Storage

Replicate backups to the cloud with StorageCraft ShadowProtect

Derek Schauland reviews the ShadowProtect backup application and Image Manager that allows you to replicate your data to the cloud.
Offsite storage of backup data is huge when it comes to ensuring business continuity. Many organizations still consider backup to be enough when planning for disaster. I am not sure I agree with that. Yes, backup is important, as is restoration, but simply having a backup of your data does not a disaster recovery plan make.

Storage Craft is the company behind ShadowProtect, a full-featured backup application. I will look a two of the components of the StorageCraft solution, Shadow Protect and Image Manager, and then focus on the replication service that stores your data in the cloud. Using Image Manager, your cloud account behaves just like a local disk (with a few exceptions).

Disclosure: StorageCraft provided me an NFR copy of ShadowProtect Server Edition and a cloud account to test with for this review. They have no editorial input with regard to this post.

Create and configure the backup

Shadow Protect is the component that creates the backups of your system. It uses a simple wizard to guide you through setting up the backups. Note: If you plan to store your created images in the StorageCraft cloud, you will need to create a secure password and remember it for later access. Figure A below shows the main Shadow Protect interface with a job configured.

Figure A

ShadowProtect_figure A.png
To configure a scheduled backup job with one full back up on Monday and incremental backups Tuesday through Friday, complete the following steps:
  1. From the Shadow Protect backup jobs tab, click New
  2. Click Next on the Backup Wizard Welcome screen.
  3. Check the box next to the drive you wish to back up – this will be the source drive. Click Next.
  4. Select the destination disk and click Next.Note: To rename a backup file, double click it in the Destination Selection dialog or select it and press F2.
  5. Select a Schedule of Weekly for this job also check the boxes for Monday for the Full Backup and Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday for the incremental backups.
  6. Specify a time when these jobs should run and minutes between incremental backups and click Next.
  7. Select the compression method (I used the default) and check to supply a password.
  8. Enter the password or browse to the password file and enter a name for the job and click Next
  9. Review the summary information for the job; if you wish to run it on completion, select Execute Now and click Finish.

You can also specify advanced options for each backup job configured. To do so, click the Advanced button on the options dialog within the wizard. Configurable options include:

  • Backup options – these items are related to the performance of the backup job itself:
    • Include Free Space
    • Performance Throttling
    • Second and subsequent full backups are differential
    • Generate MD5 file when creating an image file
    • Ignore read failures
  • Image – items on this tab relate to backup images
    • Enable Write Caching
    • Enable Concurrent Task Execution
    • Enable Self-Healing Incremental Backups
    • Auto-execution of unexecuted task
  • Commands – commands executed in addition to the backup
    • Pre-snapshot
    • Post-snapshot
    • Post-backup
    • Timeout value in minutes to wait before continuing
  • Encryption – options for encrypting a backup job
    • Set the appropriate encryption level
  • Retention – options to configure how long to keep backups around
    • Enable retention policy for the backup

Shadow Protect has a few other features that are definitely worth mentioning:

  • Disk Map tab provides a Computer Management style view of the disks in your system(s) You can access the majority of disk management activities from this interface.
  • Management Overview tab allows you to see across multiple systems using StorageCraft backup. A summary of configured systems is given within the interface.
  • Destinations tab is where you configure targets for backup jobs. For example, external storage could be configured as a drive here and labeled for backup. This way the backup capabilities of Shadow Protect will use one of these destinations as a target.
  • Backup History tab will display information about previously performed backups including successes, failures, and backup type performed.
  • Explore Backup option will allow you to dig into a backup by browsing its files similar to browsing the C drive.
  • Dismount Backup Image option will help you to save items that may have been written to a backup image that was previously mounted as read/write. Yes, you can copy files into an image that is mounted as writeable – and dismount the image.
  • Verify Image option helps to verify the data integrity of a selected image.
  • Image Conversion tool option helps modify some of the options configured on a backup file. In addition, it can convert a backup to a VHD or VMDK file.

Seed drive or upload image files

I have been working with this application quite a lot over the past few months to get a feel for how the process works. That being said, several attempts to upload backups to my cloud account were unsuccessful. The file size of the SPF image files will vary depending on the amount of data being backed up, but will likely be very large. Unless you have better than average upload bandwidth, understand that this will take a while to complete.

Having no luck (or the patience) to get the upload transfer to complete, I requested a seed disk from Storage Craft. Once I got the drive things went very smoothly. (Surprise: the turnaround time on the seed drive was about one day after the request. I thought this was extremely fast and couldn’t have been happier, but it may not always be that fast.)

To configure your cloud account there are a few steps to follow before you can move anything to it or to the seed drive. First, you need to sign up and configure the online portion of the service. This is where your backup files will ultimately be stored and accessed for restoration.

Configure a cloud account

Visit http://cloud.storagecraft.com/ to create an account (or log in if you have an account already). Once you have created an account, make sure you remember your user name and password for the account; you will need it when connecting to the cloud using Image Manager to manage replication locations.

Once you set up the account, the rest of the initial configuration happens in the StorageCraft application. From the main dashboard however, you can obtain the latest version of Image Manager by clicking the link to download it.

Configure Image Manager

When you install and start Image Manager for the first time, you will need to login with a password you created. There are password reset instructions available online if you lose the password.

Image Manager uses an agent to collect information from clients and to handle replication to other destinations (cloud or other). To get started you will need to configure at least one replication target. Once this is created, Image Manager will collect the backup images created by ShadowProtect and replicate them to the targets you choose.

To create a replication target for your cloud account, complete the following steps:

  1. Open StorageCraft Image Manager, shown in Figure B:
    ShadowProtect_figure B.png

  2. In the navigation pane, select Start Managing Folder to point the application toward the folder containing previously configured Shadow Protect backup files.
  3. Once the directory is chosen, click OK to return to the main window. Image manager will need some time to catch up and validate the image files found. This may take several minutes.
  4. Select Add new replication target from the Image Manager main window. This will display the replication target dialog box shown in Figure C.
    ShadowProtect_figure C.png

  5. Provide a name for the replication target; the organization name or computer name might work well here.
  6. Select StorageCraft Cloud Services as the type.
  7. Click the Edit button to create a location for the backup as in Figure D:
    ShadowProtect_figure D.png

  8. Provide the login information to your StorageCraft cloud account and click Save.
  9. Back on the General tab you will also need to supply a password for the backup job. This is required to store backups in the cloud.
  10. Select the Replication Mode tab. Here you can specify how the backups should be replicated: Immediately sends intra-daily backup image files as soon as they are created, causing more backup files to be stored. Wait for a consolidated backup image sends consolidated backup images excluding intra-daily files and consuming less storage.
  11. Select the Cloud Settings tab. This tab is where the seed drive is configured. Selecting the “send initial backup images to a seed drive” box and choosing a drive letter will replicate the existing backup images to the seed drive for shipment to StorageCraft. Not selecting this checkbox will replicate the backup files over the existing Internet connection. For the initial configuration this may take much longer than desired. Once the initial seeding has been done, the smaller incremental backups can be sent easily over the Internet to the cloud.
  12. Once the settings are configured, click the Save button to begin the process of replication.
Note: When using a seed drive, make sure it is formatted NTFS. This should be the case when it arrives, but if it isn’t, you will receive a warning message when selecting it. Restart the process once the drive is formatted and ready to go.How does restoration work?

StorageCraft has two types of restorations to bring data back from the cloud.

  • Standard restoration restores data (full volumes or files) from backup images pushed to the cloud. Only the selected backup files are considered.  
  • HeadStart is pre-staged allowing for planned migrations or recoveries needed for failover. This restoration type, explained below, requires additional licensing for use.

Note: Both restoration types are initiated from your cloud account, but HeadStart requires configuration in Image Manager.

Clicking add HeadStart Restore Job will open the configuration dialog shown in Figure E.

ShadowProtect_figure E.png

Configuring a HeadStart restoration

You can specify the following types of restoration objects:

  • VHD – a Hyper-V virtual hard disk
  • VMDK – a VMware virtual hard disk
  • Volume – an unformatted data volume

If a hypervisor-specific type is chosen, configure the location information by choosing a local or network drive to store the recovered data. Then specify a path for the restoration and the name of the subdirectory to contain the information.

Specify an acceptable lag time for the restoration. This is the time allowed for the restoration to occur, think of it as the delay that is allowed as the restoration does not begin immediately.

  1. Select the HeadStart Restore Volumes tab.
  2. Choose the Add New HeadStart Restore Volumes.
  3. Select the base backup images to use in the restoration, specify the password for the stored backup, and click OK to configure the backups.
  4. Click Save once the HeadStart is configured.

Note: To use head start recovery, the feature must be licensed, if it is not you will receive an error on save.

Lag

HeadStart backups aren’t designed to retrieve the latest backup stored. Instead they are delayed by a preconfigured time period to be applied and then recovered. This way the data to be restored can account for changes and problems (think corrupt files or viruses) and allow them to be worked around. For example, if a file or set of files in a backup chain is corrupt, but the problem is not discovered right away, it could bring back these files on restoration even If the files are repaired and these are pushed out to the cloud during the incremental backups.

Because of the lag built into HeadStart restoration the incremental backup of the files can be applied to the backup chain, correcting the corruption issues. The entire backup chain can be restored without reintroducing the issue.

Other benefits

In addition, as part of a disaster recovery effort, they will help organizations spin up copies of their backed up machines inside the cloud infrastructure. This will allow access to these machines in the offsite cloud during any outages that might be ongoing. Using this service, the VPN access to resources will be available for 30 days per VM, not per cloud account, but per workload. Not a bad dea.

Now that I have had a chance to work with these tools, I am considering changing my disaster recovery solution to use a single solution and the cloud. In my initial testing, it seems to greatly simplify the experience while continuing to provide a very solid feature set.

Pricing

Cloud backup is priced per gig and depends on the service level you select: archive only, file and folder recovery, or complete virtualization in the cloud. And there’s an option to mirror your backups to a second data center. The mirroring option is only for the U.S. In addition, cloud services are available in Canada right now. A data center in Australia will open in the next few weeks. Cloud services will be available in Europe before the end of the year.

MSRP for ShadowProtect is as follows:

  • ShadowProtect Server $995
  • ShadowProtect Small Business Server $495
  • ShadowProtect Virtual $395

Get further pricing details and information about volume discounts. The Cloud Services FAQ explains billing for cloud storage.


About

Derek Schauland has been tinkering with Windows systems since 1997. He has supported Windows NT 4, worked phone support for an ISP, and is currently the IT Manager for a manufacturing company in Wisconsin.

3 comments
japelaez
japelaez

Can I configure replication to my own cloud server, or do I need to use their cloud service?


FTAdmin
FTAdmin

This is my mostest favoritest backup program eva!


Seriously, ShadowProtect has done wonders for making our backups (online and offline) easy and reliable.

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