When I first heard of ShadowProtect Server, I thought it sounded interesting but that it would probably be very similar to most other backup products. I quickly discovered that ShadowProtect Server is quite a bit more than just another backup product. Although the product performs the typical backup and restore operations that you’d expect from any solution that claims to be a system backup product, what really sets ShadowProtect Server apart is its flexibility during the recovery process and its automated management of the backup files. ShadowProtect Server installs on Windows Server 2008 or Windows Server 2003; you can then remotely install and manage ShadowProtect Desktop from the server.

Backup and Recovery

To recover a system, you have the options of a granular file restore, full system restore from bare metal, full system restore from bare metal on dissimilar hardware, or conversion of your backup files to a Microsoft, VMware, or VirtualBox compatible virtual machine (VM). ShadowProtect Server also supports Microsoft Volume Shadow Copy Service (VSS), so you can safely back up servers running applications such as Microsoft Exchange Server 2007 or SQL Server 2005.

Supported backup destinations include local directories and network shares. StorageCraft has done away with tape but suggests two options for tape-like archiving needs. One option is to archive to a locally attached USB drive, then take the drive offsite and lock it in a safe just as you would with tape.

Another option is to keep an online archive by doing a full system backup, physically transport the full backup to a remote site, and place it on a file share. You’d then point a second backup routine at the remote site file share and configure this backup routine to only perform incremental backups to the remote share. This approach avoids the necessity of copying the large full system backup across a WAN link. In addition, incremental backups can be scheduled to be copied across the network without affecting business operations because the incremental backups are a much smaller file size. These incremental backups can be configured to run at any hour of the day and as often as every 15 minutes. You can also configure ShadowProtect Server to send daily and weekly status reports telling you whether each one of the backup jobs completed or failed. As these incremental backups begin to accumulate, you can use the included ShadowProtect ImageManager tool to verify and consolidate your incremental backups down to weekly or monthly backups. By default, ImageManager verifies new backups as they complete; you can specify the number of days before the backups are rechecked. Meanwhile, your onsite backup routine continues creating full backups every week or month, with daily or hourly incremental backups at the same location as the server for quick recovery in the event of a server disaster. Without an automated tool such as ImageManager, I’d recommend archiving these remote files and starting the process over every few months. The idea of using another product without something like ImageManager and having to restore from literally hundreds or possibly even thousands of incremental backups would make me a little uncomfortable.

Testing

To evaluate ShadowProtect Server, I installed the product on my Windows 2003 machine. (Supported server OSs include Windows 2000 Server SP4 through Server 2008 R2.) Installation is a breeze; you simply insert the CD-ROM, select your product, and click Next until the product successfully installs. After the installation completed, I created two shared folders on my server. Then I used ShadowProtect Server to perform a full backup. I added content to both shares from the NAS device and performed an incremental backup. Next, I created a task to email me status reports of backup jobs on a weekly basis. I selected the option to have ShadowProtect Server send a test report and immediately received the status report in my Gmail Inbox. Then, I shut down the server and replaced the Windows 2003 machine’s drive with a drive of about the same size.

Next, I booted from the Shadow-Protect Server CD-ROM into the graphical StorageCraft Recovery Environment. When you start the StorageCraft Recovery Environment, you can choose between a Server 2008–based or Windows 2003 environment. Technically, you can use either environment to perform a restore; however, the Windows 2003 environment includes the option to press F6 and load device drivers if necessary. If you’re restoring to newer hardware, you’ll want to choose the Server 2008 environment because it’s more likely to have the necessary hardware drivers. From the Windows 2003 recovery environment I was able to easily map a network drive to the NAS device and start the recovery process. In less than 15 minutes, the recovery process completed and the server (including 8GB of data) was identical to before I exchanged the hard drives.



My next test with ShadowProtect Server was to remotely install and back up a desktop computer. (Supported desktop OSs include Windows 2000 Professional SP4 through Windows 7.) For remote installation, the program requires that you specify the location of the installation and answer file. The installation files and several answer files are included on the ShadowProtect Server installation CD-ROM. The purpose of the answer files is to specify how the installation on the remote computer should occur (i.e., visible to the end user or not). If you choose a completely silent installation, the answer file will include all the possible options for installation.

On my first remote installation attempt on my Windows 7 Home Premium computer, I received an Access Denied error message and wasn’t able to continue. After a few minutes on the Knowledge Base section of the StorageCraft website, I had my answer. I turned off User Account Control (UAC), restarted the Windows 7 Home Premium computer, and was able to successfully complete the remote installation. According to the StorageCraft website, this problem shouldn’t occur in domain environments because the trust relationship within a domain should prevent UAC from interfering.

At this point I could configure all the backup options for the Windows 7 Home Premium computer from the Windows 2003 ShadowProtect Server console, which Figure 1 shows. The only issue to be aware of when configuring a remote computer in this manner is that the computer must be connected to the network and powered up before you can make any changes. Although I understand that this is just how the application works, it would be nice if the setting changes could be pushed to the remote computer later so that you could make configuration changes while the remote computer was disconnected, as in the case of roaming laptops.

McAlmond WIN2393 Fig1_0

Figure 1: ShadowProtect Server management console


Next, I performed a test of Shadow-Protect Server restoring to a virtual environment. For this test, I installed Microsoft Virtual PC 2007 on the Windows 2003 computer. I then configured a new VM with a new empty hard drive. While booting the new VM, I attached the physical CD-ROM of the host, which contained the ShadowProtect Server installation CD-ROM, in order to boot the VM into the StorageCraft Recovery Environment. Just like when restoring the physical machine, I used the StorageCraft Recovery Environment GUI to map a drive to the network location that contained the backup files, then I started the recovery process. The recovery process completed within about 45 minutes. After a couple of restarts to finish installing the new VM hardware, the VM was identical to the Windows 2003 physical machine (other than the hardware changes, of course). I assume that the increased recovery time was a result of the VM having significantly less processing power compared with the host machine.

My last test with ShadowProtect Server was a trial of the VirtualBoot restore option. For this technique, you need to install the VirtualBox server virtualization software and ShadowProtect Server on the same machine. You can download VirtualBox for free from www.virtualbox.org. After installation, you should be able to right-click a ShadowProtect Server backup file, select VirtualBoot, and watch the server (now virtualized) start up in a fraction of the regular restore time. However, I ran into some problems. I had downloaded the most recent version of VirtualBox and installed it on my Windows 2003 machine that was already running ShadowProtect Server, but the restore option failed. After multiple failed attempts, I decided to take a look at StorageCraft’s online Knowledge Base. My problem was that the VirtualBoot option isn’t yet supported on versions of VirtualBox after 3.2.12. After removing VirtualBox 4.0.2 and installing version 3.1.8, I was able to boot my server from the ShadowProtect Server backup files in about 2 minutes. Granted, I didn’t have much data on this server and it was mostly just the OS that was being restored—but I was still impressed.

Licensing

The licensing for ShadowProtect Server is very reasonable. In fact, if you compare competing products I think you’ll find that you’d pay more to get all of Shadow-Protect Server’s features from a competitor. You can purchase individual Windows Server licenses for $995 or Windows Small Business Server (SBS) licenses for $495. If you just need the product for a temporary project, you can purchase the Shadow-Protect IT Edition for 2 weeks, 1 month, 3 months, or a year. StorageCraft offers a free 30-day trial, although the trial version doesn’t support hardware-independent restore—so you wouldn’t be able to use it for a physical to virtual migration.

An All-in-One Solution

In comparing ShadowProtect Server with my own production environment backup routines, I have to admit that I use multiple backup products or scripts; however, ShadowProtect Server’s feature set, speed, and ease of use are far superior. I highly recommend this product to anyone in the market for Windows backup software.

ShadowProtect Server
PROS: Extremely flexible; easy to use; provides fast recovery; supports booting from backups or conversion of backup files to a VM; automatically reports on backup job status; backup file management system verifies all backups and consolidates incremental backups into full backup files on a configurable schedule
CONS: No major flaws
RATING: 5 out of 5
PRICE: $995 for one Windows server; $445 for SBS; volume pricing available
RECOMMENDATION: Anyone in the market for a Windows backup solution should consider ShadowProtect Server.
CONTACT: StorageCraft Technology • 801-545-4700 • www.storagecraft.com