We all recognise the importance of an effective backup and recovery strategy. Implementing such a strategy, however, can be a frustrating business with buyers often put off by the cost and complexity of the tools involved. Not so with GFI Backup 2010 which, despite one or two shortcomings, is an effective yet easy to use and affordable backup solution.

What is it and who is it for?

GFI Backup 2010 is a Windows-based backup and recovery solution. Typical customers might be small businesses with just a few PCs networked together, or larger organisations with a one or two servers as well as desktop PCs and laptops to protect. Departmental networks and branch offices might, similarly, be interested in the GFI product, which allows for centralised scheduling and management of backups across multiple remote servers and workstations.

The software can be deployed on both workgroup and Active Directory networks and employs a Web-based console to manage the backup and recovery processes. File-based backup and recovery are the order of the day here, although SQL databases can also be backed up, plus there’s support for Microsoft’s Volume Shadow Copy Service (VSS) to cope with open files when using the latest Windows platforms.

Backups can be taken of any file or folder held on local hard disk plus network shares, storage networks and network attached storage devices. Unlike other backup programs, most of which use proprietary formats for backups, GFI Backup can also compress and store its data in industry-standard ZIP files and scramble the contents using 256-bit AES encryption, if required. There’s support, too, for a wide range of backup devices and media including local or shared hard disk and CD/DVD drives. Tape can also be supported.

Pricing & setup

GFI Backup 2010 comes in two flavours?a free Home Edition to protect individual consumer PCs, and the Business Edition which we tested, to backup multiple PCs and servers over a local area network.

Pricing is a little complicated with server licences available for as little as £18 (ex. VAT) per server, but only for large organisations buying a thousand or more. Otherwise a sliding scale operates so that on a typical small network with up to nine servers you’ll pay £192 (ex. VAT) for the first server and £177 (ex. VAT) per server for the others. Software maintenance is included in that price, with annual renewal at £38.40 (ex. VAT) per server on this kind of small setup.

To protect up to 24 workstations licences cost £16 (ex. VAT) for the first system and £15 (ex. VAT) for each additional PC, with a similar sliding scale for bulk purchases. Software maintenance renewal on workstations starts at £3.20 (ex. VAT) per PC (5-24 PCs). Alternatively you can buy a starter pack with, for example, a pack containing one server and five workstation licences for £230 (ex. VAT).

There are two components to install, a central administration console from which the software is managed, and backup agents which need to be deployed on each server or workstation. We installed the console on a Windows 2008 server, but Windows Server 2003 is also supported. Plus, it’s possible to host the console component on a desktop PC running Windows XP or later. A built-in Web server looks after the management interface and you can choose the ports to use both for administration and to communicate with the remote agents.

On an Active Directory network the GFI Backup Agents can be distributed and installed using Group Policy, otherwise these will have to be installed manually.

Does it do it well?

Installation is straightforward with wizards to take you through the steps required to get started once the initial setup is complete. Agent deployment can take a while, but Group Policy works well here and the procedures involved are well within the scope of most network administrators. The management console can be run remotely if wanted?useful when the software is installed on a remote server. The user interface is also very simple, with a bare minimum of options to get to grips with.

A wizard helps with the key process of creating backup jobs with, as well as compression and encryption, the usual facilities to take full, incremental or differential backups, schedule jobs for unattended operation and issue e-mail notifications when those jobs have been run. Identifying and including SQL databases in the backup process is as simple as selecting from a list of names and there’s another wizard to help with data recovery which, again, we found very simple and easy to use.

As well as backup to server disk and other shared storage devices, each agent can be instructed to take backups to a local drive?useful on laptops, for example, not always connected to the LAN. We also liked the ability to allow local users to take their own backups and restore files locally, with any local backup and recovery activity reported back to the main server along with centrally managed job reports.

Where does it disappoint?

There are several things you can’t do with GFI Backup, such as take backups of data held on Apple Macs or Linux-based systems. Something other products can do, making them a more obvious choice on mixed platform networks. Neither is it possible to take backups of Windows Active Directory or Windows settings on individual PCs. There’s no support either for Exchange Server which could be a real issue for companies running Windows Small Business Server where user mailboxes can’t be included in the backup scheme.

Reporting is poorly provided for too and there’s no bare-metal disaster recovery which means having to re-install Windows and GFI Backup 2010 first before starting to recover a crashed server or desktop PC.

Would we recommend it?

For companies where the network is managed and run by non-technical staff, a product like GFI Backup 2010 has a lot to recommend it. Ease of use is the key benefit with, once it’s been configured, very little expertise required to manage the backup process on a day to day basis. Data recovery is straightforward too, so we’d have no hesitation recommending it to small businesses looking for a simple and affordable backup and recovery solution.

Unfortunately, the package does lack a few options which would make us hesitate before recommending it in more complex situations. The lack of support for Exchange and other SMTP mail servers is a major omission here as is the lack of support for bare metal recovery. Unfortunately, both are possible using alternative products, many of which rival GFI backup 2010 both on ease of use and price. [7]