The backup market is no longer just about copying data from disk to tape and back again. Scalable disk-to-disk backup has become a prime requirement, along with the ability to minimise storage requirements through data deduplication plus archiving of rarely used backup data to cheaper offline media.

The leading backup vendors have all been busy enhancing their products to accommodate such developments, with Symantec the latest to release an updated product, in the form of Backup Exec 2010.

What is it and who is it for?

One of the longest established backup and recovery applications, Backup Exec has had many owners over the years including Arcada Software, Seagate, Veritas and now Symantec. Originally designed to take backups to tape, over the years support for large automated libraries, disk, SAN and other media has been added along with bare metal disaster recovery plus the ability to backup and recover Exchange, SQL Server and other popular applications. More recently support for virtual environments has also been added.

The latest 2010 edition further extends hardware and software compatibility with enhancements to its virtual tape library technology plus agents to work with the latest operating system and server products, including Windows Server 2008 R2 (full and server core), Windows 7 and Exchange 2010. Support for Lotus Domino 8.5 has also been added.

Interoperability with virtualised environments is, similarly, enhanced in the 2010 release with VMware vSphere 4 and Hyper-V R2 added to the list of supported platforms. Symantec also claims to be the first to offer seamless backup and recovery of Exchange, SQL Server and Active Directory running on virtual platforms.

Last, but by no means least, Backup Exec 2010 introduces long awaited data deduplication, based on Symantec’s own NetBackup PureDisk technology, and unified file system and Exchange mailbox archiving, again, based on existing technology—a cut down implementation of Symantec Enterprise Vault.

A small business edition of the backup Exec is available, but the core market is the medium to large enterprise with multiple servers and desktops to protect. Windows is the main platform, although the software can also be used to backup systems running other operating systems, including Linux, Apple Mac and NetWare.

Pricing & setup

Basic versions of Backup Exec 2010 can be bought online with, for example, the small business edition selling for around £450 (ex. VAT). Larger enterprise customers, however, will be directed towards specialist resellers and system integrators. The reasoning here is that it’s a complex buy involving different licences for physical and virtual servers, plus lots of add-on options and agents to work with multiple host operating systems and applications. Installation and support services will, typically, also be included as part of the overall package.

Historically new features have tended to be added as chargeable add-ons. This continues with Backup Exec 2010, Symantec opting to charge extra for its deduplication option—expect to pay around £1000 (ex. VAT) per media server. Likewise, you’ll need to budget extra for Exchange mailbox and file system archiving. To help simplify things, however, a couple of new product ‘suites’ have been made available, one bundling the core Backup Exec 2010 software with a licence to use deduplication, the other deduplication plus Exchange archiving. Suites for use with VMware and Hyper-v virtualisation environments are also to be had.

A typical backup Exec deployment can involve installing a number of components, options and agents across several different machines. A core Windows host is required along with SQL Server, although an Express edition can be installed for you if needed. A pre-install environment checker makes sure all the pre-requisites are there as part of the setup process and there’s a test run tool to make sure it’s all working once setup is complete.

We tested using Windows Server 2008 R2 and had few problems beyond working out which of the various options and agents to install. Backup Exec can, however, take a long time to deploy, especially on large network.

Does it do it well?

Once everything is installed the Backup Exec software is managed from a graphical console which, although a little cluttered, we found reasonably easy to understand and navigate. Wizards are available to help with a lot of the tasks and backup jobs are easy to create, copy and re-use with templates to help with things like media rotation.

Performance is largely dictated by the type of storage being backed up and the backup media involved. We took backups to disk on a remote Backup Exec media server and were impressed with the throughput achieved. We were also impressed by the new deduplication option which can be configured to do its processing on the server or at the client end to significantly reduce the storage needed for backup purposes.

Where does it disappoint?

One of the biggest issues with Backup Exec is deciding which of the standard and optional components to configure, what agents to deploy and how to marry everything together. Even on a modest network setup can be complex and specialist help with deployment is to be advised. Management isn’t overly complicated, but training is likely to be needed. Job monitoring and reporting overall are well catered for, but could be better when it comes to the new deduplication option.

Speaking of which, deduplication is a welcome addition, but it’s a chargeable extra and despite being based on existing technology Symantec has taken its time making the option available. It’s also 64-bit only, which could be an issue on some sites.

Would we recommend it?

Despite the availability of a small business edition, Backup Exec doesn’t really shine as a small business product, especially when compared against alternatives specifically aimed at the SME which are both easier and simpler to use.

Higher up the food chain the Symantec software has a lot more going for it and in a large enterprise the ability to spread backup processing across multiple systems and only buy the options actually required are real selling points. That said, CA’s ARCserve is just as effective and comes with deduplication as standard. Moreover, Backup Exec faces stiff competition from its sister product, NetBackup, also from Symantec, calling for careful evaluation and testing before deciding which product to go for. [7]