Symantec Backup Exec 12

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Symantec Backup Exec 12 allows complete system recovery and concentrates on continuous file/data protection. Though AU$1,795 may seem a lot of money for an application, Backup Exec might be worth the investment if you're using it for irreplaceable and highly valuable data.

Test Procedure
Two servers running Windows 2003 were used for testing. The main software was installed on one and then the remote agent was "pushed" to the second device which was acting as a file server in need of protection. This lets us assess the ease of installation, job initiation, and documentation quality. We performed a full backup of our test file-server, then attempted an incremental backup after adjusting a single file and assessed the relative time frames for these operations. Our total backup size was approximately 4GB.

Features and usability
Little problems which might lead to data loss can occur at any time and thus Backup Exec continually updates recovery data as you work ensuring files or messages are protected. It backs up and restores files, mailboxes and Active Directory users. Individual users can create their own recovery points or browse for and recover individual files. Backup Exec supports laptops, desktops and file servers. MS Exchange and SQL servers are also supported.

A central backup server watches over transactions occurring throughout your network including file and application servers, desktops and even remotely attached notebooks. Data that is not stored on your servers is still protected by Backup Exec. Symantec's software can interact with all your data storage devices. SAN support requires an additional agent; alternatively you may like to subscribe to Symantec's data centres and have offsite storage which you won't need to establish or manage yourself.

The literature provided by Symantec presents an impressed range of possibilities, but all too often a feature is part of an optional extra you have to pay more for.

In fact, we were at times unsure exactly which features were parts of the base package. Are we getting a somewhat ordinary backup package and paying almost AU$1,800 for the privilege of having something able to integrate with the extras?

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In a brief listing of "Key Benefits" three of the four points refer to integration with other Symantec products. We suggest you discuss your needs carefully with Symantec before making a purchase to ensure you know exactly what you are getting for your money.

Backup Exec has been designed to be scalable all the way up to large enterprises. Remote Agents (optional add-ons) can be employed to share data processing tasks on other servers which may be running Mac, Linux, UNIX, Windows or Netware operating systems. Data transfer across your network is maximised through the use of data compression. Additional agents support applications relying on Oracle and SAP. These optional extras provide very powerful integration for highly disparate systems. One backup can serve where once many different processes may have been needed.

Data security is assured through the ability to use AES 256-bit data encryption to protect data during transfer and storage. Further security is attained by ensuring that all files and messages are recorded during a back-up — even if files are open (This "Open File" option is, thankfully, now included with the Core software).

Prior to installing Backup Exec, it is recommended that you run the Environment Check tool. This application checks whether your system is up to scratch, which we found provided decent feedback.

When using this application you will be informed exactly what is being tested and the result of each. Where a test result is not satisfactory, the application explains what features of Backup Exec will be affected and what needs to be done to correct the issue. This means that you can make informed decisions as to whether a warning needs to be acted upon.

We proceeded with a stock standard installation, but you are asked at the beginning if you also wish to install add-ons such as an administration console or remote agents. The software install is quite fast. An SQL database is required, but if you don't have suitable software already then SQL Express will be installed.

Following the installation you will be guided through some "Getting Started" procedures to create necessary user accounts and backup destination locations and file restrictions. One option set here is the number of jobs that can be run concurrently — this number is limited by the number of processor cores in the server.

While standard Windows menus provide access to all functions, common tasks are more readily available via large buttons on the home screen of the application. Options abound and it will be somewhat bewildering to those unfamiliar with server-grade backup software.

File/application servers being protected by Symantec Backup Exec must all have a user log-in identical to that of the backup server. Removing unwanted backup files is certainly possible, but no disk space became available until a few minutes after the remove was supposedly complete, making us initially unsure if we had done the right thing.

Backups were performed quickly — around 75Mbps on our simple test rig for a full backup. Incremental backups were very efficient with only a few seconds being required to determine what was needed. An incremental backup after no changes took only four seconds and only 10 seconds after adding 44MB in three files. Selecting schedules, data sources and data destination was quite straightforward.

When using Backup Exec, a full system recovery is possible, but the product concentrates on continuous file/data protection. If you simply want system backups, you should consider Symantec System Recovery. (This is a slimmed down version of the stand-alone product Backup Exec System Recovery.)

Symantec is keen to suggest that Backup Exec "recovers in seconds", but this time frame is specified in relation to individual file or message recovery — major recoveries will naturally take significantly longer.

Though AU$1,795 may seem a lot of money for an application, Backup Exec is protecting vital data which may be very difficult or even impossible to replace. Reduced downtime when restoring data with Backup Exec rather than by manual means could in itself cover the software price. Symantec offer a range of educational and other support services for their products. Support is offered via phone, email, forums and online-knowledgebase.

Symantec Backup Exec System Recovery 8 versus Backup Exec 12
On Symantec's online forum, a Symantec employee described the differences between Backup Exec (BE) and Backup Exec System Recovery (BESR): "BE and BESR are complementary products, at least from a marketing point of view." As the explanation continues, our suspicions that Symantec is trying to sell two products where one would suffice only continue to grow.

A survey of Symantec's own literature and comments by others on forums suggests that Symantec staff would rather shoot themselves than clearly explain the differences between their "complementary" products. Or perhaps they are as confused as we are?

There is not doubt that users will struggle to distinguish between these two products. We shall interpret as best we can. To some extent we are comparing apples and oranges here as we have the Server edition of BE and the Desktop edition of BESR and thus we should differentiate the products on two levels. We have also indicated that a version of BESR for server protection is available and we will not go further on that point; and of course BE also comes in various flavours.

Both product lines can backup an entire drive and restore either the whole drive or individual files from a specific time. Furthermore, there is an add-on for BE Server edition which gives it the same functionality as the BESR Server addition.

BESR specialises in the backup and restoration of system disks. In particular it has the ability to replicate systems (including OS, software and data) back to its restore point or to a completely new system via virtualisation processes. Virtual machines also allow for safe and efficient system development and deployment.

BE is more concerned with preserving shared data (which may be distributed over a wide network) in a continuous and fine grained manner in order to fully protect databases and messaging systems as well as any other data. Databases can be backed up while still servicing users. Users can retrieve individual lost messages and attachments.

While functionality overlaps significantly, it can be said that one application (BE) seeks mainly to preserve your precious data while the other (BESR) seeks to protect the infrastructure upon which that data resides. Less complicated IT infrastructures may well be adequately served by one or the other with no need for both.

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