Pick the software that has the functionality and features you need

Curious about which backup software has the features and the functionality that are right for your network? Welcome to the Windows NT Magazine Lab's backup software reviews. We put four backup software products through the wringer to see what they can do and what they can't do. (For information about how I tested these packages, see "The Lab's Test Configuration," page 88.) In each package, I found a trace of the software's historical lineage that appears through the various updates and revisions, and I saw definite signs of a market that is heating up.

HP's ongoing effort to migrate its OpenView OmniBack II (HP recently dropped the price of the OmniBack II by 81 percent) from a UNIX world to Windows NT has come with its fair share of troubles. Similarly, Seagate Software's latest release of the traditionally midrange Backup Exec, the basis for NT's system backup tools, finds that running with the enterprise pack involves thousands of workstations across multiple platforms, and takes more than just supporting an infinite number of servers. And both of these companies need to look at NovaStor's gadget-laden NovaBack+, a possible future contender. Last, let's not forget St. Bernard Software's backup solution: If you can't run with the big dogs, act as a plugin for them (for information about this option, see "Open File Manager," page 90).

OpenView OmniBack II
With the levels and degrees of data and media protection in HP's OpenView OmniBack II backup software, this application is the type you want to protect your company's data. Everything about OmniBack II is mission-critical, sort of like the software you'd expect to find on the space shuttle. I discovered this analogy is rather fitting, because you just might need to be a rocket scientist to install, configure, and operate the software.

On the mission-critical side, the software is extremely robust, and even well thought-out, especially in the way it deals with recording devices and their media. For example, in addition to offering on-the-fly data encryption as each new medium (tape, CD-ROM, etc.) is queued up in a recording device, the software assigns the medium an identification number that tracks the number of times it has been written to and how long it has been in the device. After 250 writes and rewrites or 36 months, the software considers the medium to be sufficiently compromised to warrant replacing. This feature is nice when your business depends on the integrity of your media.

Additionally, by enabling write-protection as a default, the 32-bit native software protects data from something accidentally overwriting it. Also, before it starts writing, OmniBack II determines whether a particular medium has enough room to hold all the data for a particular session. You can configure the software to access recording devices sequentially (cascading) for backing up significant amounts of data if one tape will be insufficient. Or when time is a consideration, you can configure the software to simultaneously write up to five modular data streams to one standalone medium. This capability is a big plus, particularly in large or very large installations where backing up hundreds or thousands of workstations, one at a time, is simply not realistic. Other device-specific features include the ability to configure redundant or auxiliary drives in the event of drive or media failure, and robotic-autoloader and magazine support, including barcode tracking and tape cleaning.

If you don't like waiting for software to do its thing, OmniBack II lets users set up and configure additional backup tasks while other operations are running--a nice feature and a potential time-saver. And this software does not lack features: To notify specific individuals of the status of various jobs, OmniBack can use email, HTML pages, Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP), HP OpenView IT/Operation, or any combination of these methods. The software supports remote access operation, is flexible about scheduling backups, and accounts for holidays in its internal calendar.

OmniBack II operates in a homogeneous NT environment or a mixed environment with NetWare and UNIX. Through application agents, OmniBack II supports Microsoft SQL Server 6.0 and 6.5, Microsoft Exchange 1.0 to 4.0, and SAP R/3 3.0. The software also supports the following file systems: NT FAT, VFAT, High-Performance File System (HPFS), and NTFS. OmniBack II also supports NT-specific registries, access control lists (ACLs), NTFS security objects, event logs, and extended file attributes.

You can push the OmniBack II client software across an NT network for installation and authorize client machines, with varying degrees of functionality--from restoring the information pertinent to only its operations, to full enterprisewide access with administrator permission. The software uses a cell structure to define areas of influence in an OmniBack II environment. A cell is a group of client machines, media agents, and recording devices that one cell server controls. Also, you can control multiple distributed backup environments (cells) centrally for enterprise installations.

As you would expect from a software package of this caliber, OmniBack II has built-in software compression--Lempel-Ziv 4.3--good for roughly 50 percent compression, depending on the type of data. When you use the built-in software compression, expect time delays--backing up my test file took about 25 percent longer with the software compression enabled.

A minor irritant is the lack of support for using the control and shift keys and a mouse to select numerous files simultaneously. Because most of the screens are based on the NT Explorer interface, as shown in Screen 1, I expected the software to have this capability.

My only real gripe with this package is installation and setup. The HP literature touts the intuitive design and easy installation of this package, but I wonder whether HP is describing the same software that I'm trying to use. For starters, when any package comes with a 150+ page booklet titled Concepts Guide, instead of Installation Guide or Operator's Manual, you can probably assume that intuitive doesn't apply to this software. In all fairness, this package is too large and too involved to install easily. And the documentation doesn't ease the learning curve. Perhaps that's why HP Professional Services offers the training course HP OmniBack II Implementation Assistance Program.

Not all administrators will find the installation so daunting. If you thoroughly understand the NT domain naming structure and the various permissions granted to individuals or groups of individuals, you shouldn't have too much trouble getting OmniBack II going. The software uses NT's domain naming structure to define its cells, and the TCP/IP protocol for communications.

As for the interface, I became familiar with it in a few days, but I wouldn't call it intuitive. That's a label I'll reserve for an interface that doesn't require opening multiple screens to perform one task, such as backing up data. Admittedly, when backing up networks, you must consider numerous variables: devices, security, encryption, hardware and software compression, scheduling, and the files you need to back up. A good interface puts the controls for as many variables as possible on one screen, which reduces errors an administrator can cause by failing to open a window to tweak a variable. Also, the OmniBack II GUIs include large, useless graphics, which to me do nothing more than take up perfectly good control space.

Overall, the power of this software, particularly the extensive enterprise scalability and multiplatform support and the way it deals with media, are impressive--some might call the software stellar. However, the interfaces and installation are enough to put you in orbit. I'd like the software more if the interfaces were more consolidated and if the documentation were better (i.e., step-by-step), rather than "you need to set all of this stuff like so" when "like so" is spread over five or six different menu screens.

NovaBack+ 5.0
If you are considering NovaStor's NovaBack+ for Windows NT as a backup solution for your network, be aware that this package does not support multiple domains. In fact, it can back up only those machines that are mapped to its hard disk. This limitation is a shame, because the engineers at NovaStor have created and integrated some truly ingenious weapons that would delight network administrators to have in their backup arsenal.

For starters, with the Internet and intranets as the logistical channel of choice for digitized communications and with the critical nature of backed-up data, the decision to use a software package that includes some form of virus detection seems to be a no-brainer. Surprisingly, finding this functionality integrated into backup software applications is far from the norm.

NovaStor added this functionality with Alwil's Avast32 virus-checking software and had the intelligence to make this functionality bidirectional--the software detects viruses both when writing and restoring. Better still, when I ran the virus scanner, it slowed recording time by just 11 percent--an entirely acceptable performance tradeoff if you consider the potential benefits.

NovaBack+, as seen in Screen 2, includes built-in software compression, which, like virus checking, is increasingly moving from the status of a luxury to that of a must-have. Most mass storage devices have some form of hardware compression built in. For those that don't, having software compression available in your backup program is like having the right change for a computerized tollbooth that doesn't take bills--the only way to go. NovaDisk+ uses Stac Electronic's compression algorithm, which achieved 22.3 percent compression on a mixed test file that included fonts, text, applications, images, and animations, with a marginal effect on performance.

The most intriguing aspect of this program is its disaster recovery scheme, NovaBoot. The NovaBoot routine resuscitates machines on your casualty list. NovaBoot walks users through the necessary steps to create a series of boot disks (seven for our network server). These boot disks, with a verified backup tape of the target machine's hard disk and an NT CD-ROM, pump life back into dead circuits. At least, that's the theory.

In reality, this sunny scenario didn't shine on my network. The first problem I encountered was a bug that stopped the machine from requesting all the disks in a restore set. After I fixed this problem, the application again halted prematurely when it didn't recognize the tape device I installed, or more accurately, couldn't decide which tape device was the right one. Fortunately, with the help of some heroic tech support, I quickly fixed the problem. However, after I got the backup tape to write back to my hard disk, the battle still wasn't over. I needed to use the NT boot disks (which the NovaBoot software created) and the NT Server CD-ROM to completely rebuild what I had destroyed.

A significant shortfall of the software is that it fails to identify partitions in a hard disk and their respective file sets. So, if your hard disk is partitioned and it has a melt down, you can't just pop in a new hard disk, run the NovaBoot restore disks, and get your system back. You'll need to know the size, file types, and identity of your disk partitions and remember where NT system files resided before the crash.

Despite the pummeling NovaBoot gave my partitioned hard disk, I managed to restore the system without compromising file integrity. However, this restoration wasn't very pretty, and I don't recommend that you wipe out your hard disk just to see whether NovaBoot works.

Although I had a few setbacks, I found many things I liked about this software. Among the benefits: support for new media devices through the ability to define and configure device parameters (the more I played with this feature, the more I liked it), multilanguage support (with the notable exception of Asian languages), a self-booting CD-ROM, and an uninstall program that removes all program files.

Despite NovaBack+'s good features, the program lacks functionality for the right-mouse button. Software designed for NT needs to abide by all its conventions. I would also like to see a quick-erase option with this package. I made the unwitting mistake of telling NovaBack+ to erase a tape at the beginning of the work day and was rather dismayed to wait about three hours for the software to complete a full, secure erase.

You also need to know that despite the confusing documentation, both online and in print, NovaBack+ has network support, albeit limited. The NovaBack+ QUICKSTART GUIDE does not mention networking capabilities. The online Help file contains one paragraph that mentions that you can map network drives; the online manual includes basically the same information, but it specifies that the networking option is available only from a workstation, which I later discovered isn't exactly true.

Much of this confusion centers on the configuration of your network. The software does not support the universal naming convention (UNC) that NT uses, so it does not recognize network drives unless you first use letters of the alphabet to map them to the server. After you complete this step, the software adds a Network option to the toolbar from the main menu, which lets LAN administrators map, back up, and restore up to 24 drives.

Even with NovaBack+'s endearing bells and whistles, this package strikes me as more a diamond in the rough than a real gem. The scheduler is just a bit too clunky; the disaster recovery scheme, although effective, is painful; NovaBack+ has little support for typical enterprise platforms and file structures; and the documentation could be a lot better. However, NovaStor doesn't ask an arm and a leg for this package, and you get the gamut of gadgetry to boot.

Backup Exec 7.0
The engineers at Seagate Software have spent the last two years searching their competitors' wares and picking items to include in the next version of Backup Exec. Backup Exec 7.0 (in beta 2 as of this writing) has grown from its midrange roots to a more robust solution aimed at large network installations, mostly through borrowing the structure and features of other solutions avail-able today.

Although numerous enhancements are in the new version of Backup Exec, none do more to move the software toward supporting hundreds or thousands of machines than advanced device and media management. Because you can designate a standalone drive for a particular job or you can configure a device pool, the size of backups is no longer restricted to available media capacity. In addition, version 7.0 lets users configure new tasks while others are running, and it allows concurrent writing of multiple jobs to multiple drives.

Other new features in this release include various levels of write-protection, autoloader support, and media tracking capabilities. The software even retires a medium if it produces too many errors during tasks. Seagate also improved notification: Through email, print, or pager, it can notify you of your backup operations' status.

The software will not write multiple modular data streams to one drive concurrently, as other packages do. This capability could come in very handy in enterprise installations where you need to back up several machines incrementally and only one recording device is available. Because network connections are typically the bottleneck in backup scenarios, giving the server the ability to write bits and pieces of data from multiple sources to one tape drive concurrently is a big advantage. Writing to media in this fashion necessitates more time for a restore than restoring from an uninterrupted data stream, but the benefits of having fewer tape drives, fewer media items that you need to move to an offsite location, and flat-out speed far outweigh this minor detraction.

Another feature you need in an enterprise version of any software package is the ability to distribute the application via the network to remote servers or workstations, which Backup Exec does, sort of. Using NT's built-in Systems Management Server (SMS), you can make an application available to other network servers. However, you cannot install the software remotely, but you can control Backup Exec servers from a central location after it is installed and operating. What you can install remotely is Agent Accelerator, the company's answer to speeding up data transfer rates on networked backups. Agent Accelerator prepares a compressed data stream on the client machine and sends this information to the backup server, thereby spreading out CPU-intensive tasks and minimizing networked traffic.

Another new feature is Seagate's version of disaster recovery, the Intelligent Disaster Recovery Option. This option is nice because it considers disk partitions when restoring a system that has bought the farm. Not only will the software reestablish the original partitions on your hard disk, but it lets you redefine disk partitions during a restore if the new hard disk has a different capacity from the one it is replacing.

Like many disaster recovery routines for NT, Backup Exec's disaster recovery uses three slightly modified setup and boot floppies created with the NT CD-ROM; unlike other backup programs, Backup Exec needs only one additional floppy. And when you make the fourth floppy (the only repository for critical restore information), Backup Exec prompts you to save the information on the fourth floppy in a folder somewhere on the network other than the machine that you are creating the disaster recovery floppies for.

To ensure that everything worked properly, I ran the disaster recovery scheme and deleted my hard disk and its partitions. Creating the four floppies was not too difficult. However, I found it strange that after I created the first three disaster recovery floppies, I needed to tell the software to run a verified backup before it prompted me for the fourth floppy. After you make the first three floppies, the software suddenly pops you out of the disaster recovery routine when the process is half done (the vendor claims that this problem was only in the beta version I tested). Only after you complete the first system backup and restart the disaster recovery scenario does the software prompt you to record the fourth floppy. This disaster recovery scheme is more confusing than it needs to be, but it is effective.

The 32-bit native software includes support for Microsoft BackOffice and has agents to support Microsoft SQL Server, Microsoft Exchange, NetWare, and IBM ADSTAR Distributed Storage Manager (ADSM). Another new feature in Backup Exec is the addition of Crystal Reports, which gives users a concise encapsulation of the status and condition of media, recording devices, backup jobs, and event logs.

This new version of Backup Exec has a new interface, as you see in Screen 3 . Some users will appreciate the 12 wizards that can do everything from configuring backup and restore tasks, to creating media sets and cascaded drive pools. Beyond the wizards, Seagate engineers have smartly used tabs on the main screen to give users fast access to all the options in the package. Backup Exec supports bubble windows on toolbar icons and has a functional right-mouse button. Users can highlight any item, whether it's a media device or a scheduled backup job, and by clicking the right-mouse button, they can get a full explanation of the item and the ability to edit or adjust any of its parameters or variables.

I disliked the backup wizard's window for selecting the files that I wanted to back up. This window is too narrow and cannot be resized sufficiently. I had difficulty seeing all the files and folders open on my network.

Something you won't notice, but are likely to benefit from, is Backup Exec's adoption of the component object model (COM) architecture. According to Seagate, the COM architecture will be compatible with NT 5.0. And because of the nature of the COM architecture, Seagate can upgrade and add to the software quickly and easily.

The new version of Backup Exec has made some very serious moves toward being a full-blown backup powerhouse. However, it's not there yet.

Backup Exec's roots are in the midrange market, and you can tell. Backup Exec's inability to push a full install of the software from a central server and the software's inability to write multiple modular data streams concurrently to one drive left me wanting more. And what about providing SAP R/3 (Oracle database) support, virus protection, and data encryption? I want these features too.

Don't get me wrong--I like the interface, installation, features, and truly intelligent and functional disaster recovery. But for backing up thousands of workstations overnight, this software needs a little more horsepower.

Backup Exec 7.0
Contact: Seagate Software
407-531-750 or 800-327-2232
Web: http://www.nsmg.seagatesoftware.com
Price: Single server edition $695; enterprise edition $1395
System Requirements: Windows NT Server or NT Workstation 3.51 or 4.0, Service Pack 5 or higher for NT 3.51, Service Pack 3 for NT 4.0, 486 or Pentium, 35MB of hard disk space, 24MB of RAM (32MB of RAM recommended), NIC
NovaBack+ 5.0
Contact: NovaStor
Web: http://www.novastor.com
Price: $69
System Requirements: Windows NT 3.51 or 4.0 or Windows 95, 32MB of RAM (recommended minimum), 10MB of hard disk space
Note: Internal datastore for all control/configuration data is 50MB to 150MB, and will grow over time
Open File Manager
Contact: St. Bernard Software
619-676-2277 or 800-782-3762
Web: http://www.stbernard.com
Price: $575
System Requirements:
Server: Windows NT Server 3.51 or NT Server 4.0, 500KB of available RAM, 500KB of available disk space
Workstation: Windows NT Workstation 3.51 or 4.0 or Windows 95, 500KB of available RAM, 1.1MB of available disk space
OpenView OmniBack II
Contact: HP * 800-752-0900
Web: http://www.hp.com
Price: $1500 for one tape drive, $1950 for three tape drives
System Requirements: Windows NT 4.0 or Windows 95, 64MB of RAM (recommended minimum), 40MB of hard disk space
Note: Internal datastore for all control/configuration data is 50MB to 150MB, and will grow over time