Backup solutions for your network from VERITAS Software and Software Moguls

In my ongoing review of backup solutions for Windows NT networks, I tested two packages: VERITAS Software's NetBackup 3.0 and Software Moguls' SM-arch for Windows NT, Enterprise Backup Edition. Both packages (SM-arch, in particular) offer strong functionality for heterogeneous networks. But how well does each package function in a homogeneous NT network? Here is what I found.

NetBackup 3.0
If you have a distributed heterogeneous network, VERITAS Software's NetBackup might be just the ticket for your enterprise's backup needs. But if you're running an NT-exclusive network, you are better off finding another backup solution. The problem isn't that NetBackup doesn't have what it takes to make it in the NT world. NetBackup is a full-featured application that is geared toward terabyte storage systems, offers extensive support for jukeboxes and robotic autoloading devices, and supports optical disc autoloaders (currently, this option is available for UNIX only). Rather, the problem lies in trying to configure NetBackup.

Some of NetBackup's configuration difficulties stem from the software's manual, NetBackup System Administrator's Guide for Windows NT Server. This manual is long (368 pages) and confusing to follow (for example, it begins rather than ends by listing 30 related documents representing nearly every operating system, database, and media device that make installation on extended networks easier). Other difficulties concern NetBackup's awkward configuration procedures.

When I began configuring the software, NetBackup immediately identified the three standalone SCSI tape devices on my network and the media within them. This identification didn't surprise me, because VERITAS takes its media seriously. What did surprise me was that when I clicked the Media Management icon in the NetBackup Administration window, I had to enter the same device and media (volume) information that the software had just identified. Then I had to enter the same device and media information again in the Storage Management area, which I accessed through another icon in the Administration window.

After you finish identifying the device and media information for the second time, you must create the classes. A class is a user-defined set of drives, folders, and files that are backed up to a specific device at the same time. (The drives, folders, and files can reside on one or several machines.) Using classes, you assign a particular setup to a group of clients in a network.

You configure a class in NetBackup by clicking the Backup Policy Management icon in the Administration window, as Screen 1, page 86, shows. After you supply a name for your class, a window will open with four tabs: Attributes, Schedules, Files, and Clients.

Under the Attributes tab, you define the type (i.e., operating system platform), the storage unit you want to assign to the operation, volume pool, maximum jobs per class, and job priority. The Attributes screen also contains check boxes to activate options, such as file compression, true image recovery, and network drive backups.

Under the Schedules tab, you define the days on which you want to perform backups, the frequency with which they will be run, and the retention period for the data. You also must specify how many clients can write to one device concurrently. (VERITAS calls this feature multiplexing; competing software packages call it interleaving.) You can have as many as 32 clients writing concurrently. The Schedules interface also lets you override previous class and storage device options.

Under the Files tab, you enter the drives, folders, and files you want to include in a backup of a particular class. But instead of using NT's familiar technique of pointing and clicking to select the drives, folders, and files from a list, you must use one-line command-style statements to enter this information. For example, you must type C:\Winnt\ to back up the Winnt folder on the C drive and D:\ to back up the data on the D drive. You'd expect to use this format in a UNIX package, not an NT package.

Under the Clients tab, you enter the clients you want to assign to your backup class. The Clients screen is similar to the Files interface, except the names on the buttons differ. Once again, you must use command-style statements to enter information.

With your classes, storage devices, and media configured, you're set to perform the backups. You can perform NetBackup tasks even when the application isn't open. If the backups don't execute at the intervals you specified, you can use either the Activity Monitor or Reports interface to try to determine the problem. As Screen 1 shows, you can get to both through the Administration window.

The Activity Monitor interface displays 19 different fields, none of which gives you any useful information. The only way you can view a variable in any of the fields is by opening its individual window. This interface falls below the standard found in most production software.

The Reports window displays information about the status of jobs, how many jobs have succeeded and failed, and the properties associated with the jobs. You select which properties to view, such as information related to clients, media, errors, and the status of backups for the clients on your network.

Two other pertinent NetBackup interfaces are the Device Monitor screen and the Backup, Archive, and Restore screen (the client interface). The Device Monitor window gives you another way to monitor the status of your backup operations, presumably because Activity Monitor and Reports don't give you enough information. The client-side Backup, Archive, and Restore interface is exactly what you'd expect from a backup solution: You select files and folders through an Explorer-type interface, and tabbed windows let you easily define classes and the included and excluded file types. This interface includes an archival option that deletes files after it backs them up.

Besides the various interfaces, NetBackup features media tracking to determine when a particular media component has been sufficiently compromised to warrant replacing. Other features include support for barcoding, Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP), email, and pager notification.

I have a wish list for NetBackup. When I define the drives, folders, and files for a class, I want the same functionality I found in the Backup, Archive, and Restore client interface. In other words, I want an interface that makes more sense in a Windows environment than the current UNIX-like interface.

Another wish on my list is the ability to highlight a job from almost any screen in this program and right-click to see the properties (including the tape device) of the backup operation. I also want the ability to adjust those properties. Unfortunately, this level of support and intuitiveness just isn't a part of NetBackup.

NetBackup's support for distributed heterogeneous environments and file structures is sure to please many administrators with networks requiring that kind of support. But as an NT-ported platform, NetBackup is still in its infancy. Its limited functionality in the right mouse button and awkward configuration procedures (including its preoccupation with identifying devices and UNIX-like platforms) don't do much to make it an attractive option for NT users. NetBackup isn't a bad backup solution, but if you run only NT, I suggest you skip NetBackup for now.

NetBackup 3.0
Contact: VERITAS Software, Web:
Price: $3995 for server, $700 for each additional server, $200 for each additional client
System Requirements: Windows NT 3.51 with Service Pack 5, Windows NT 4.0 with Service Pack 2, Pentium processor with 32MB of RAM, 10MB available hard disk space for server, 2.7MB available hard disk space for clients

SM-arch for Windows NT,
Enterprise Backup Edition

When I first started working with Software Moguls' SM-arch solution, I realized that the engineers and developers who put this package together knew what they were doing. In fact, they are so versed in how to execute backups that they wrote a backup bible, the SM-arch 4.2 Reference Guide.

The SM-arch 4.2 Reference Guide includes a glossary to help you decipher the nonstandard terminology you'll encounter in the software. For example, when the word Outstanding appears in the monitoring window, it doesn't mean exemplary. Outstanding means that a backup is pending, waiting to be executed at the scheduled time. Similarly, Sign-Wait doesn't mean you must wait for a sign from the heavens or the Software Moguls engineers. Sign-Wait alerts you that the software is trying to identify the network and that you must wait until it gives you a sign that the network is really there. Because of these and other nonstandard terms, be sure to highlight Backup and Restore Status Terms in the guide.

Besides the nonstandard terminology, another quirk of SM-arch is that it won't recognize your network if you don't configure the hosts file in the C:\Winnt\system32\drivers\etc folder to recognize the entirety of your network via IP addresses and associated host names. For my network, this requirement meant I had to add lucy, fred, and ethel—each on a separate line—to the hosts file for every machine on my network. Most backup solutions don't require you to configure the host files to operate. This requirement appears to be left over from the days when Novell ruled the networked world. To be fair, NT networks should have their hosts files configured, if only to support programs such as SM-arch.

The requirement to configure the hosts means that this software isn't a native NT product and, therefore, might present challenges you won't see in a product designed for NT. I encountered such a challenge when I installed and configured the software. SM-arch identified only one of the three SCSI tape devices on the Windows NT Magazine Lab's network and couldn't determine the media type in the device it identified. I had to manually add the other two devices to the program and identify the type of media each contained.

Next, I declared the class I wanted to back up. Once I defined the class, I had to go to the Library icon on the main toolbar and label the volume (media) within my tape devices. If you try to run a backup operation with this software without first labeling the volume, you will get a Mount-Wait error message. As particular as SM-arch is about labeling volumes or media, it doesn't track how long a specific media component has been around and, therefore, doesn't track the integrity of that component. However, the engineers at Software Moguls are currently developing this support.

The procedures that are necessary to get this software running illustrate that SM-arch approaches backup from an enterprise point of view. You have to work your way down to single servers and workstations. The reasoning behind this approach appears to be that, although the software is a little difficult to configure, once you're done, you'll never have to touch it again.

Unfortunately, this approach has a crippling effect on the user interface. A case in point is the main GUI, which is split into three vertical or horizontal windows: Message Log, Drive Status, and Activity Log, as Screen 2 shows. The Drive Status window, claiming a full third of screen real estate, lists only the devices on the network. If you want more information about any of the devices, you must highlight or double-click the icon. The Message Log and Activity Log windows aren't much better for understanding an operation or leveraging screen space. This interface is new for SM-arch; it's too bad that the interface resembles Windows 3.1x so much.

Although the user interface and the terminology clearly need some work, the good news is that this product's underlying software is truly a full-featured enterprise program with a broad range of support. The software supports NT (Alpha), Windows 95, Windows 3.1x, Macintosh, NetWare, PCTCP, PC-LNWP, SunOS, three different versions of Solaris (including one that operates on an x86 platform), AIX 3.x/4.x on RS-6000/PowerPC, Irix 5.x/6.x on Silicon Graphics, SCO Desktop 3.x, Digital UNIX, and four types of HP UNIX. The product supports Microsoft Exchange and SQL Server. Sybase and Oracle support is available through a UNIX-based backup server. SM-arch will back up open files if they are not locked. If you need to guarantee the integrity of all your files, you can use support for St. Bernard Software's open file management solution.

SM-arch has other neat features. For example, you can select Registry files as a separate folder when you define a class. You can back up not only tape devices (jukeboxes included), but also optical discs and hard disks. You can choose from three kinds of software compression: Lempel-Ziv, HuffMan, and SM-Comp. You can get realtime encryption. You can use the Help function to learn about the various options throughout the program. If you have an enterprise network, you can take advantage of the software's powerful interleaving feature; however, this program will not split individual files when it is interleaving.

Client software installation in SM-arch isn't fancy, but it is effective. When you install the SM-arch server software, you select the Add client images to the backup server machine option. This selection will copy the client images from a wide variety of platforms to the server, where you can copy them to the appropriate client machines and install them as usual. (This capability means that administrators must be physically present at each client to install the software—quite a chore for large networks—and must reboot once the client installation is complete.) The best feature of the client software is that it will perform client-side compression for certain platforms (i.e., UNIX and NT), and you can attach tape devices to smart clients to help eliminate network bottlenecks.

Unfortunately, this software doesn't have a refined disaster-recovery solution. To recover a system, you must reinstall both NT and SM-arch before you can attach to the tape devices and restore their information. To recover a server, you must perform the same steps and then use the smrestor utility to recover the SM-arch online catalog. This approach is not the most beautiful way to recover.

But beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and the robustness of this backup solution will certainly be attractive to administrators with large heterogeneous networks. For large-enterprise NT installations, the SM-arch enterprise edition is a player.

SM-arch for Windows NT, Enterprise Backup Edition
Contact: Software Moguls, Web:
Price: $1995 with 5 clients included
System Requirements: Pentium-class processor, 64MB to 128MB of RAM, Windows NT 4.0, 20MB for software, TCP/IP protocol,

The Lab's Test Configurations
NetBackup 3.0
Server: 200MHz DTK Computer Dual Pentium Pro 128MB of RAM
4.2GB SCSI hard disk Adaptec 3940 SCSI interface card 2 HP Vectra P-120s with 16MB of RAM
Tape Drives: HP SureStore DAT24, HP SureStore DLT 30, Exabyte model 8705T
SM-arch for Windows NT, Enterprise Backup Edition
Server: 200MHz DTK Computer Dual Pentium Pro 128MB of RAM 4.2GB SCSI hard disk Adaptec 3940 SCSI interface card 2 HP Vectra P-120s with 16MB of RAM
Tape Drives: HP SureStore DAT24, HP SureStore DLT 30, Exabyte model 8705T