Following a lengthy period of consolidation, the backup and recovery market is now dominated by a handful of vendors selling well-established products. Nearly all of these were developed, originally, to use tape as a backup medium, although all now embrace disk-to-disk and other more modern technologies.

Acronis is a relative newcomer to this market, coming from a disk imaging background and looking to use that experience to gain a foothold in the wider world of backup and recovery. It has products for both home and business deployment with the one we’re interested in here?Acronis Backup & Recovery 10?its flagship enterprise solution.

What is it and who is it for?

Acronis Backup & Recovery 10 is the latest generation of the company’s business backup platform, previously known as True Image Echo. Available in several different editions, it supports both Windows and Linux platforms and can be used to backup and restore a mix of servers, workstations and virtual machines, with bare metal recovery a key selling point.

Centralised management is available in Advanced editions of the product which also add support for independent data vaults for backup storage. Other, optional add-ons allow recovery to machines based on different hardware (currently free until the end of June 2010) and the ability to deduplicate stored data to reduce storage overheads.

Pricing & setup

Prices vary depending on what it is you want to backup and how many systems are involved. A standalone workstation license, for example, can be had for as little as £42 (ex. VAT) with Windows Server licences starting at £459 (ex. VAT). The Small Business Server edition (for use with the Microsoft platform of the same name) is good value at £299 (ex. VAT), while the Advanced Server package with centralised management and data storage starts at £639 (ex. VAT). The Advanced Server virtual edition to support virtual as well as physical machines sells from £1100 (ex. VAT).

Installation of the standalone versions is quick and easy but advanced editions can take a while to deploy, especially on large distributed networks. That’s because of the need to distribute and configure both the various management components (including SQL Server management databases and data storage vaults) and agents on each of the servers/workstations to be backed up. Windows deployment can be automated, but Linux agents have to be rolled out manually.

Does it do it well?

Performance is largely down to the hardware being backed up and the systems used to take backups and store the data. That said, the Acronis software performed well on our tests and, as far as we can tell, scales well on larger networks.

The management interface is easy to follow and is designed along traditional lines where backup jobs are, typically, configured offline then scheduled to run out of hours. All the expected choices are there to take full, incremental or differential backups, along with the usual rotation options and a nice facility to take backups to two separate destinations simultaneously. Backups can be processed on a file-by-file basis or using patented Acronis disk-imaging technology. Either way it’s possible to restore individual files or complete disk images, assuming the backup contains the required data.

There’s a good choice, too, when it comes to backup media, including support for CD/DVD, removable disk and network shares. Tape drives and automated libraries can also be used but libraries aren’t supported on Server 2008 R2 or Windows 7, mainly because of a dependency on Removable Storage Manager (RSM) which isn’t in the newer platforms. Backups can also be stored in a protected bootable disk partition to simplify the process of recovery.

On larger networks, customers are encouraged to configure centralised data vaults managed by independent Acronis Storage Nodes. Up to 20 storage nodes can be configured, with a maximum of 20 associated data vaults held on local or networked storage. Storage nodes help spread processing requirements as well as optimise bandwidth and storage utilisation.

When it comes to restoring files and recovering crashed systems the Acronis product has a lot to offer including the ability to recover a backup to a virtual machine, enabling a crashed server, for example, to be quickly brought back online as a VM while any hardware issues are sorted out. Acronis Active restore is a nice option too, enabling systems to be used while the recovery process is on-going, the Acronis software prioritising files to be restored to meet user requests.

Where does it disappoint?

A relatively straightforward product to deploy on standalone machines, Acronis Backup & Recovery 10 gets a lot more complicated the more hosts that are added. A good deal of pre-deployment planning is, therefore, needed on larger networks, especially when it comes to configuring data vaults and storage nodes.

Data deduplication isn’t included as standard. It’s an optional extra that needs both additional licensing and software, added to which, although the required deduplication processing can done at source or on the storage nodes, it can be a considerable overhead. Note too that deduplication ratios are unlikely to be as high as claimed (up to 90%), although that’s pretty much standard for this emerging technology.

Would we recommend it?

Small to medium sized businesses are the most likely customers for the Acronis product which matches what the competition has to offer while being easier to manage than most. Smaller companies will also like the fact that it’s a very complete product, able to take advantage of existing hardware and cope with most software setups with few optional extras required.

For larger enterprises the advantages over other products are less clear cut. The Acronis product does support tape but the emphasis is very much on the use of disk technologies which would make switching from another backup application difficult. That said, it is a very scalable solution with a lot to offer large enterprise customers, particularly those using virtualisation to consolidate data centre resources. [8]

Author profile: Alan Stevens

Alan Stevens has been working in the IT industry for over 30 years, during which time he has tried his hand at just about everything, from mainframe operator, through development and support roles to running his own training and project management companies. Alan combines consultancy with writing for the leading print and online IT titles, specialising in business IT and communications. An erstwhile business editor on both PC Magazine and PCW, Alan’s work can be found on all good Web sites. He also writes white papers and conducts independent tests of hardware and software.