect 4 also includes an easy-to-use tool that allows you to consolidate backup image files and convert the backups to either .VHD or .VMDK virtual machines. Another outstanding feature is its granular recovery, which allows for the quick recovery of individual files from within a backup. Unique to ShadowProtect is the Virtual Boot technology, which provides for automatic failover to a virtual server.

Figure E

ShadowProtect 4

Which backup?

Every company needs a backup plan. How far you go with your backup depends upon the size of the company, your needs, and your budget. But any of the above solutions will serve as a great place to start -- or stop -- for your Windows Server backup needs. Do you have a different backup solution to add to the list? Share your recommendations with fellow TechRepublic members.

About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

31 comments
BillJean68
BillJean68

Has anyone heard of Iperius, www.iperiusbackup.com ? I'm currently using backup exec for my customers, but iperius seems to be the less expensive for servers. the free edition works for server 2012  as well, otherwise you've to buy the Essential.

AdelineWong
AdelineWong

I'm using the CloudBacko and pretty satisfied so far. It's primarily designed for Windows Server backup and is able to backup to unlimited destinations including Amazon S3, Google Cloud Storage, Dropbox, and local drive too. Check out their website www.cloudbacko.com. Free beta version is available. 

Bcole77
Bcole77

I like NovaBACKUP from @NovaStor. It's affordable backup software with easy to use wizards that anyone can use to backup their PC. Plus they have a free trial.

YINGYING123
YINGYING123

I am using Backup Cow(www.backupcow.com) It is a totally freeware that lets you auto backup ,sync,and build at-home private cloud storage .

link470
link470

+1 for NT Backup.  I really wish Microsoft kept their Veritas agreement and kept it in Server 2008 and 2012.  Windows Server Backup just isn't the same.

RNR1995
RNR1995

As of today 03/11/13 I have found out that BE 2012 does not work on MS server 2012 WTF?

BademUtku
BademUtku

I was surprised that no one has mentioned Genie backup manger for servers, it's a great software, cheap compared to other softwares and yet the most reliable piece of program.

joekate
joekate

FYI Carbonite home does work on windows server

joekate
joekate

FYI carbonite does work on windows server

gechurch
gechurch

Backup Exec still seems pretty good if you're using tapes. I'd rate it below a few other products, but it certainly worth considering. If you're backing up to disk though I wouldn't consider it. We've had nothing but trouble with it at all our clients sites. It constantly needs hand-holding, the rules for things like retention are really complex (I'd love to just say 'store 5 full backups on this disk' but you can't - you need to carefully set values for media sets, retention, backup file size and overwrite settings, and even then it probably won't work right for you). It's also an expensive product. An agent to backup the system state and data for one server is over $1000AU. I can buy the much better ShadowProtect for half the price.

lburt
lburt

I was surprised to not see Arcserve or Arcserve D2D on the list.

Uncle Marv
Uncle Marv

I've used it for years and have been very happy with it. What sold me was the ability to do brick level backup of Exchange Mailboxes. But the features they have added over the last couple of years and the ability to backup to multiple types of platforms makes it even better now.

junque
junque

I don't know why you would look any further than ShadowProtect. Easy to use, easy to verify it's working, easy to restore single files/folders, easy to restore the entire drive, and easy to setup a virtual running copy of the machine. Oh, yeah, you can also restore the entire system to a new computer with different hardward components. They also have great tech support! It has saved me on more than one occasion. When I was playing with it on a new SBS 2008 server a few years ago, I was able to restore a newly installed copy of the entire server from backup in under 3 minutes! Yes, there was not client data on it, and with the data it would take longer, but, hey, 3 minutes!

chlaudan
chlaudan

I use JD backing up to Amazon AWS and I find their newer version with the Backup Bucket to be excellent.

bscmn
bscmn

Over the years I have written and tweaked a couple backup scripts that use rsync to external drives. For SQL I use the built in scripting commands to do full backups daily and transaction log backups hourly. These go onto the file server where the other company data are. Exchange servers are backed up using Symantec Backup Exec backup to disk (onto the same file server). Then at the designated time at night, the rsync script backs up the entire file server to externals which are swapped each day like tapes, one being kept offsite for security. The advantage of using rsync is speed. Only the files that have changed need to be backed up. That is important if you are dealing with TBs of data.

kjkirschenmann
kjkirschenmann

Has anyone heard of BackUp Assist? I am interested to know your thoughts on this platform, pros and cons. I am currently running Symantec BackUp Exec and I really hate it. I do not find it all that easy to use and it is the last piece of the Symantec line that I need to remove from my system (antivirus and mail security have already been replaced with Sophos and I could not be happier!). I am all ears...

shc
shc

Carbonite is $600 per year if you have a server, not $229. That price is for businesses without a server. If you're going to include Carbonite, you should mention Mozy Pro, which has better feature sets and support than Carbonite.

teeeceee
teeeceee

For offices with small IT budgets, we have to get creative. I use Redgate SQL Backup for out SQL Servers, fast and effictive remote spindle d to d backups and restorations. Files are a different story. The savior here for file shares and document image libraries is a great inexpensive tool called Beyond Compare (rev 2, and now 3). It can be scripted via batch files and scheduled tasks to do a comparison of directories or files and copy only new or changed files. Additionally, another low cost utility, ExpanDrive allows me to use Beyond Compare in conjunction with ExpanDrive to run comparisons on a remote server and push or copy file changes to a remote backup server across the backbone.

reisen55
reisen55

I used to like this one but recently, at a medical office, I ran a full backup of a critical folder on January 16 - thank god I did that because the incremental run the next day SET EVERY FILE SIZE TO ZERO!!! Incredible. Client was p/od and I was too. Only lost a few days of data but I am investigating this disaster before I EVER touch this again. Anybody else suffer this disaster???

farrukhms
farrukhms

Symantec NetBackup: A robust and reliable Windows based backup solution, missing from the list. It is available with multiple options and agents.

jakesj425
jakesj425

Check out Autonomy, they bought IronMountain, Much better caching, de-duplication and compression than the above mentioned and the licensing for the vaults include the licensing for the backup vaults, and they now house over 27 Petabytes of the worlds information, completely analysed by IDOL. Better reporting, searching and it has a mobile agent for access to the vaults. It's like the Dropbox for everything enterprise and has been since before Dropbox.

RechTepublic
RechTepublic

You have to use Windows Server Backup and it does not support tape drives.

jfuller05
jfuller05

I backup the server image itself once a month. The software that everyone uses runs on the server, but we backup the data daily separately on a network drive and then the company backs up the data daily on their servers which are three different locations across the U.S.

konamobilepc
konamobilepc

I was also fed up with Backup Exec and installed Backup Assist Several years ago. I have found it easy to use, in-expensive, reliable and with good support. I highly recommend it.

konamobilepc
konamobilepc

Well, the $1000 price tag is quite a deterrent.

gechurch
gechurch

ShadowProtect rules! Very reliable, very felxible yet dead simple to set up. Lets you run incrementals during the day then roll them up into a full, universal restore, it's got Exchange agents etc etc. It's priced very well too. As you say though it's the restore side that I like. I would argue that most companies focus don't focus on the restore side enough. ShadowProtect has a great restore process. You boot into a PE environment and have great control over the restore. Easy to roll back to the latest full or any incremental, the universal restore is simple (just add drivers) when prompted by the wizard, and it's even smart enough to prompt you at the end if you included the wrong MSD driver which will cause the thing not to boot. The thing I liked best though was it has VNC built-in. So you can boot, choose VNC from the Tools menu, enter a password then start your restore running. Then rather than watching it until 3am you can go home and keep an eye on it. Once it's done you can then restore the incrementals without needing to be on-site.

mark.underhill
mark.underhill

I use it in a number of different situations and it is very good. The options are extensive and the reports excellent. It has always worked reliably for me and they keep improving it.

GBITC
GBITC

I've heard that BackUp Assist is a good product. I haven't used it my self as I use ShadowProtect for all my servers and also use the IT edition for some computer repairs. It's hardware independent restore (HIR) is excellent and easy. Also it's incemental restores a simple and work. I highly recommend ShadowProtect for servers.

gechurch
gechurch

It's outdated now, but I never had issues with it in the past. Found it to be very reliable.