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One of a systems administrator's most crucial responsibilities is backing up—and being able to restore—the enterprise's vital data. When choosing backup software, you must not only evaluate the product's backup features but also take a good look at its restoration and disaster-recovery capabilities to ensure that they meet your requirements. The size of your environment, the types of platforms you want to protect, and the type of backup strategy you want to deploy are the factors that will most influence you in determining which product best fits your needs.
If you work in a large environment, make sure that the solution you choose can scale with the environment. The ability to handle multiple storage libraries and networked storage in shared and multihosted configurations is important to companies with enormous amounts of data to back up. Performance is also an important concern for large environments. To maximize throughput, some software packages leverage the multiple drives and media in libraries by sending multiple concurrent data streams and interleaving data from multiple sources to media. Such functionality translates to performance gains on the backup side but can have negative implications for restores, so make sure the features are user-configurable so that you can choose the best approach for your environment. If you have more than one administrator for your backup environment, verify that multiple concurrent consoles are available. If you need flexibility, look for a product that supports browser-based consoles so that you can access the software from anywhere on your network.
Before you purchase a product, make sure it supports all the platforms you use and all the applications whose data you want to protect. Many enterprise-class backup products offer add-on agents to back up and restore to a diverse array of OSs and can perform live database and messaging server backups. If you're concerned about backing up Windows 2000 servers, find a product with backup and restore capability for Active Directory (AD) and the System State.
You might also want to consider the benefits of integrated disaster-recovery options, which can help you quickly and efficiently rebuild a crashed system. However, some RAID controllers nullify the usability of disaster-recovery boot disks. Before you invest in an integrated disaster-recovery option, make sure such a solution supports your hardware. To save yourself headaches and worry, make sure that the product includes mature implementations of the features that your mission-critical servers and applications require. You don't want to beta test the backup software you rely on.
Analyze your overall backup and recovery strategy. Look at the window of time you have to run scheduled backups and the frequency and type of backup jobs you need to run. Then, evaluate solutions that support both your scheduling needs and the hardware required to achieve the necessary throughput. Think about how you want to organize media so that you can maintain disaster-recovery and archive copies of media off-site and still perform restores efficiently. If you decide on a scheme that's difficult to handle manually, look for features within the software to help you automate the process.
After you consider all the features, you might still decide to spend some time evaluating a product demo to see how easy it is to configure and operate. Look at some simple tasks, such as installing remote agent software and configuring and scheduling backup jobs. You might also want to look at some disaster-recovery scenarios to determine whether the product is poised to bail you out of a worst-case scenario—that's where the largest Return on Investment (ROI) lies.