|Executive Summary: Whether you administer a single Microsoft SharePoint server or a large farm, there's a backup and recovery solution tailored to your needs. We tested the latest offerings from Quest Software, AvePoint, Syntergy, and Symantec, and found a wide array of capabilities and features for users of Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 (MOSS 2007).|
A friend of mine had a tree he wanted to prune. The task seemed straightforward, and he thought he had the right tools, but the tree had other ideas. A branch broke and hit my friend on the back of the head. My friend managed to call the ambulance before he passed out. This story just goes to show that there are some things you need help with—for example, recovering data on Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 (MOSS 2007). As a Share- Point consultant, I commonly receive calls from clients who tried to deploy MOSS 2007 and failed. SharePoint is outside the realm of common experience in most IT departments, so third-party tools are often necessary to help you handle the new technology and avoid getting hit on the head by something that you didn’t realize could cause a problem.
Backing up MOSS 2007 correctly is one of those hazards. I evaluated four of the current MOSS 2007 backup offerings on the market. Let’s get started with the findings.
Recovery Manager for SharePoint
PROS: Allows granular recovery; can recover data from SharePoint databases; inexpensive; helpful installation process exposes problems before deployment; familiar interface
CONS: Requires a deeper-than-usual knowledge of SharePoint’s administrative interface and command-prompt tools
RATING: 4 out 5
PRICE: $4,995 per front-end server; request a quote at quest.com/products/
RECOMMENDATION: The uncomplicated interface and pared-down options make this a good, easy-to-use option for the junior administrator.
CONTACT: Quest Software • 949-754-8000 • www.quest.com/recovery-manager-for-sharepoint
Recovery Manager for SharePoint
Quest Software’s Recovery Manager for SharePoint focuses on data recovery rather than backup. To back up your sites and databases, you need to use either the built-in tools available on the Operations page of your Share- Point Central Administration page or the Stsadm commandline tool. Thus, using Recovery Manager requires knowledge of the built-in SharePoint backup tools. In fact, all the tools I evaluated require good knowledge of SharePoint and Microsoft SQL Server.
Recovery Manager runs as a component of Quest’s Site Administrator for SharePoint, which is included in Recovery Manager and will run a helpful diagnostic of your environment as part of the installation process prior to deployment. The diagnostic will state what prerequisites are needed for a successful installation. Depending on the configuration of your SharePoint farm, there could be Active Directory (AD) and SQL Server security requirements that need to be satisfied. The installation wizard will help you take the necessary steps.
Once installed, Recovery Manager discovers the backups that you create on the SharePoint Central Administration page and analyzes them so they can be accessed for the restoration of objects. If a user accidentally deletes a file, Recovery Manager can find it in a previous backup and you can easily restore it via the Windows Server Backup-style UI shown in Figure 1.
Administrators sometimes discover that they installed Share- Point incorrectly, and the only fix is to reinstall it, even though they might already have moved thousands of files from the file server to SharePoint document libraries. One great Recovery Manager feature is its ability to retrieve files in the content databases and restore them to an NTFS folder, even if the SharePoint application server isn’t working. This is a great get-out-of-jail-free card for seasoned as well as new SharePoint admins.
PROS: The most complete package reviewed; has additional tools for site collection management
CONS: Difficult learning curve; giant user manual; expensive
RATING: 4 ½ out of 5
PRICE: $2,995 per front-end server
RECOMMENDATION: If you have a large, complex, and busy SharePoint deployment, this is the package you want.
CONTACT: AvePoint • 800-661-6588 or 201-793- 1111 • www.avepoint.com
AvePoint’s DocAve is much more than a SharePoint backup product, including as it does modules for administration, compliance, and migration, but I focus on its backup capabilities here. I tried to deploy DocAve without opening the over-300-page PDF, but I don’t recommend it; several problems arose during installation that would trip up all but the most seasoned SharePoint admins. For example, I needed to create two SQL Server databases for the application to use, meaning that the installation account required SQL Server rights to create and access databases.
DocAve includes a complete backup and restore solution. DocAve is composed of three components: the server, the media server, and the client (i.e., the DocAve administration interface). All three components can be installed on the same server, but you wouldn’t want to use DocAve for a single-server Share- Point deployment. This product is designed for extensive SharePoint deployments that use many scheduled backups that depend on demographic usage of site collections and individual sites and face the complexities that come with indexing large list and document libraries.
SQL DBAs are familiar with the concept of removing unwanted backups that waste disk space on NAS or SANs. In DocAve, this task is called pruning. DocAve schedules pruning with “pruning rules” that are much like a SQL Server maintenance plan.
Other features include the ability to back up load-balanced front end servers. You can perform live, incremental, and differential backups, as Figure 2 shows. A unique scheduling “ring” is prominent in the interface and allows quick access to backup schedules for multiple site collections. You can also encrypt and compress the backups using a configurable data security plan. Live job monitoring and email notification keep you informed of the state of your environment.
SharePoint’s tools include some itemlevel backup ability, but DocAve goes further, letting you back up your SharePoint environment on every level, from the entire farm to a specific folder or list object. Restores can be as granular as an attachment, a document, or even a single version of a document—you can even restore an object’s metadata.
The goal of DocAve is to do an entire backup of all the easy-to-miss parts of the SharePoint environment, including sites, web applications, content databases, index servers, and the all-important Microsoft IIS settings required to access the sites in the databases. DocAve also lets you perform backups according to the way users need the services, which helps reduce the load on the processors when people are working (e.g., you could exclude a site from the normal scheduled backup because you knew the COO has a meeting on that site this week).
There are several well-thought-out features under the Data Protection tab on the DocAve control panel, including an option to back up workflows, a schedule carousel for a 3D iPhone-like graphical view of scheduled backups for complex environments, and a pruning feature for setting backup intervals. With so many options available, some users might be overwhelmed. However, DocAve rewards the effort you put into learning its features in the form of methods to control backup times, storage media, and backup granularity. In short (and it’s hard to be brief about this product), DocAve gives almost total backup control at all levels of the Share- Point farm. It’s a good product for SharePoint admins who are thoroughly familiar with their farm and can adapt the tool to their infrastructure.
Replicator for SharePoint Standard Edition
PROS: Eliminates the need to upgrade marginal bandwidth for remote-site replication; offers a unique approach to disaster recovery by using replicates on other production servers as a recovery source; vendor works closely with customers to help with customization
CONS: Expensive; not a true backup and recovery solution
RATING: 3 out of 5
PRICE: $25,000 for the first two servers and $7,500 for each additional server
RECOMMENDATION: This product should be used in conjunction with one of the other products tested here for backup and recovery of granular data in your content databases. For the right scenario, it provides a layer of data integrity that’s impossible with native tools alone.
CONTACT: Syntergy • 858-964-3243 • www.syntergy.com
Replicator for SharePoint Standard Edition
Syntergy Replicator for SharePoint addresses a part of the SharePoint world that the native product doesn’t: replication of data to another SharePoint site and continuous synchronization of data between sites. If you have intercontinental offices or corporate partnerships that need to share their sites and document structures, Replicator fills that need. Often SharePoint administrators don’t know how to bring together different sites, as in a corporate merger, without integrating the security of the companies. Replicator synchronizes library structures and version control across the enterprise, even if the collaboration is between different corporations with separate AD forests and the synchronization is bidirectional. For example, if a confidential document is checked out of a library in New York, a synchronized server in another company in London with a completely different AD domain will know about it in a very short time. If a site collection is lost in a corporate domain, the synchronized data acts like a hot spare of the lost libraries. You can even synchronize Web Parts in sites.
Replicator doesn’t run as a separate application, but integrates into SharePoint’s administration environment, as Figure 3 shows. Packet technology lets you control sessions over connections that might be interrupted, such as satellite links. For example, if a cruise ship were syncing its SharePoint server to a land-based server and the link went down, Replicator would hold the conversation until the link was reestablished. Likewise, you can publish documents to remote document libraries without worrying about failed or broken sessions. There’s also a feature for scheduling replication and synchronization.
To reduce bandwidth usage, the Remote Differential Compression feature lets you transfer only blocks of data that have changed in the document being synchronized. As for document security, Replicator replicates user and group permissions along with permissions assigned to a SharePoint list and uses HTTP and HTTPS protocols to avoid infrastructure changes. Because all replication is event driven, crawlers aren’t used and don’t burden your front-end servers.
There seems to be no limit to the number of remote offices that Replicator can interactively replicate and synchronize. Even with bandwidth limitations, the product allows for a cohesive collaboration model— imagine the server room on a luxury cruise liner as a replication site connected to the home port. I couldn’t test that scenario, of course, but it should get the attention of decision makers if their SharePoint deployment resembles this model.
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Another possible way to use Replicator is to synchronize to a nonproduction SharePoint server that’s used as a backup for a large development project that involves constantly changing functional specs, code updates, and business requirements. Syntergy provides a reduced price when Replicator is used in this way.
Backup Exec Agent for Microsoft SharePoint
Many shops already have an enterprise backup system in place and prefer to extend that investment rather than deploy a separate product. Symantec’s Backup Exec is almost ubiquitous as a backup solution in the enterprise, so it’s a real boon to all those customers that Symantec has released an agent for SharePoint environments.
Backup Exec Agent for Microsoft Share- Point supports all versions since (and including) SharePoint 2001, making it a good choice for sites that haven’t migrated because you can use the same backup agent after you upgrade your SharePoint farm. Backup Exec Agent for Microsoft SharePoint also is a good economic choice because it includes the backup agent for Microsoft SQL Server, which lets you back up the entire SharePoint farm first and perform the more granular restores later for those special circumstances when individual objects need to be retrieved.
The agent supports both 32-bit and 64-bit platforms and deployments ranging from small shops to server farms. The number of SharePoint backup agents will depend on the number of SharePoint front-end servers you deploy. You will need one agent per server, plus a Backup Exec Remote Agent, which allows normal backup of your operating system and the more conventional data that might be on your server.
Backup Exec Agent for Microsoft SharePoint
PROS: Performs well in basic backup and recovery of items in list and document libraries; includes the agent to back up the SQL Server databases; leverages existing Backup Exec infrastructure
CONS: Requires the basic Backup Exec server product
RATING: 3½ out of 5
PRICE: $1,095.99 for a single-server environment
RECOMMENDATION: This product is a logical choice for a shop that already has a Backup Exec system. If you need more than backup and restore, look at the other products reviewed in this article.
CONTACT: Symantec • 800-754-6054 • www.symantec.com
The interface, shown in Figure 4, is familiar, which makes for an easy learning curve for already busy administrators. Like Recovery Manager for Sharepoint and DocAve, Symantec designed this agent to deal with the reality that restoration involves mostly individual items, concentrating on granular retrieval, including document-version backups.
Backup Exec Agent also supports multiple versions of SQL Server. Thus if you start your SharePoint deployment as a pilot project using SQL Server Express, you can upgrade to SQL Server 2005 with no loss of agent support. Backup Exec Agent supports both disk-to-tape and disk-to-disk backups, which is important for organizations using NAS or iSCSI storage. Additionally, it has the advantage of extending an interface that’s already familiar to administrators.
Making the Choice
All four products reviewed reflect their vendor’s perception of what a SharePoint administrator needs. If you already have Backup Exec, you can’t go wrong by purchasing Backup Exec Agent for Microsoft SharePoint. Recovery Manager for Share- Point could be the right choice for administrators who are new to SharePoint (or just overworked), and it has a great price point. Replicator provides a unique method of disaster recovery that preserves the state of your SharePoint data, and DocAve is the total-control solution that large, dynamic SharePoint environments need. Although I was impressed with all the packages, DocAve 4.5 stands out as the most complete solution, and it’s my pick for Editor’s Choice.