View this month's Buyer's Guide

A good backup and recovery product is your best business-continuity insurance. Businesses can't afford downtime and its associated expense. But increasingly distributed and mobile business users require improved IT tools. This Buyer's Guide lists backup and recovery software that ranges from small-office-oriented products that offer disk-to-disk protection for local network servers to enterprise products that handle diverse requirements.

Backup Requirements

If you have mobile users, you need a product that can back them up while they're online. Satellite offices often don't have IT staff and need to be protected without being distracted from their business functions. Central offices that host mission-critical tasks need data-backup solutions that integrate with their disaster-recovery and business-continuity plans. Products that can encrypt data, both as it travels over public networks and when it's stored on media, enhance data security.

Sometimes real-time offsite data replication is necessary. Hierarchical storage systems, which mix online, near-line, and offline storage media, address business and legal data requirements and help you configure the most cost-efficient storage and backup method. The ability to interleave backup (i.e., stripe data across multiple backup devices) reduces the backup window for large databases, and the ability to produce multiplexed output (i.e., write multiple jobs to one storage system) makes backing up desktop systems more efficient. For those who have Network Attached Storage (NAS)— or Storage Area Network (SAN)—based data, look for a product that works with Network Data Management Protocol (NDMP) backup servers (for NAS) or serverless backup (for SAN).

Client Agents

Whether a product includes a client agent is another differentiating factor. Although desktop client agents add a level of implementation complexity, they also provide a more robust set of capabilities than software that doesn't use client agents. Nonagent software simply copies files from a file share on the target computer, whereas an agent lets the backup software actually monitor activity on the target computer and compress data before it traverses the network. Application-specific clients let the backup system communicate directly with the application (e.g., Microsoft SQL Server) to minimize application downtime and ensure backup integrity.

Timesaving Features

Overworked administrators will want to look for products that provide timesaving features. For example, when Windows Server 2003's Shadow Copies of Shared Folders feature isn't available, a product that empowers end users to recover their own files can save valuable time. Bare-metal restore speeds a broken server back into service and ensures that the new software configuration resembles the old one as closely as possible. "Hot" backups for database applications and database-oriented applications help safeguard data and minimize potential data loss. Multiple-target backups can make your backup instantly available to a remote site or create a second copy for offsite storage.

Operations Support

Do you have an SNMP-based management system? Some products integrate with such systems. Most—but not all—products support remote administration of multiple backup servers. We don't have room to include all features of interest in this comparison, so if you administer a large enterprise, ask vendors about job definition and scheduling facilities and about the structure of backup catalogs (i.e., databases that record which data was backed up, when it was backed up, and where it's stored). If you have a lot of backup servers, you'll probably want a centralized backup catalog and will want to know how to back it up and ensure its integrity.

Non-Windows Systems

No discussion of backup and recovery systems would be complete without recognizing that many data centers integrate Linux, Novell NetWare, UNIX, and other non-Windows systems. If that's the case in your business, be sure you choose a product that supports heterogeneous environments.

A Workable Solution

The halcyon days of backup and recovery, when copying small data sets to tape was enough, are long gone. Whatever challenges you face when it comes to protecting your organization's servers and data, you're likely to find a workable solution in this selection of backup and recovery applications.