Two unusual network backup solutions

This month, in my ongoing review of backup solutions for Windows NT networks, I tested two packages, Stac's Replica and Barratt Edwards International's (BEI's) UltraBac 4.1. Each package proved its worth based on the merits of its functionality, and both solutions stand out from other packages because of the unorthodox approach they take to address backup and archival operations.

While vendors whose applications target Fortune 1000 companies are paring down their solutions to simplify implementation for small to midsize organizations, BEI and Stac are developing solutions that target ever-larger networks. Although neither company's upgraded solution was available as of this writing, some benefits of their soon-to-be-released kin were apparent in the evolving versions I tested.

In addition to these vendors are solutions providers, such as @Backup, that tout the Internet as the way to ensure safe, secure offsite archival and backup, and Eastman Kodak's OPEN/stor open file management product (for a review of this product, see Bob Chronister, "OPEN/stor," page 90).

All these choices mean you will have even more difficulty figuring out which product is best for your network. Although these packages have the same basic premise of information backup and archival, they are all very different.

Replica 3.0 for Windows NT Single Server Edition
Stac's backup software, Replica 3.0 for Windows NT Single Server Edition, reminds me of a racecar--it's fast and built only for speed, not versatility. For administrators, this limitation means you will forgo some features you'd expect from backup software, such as data encryption, virus scanning, or selecting the files or folders you want to back up, and you don't have a choice about incremental or differential backups.

The feature that makes Replica fast is the same feature that limits it--the software lets you back up only full drives or volumes at a time. The name Replica is appropriate because the product offers more replication than backup capability. Replica can quickly assemble and deliver a data stream to tape devices because it doesn't read file tables and individual file and folder information, but requests entire blocks of information at a time. Thus devices can record at full throttle, rather than continuously pit-stopping to wait for more information to come down the track.

On my test network, Replica produced a steady throughput of 130MB per minute (MBpm) when writing to the Lab's high-speed DLT device, as opposed to a high of 90MBpm with other backup software packages. Similarly, with Replica, the Lab's DDS recording device ran roughly 30 percent faster than with products using a more traditional recording methodology.

Replica's approach to file structures and how it selects the data it will back up is Spartan, but it has a scheduler that lets you decide when to back up. Like the rest of the software, the scheduler is straightforward and direct. With no incremental or differential backups to consider, the scheduler amounts to little more than a weekly calendar and a clock.

Replica's technology is useful for disaster recovery schemes. If you use Replica's three slightly modified NT setup disks with a fourth disaster recovery disk specific to Replica, the software can restore a system with a failed hard disk on the fly. In less than 30 minutes, I completely restored 2.7GB on the Lab's test server using the high-speed DLT drive. The software also tracks hard disk partitions and restores them with the rest of the data. (Be aware that Replica does not support proprietary disk partitions such as those that Compaq and HP use.) However, Replica will not let you adjust the size of the partitions during a restore, so you can't replace a crashed hard disk with a smaller disk.

Not being able to resize partitions irritated me, and I was miffed because Replica does not integrate the creation of the NT setup disks into its disaster recovery scenario--these disks are vital to the disaster recovery process. Further, a dialog box pops up to tell you to create the disks, but doesn't explain how to do it. Instead, the dialog box points you to NT's online documentation, where I searched for NT setup disks, set up, and disaster recovery without finding the information. To be fair, I'll admit Stac details the process in the printed manual, but I shouldn't have to go hunting.

Despite these annoyances, I found several features to like in Replica. The Direct Media Access feature is useful; because of Replica's method of recording disk information, you can access a recorded volume (e.g., an entire partitioned disk) as if it were a removable hard disk. Configuring a tape to access it this way is easy. I copied the C:\ partition of the network server to a DDS tape and selected Restore. With just a couple of mouse clicks, I mounted the media as an independent drive on the network, chose a drive letter to associate with it, and made it available to all authorized users. Replica mapped the new drive to the server and labeled it a Removable Disk, and I didn't have to reboot the server.

Replica lets you access the media as you access a drive: through Windows Explorer, Network Neighborhood, and so forth. Another nice feature is that you can access the "disk" after you shut down the Replica interface from the administrative machine. And, although this version of the software is not supposed to support multiple tape drives, it does. During backup, I was able to access a medium mounted as a removable disk.

Users can see information and even run programs from the tape, but on a read-only basis. As you might expect, running a program from the tape is time-consuming. The software took more than 20 seconds to open a small application stored on the Replica-created removable disk, as opposed to just over a second to open the same application resident on the local hard disk.

Stac ported the software to NT from NetWare, so you'll notice some similarities to the NetWare version. A small agent installed on the tape server where the recording devices are connected lets you install the administrative console software on a Windows 95 machine. This feature lets you access remote servers, such as those locked away in secure closets, for backup procedures without somebody having to be physically present at the machine. This procedure is odd for an NT network, but typical for a NetWare network because NetWare servers do not have a graphical interface. (Be aware that Replica's NT version does not support NetWare servers or workstations.)

Replica 3.0 is not a product targeting enterprise installations, but a single server edition that supports one tape drive. According to Stac, an enterprise edition of Replica will be available by the end of this year. It will support multiple tape devices, multiple servers, and robotic autoloaders.

For now, however, Replica 3.0 is a powerful tool that approaches backup from an entirely different angle. The interface, as shown in Screen 1, like the rest of the software, is relatively straightforward with only a few windows pertinent to its operation, and tabs within these windows make navigation a breeze. A full history of jobs is readily available, and a toolbar icon gives users direct access to a Web site that contains the latest information on the product. One option that I would really like this software to have is a functional right mouse button.

The lack of support for the numerous file structures in distributed environments, virus-checking capabilities, encryption, and support for incremental or differential backups will keep Replica's market share segmented. However, small to midsized businesses that need to protect their intellectual property in a hurry will be hard-pressed to find a faster product that's easier to use.

Replica 3.0 for Windows NT Single Server Edition

Contact: Stac * 619-794-3741 or 800-279-7822
Price: $499
System Requirements: Windows NT Server or Workstation 3.51 or 4.0, Windows NT-supported SCSI tape drive, 486 or higher Intel-based processor, IPX/SPX or TCP/IP network protocol, Network interface card

UltraBac 4.1
BEI's UltraBac 4.1 backup and recovery software reminds me of one of my favorite restaurants--it doesn't look like much on the outside, but the inside is full of pleasant surprises. The entire software package fits on two 1.44MB floppies and installs in less than a minute, which is impressive. The software is intuitive, informative, and robust (it even includes autoloader support).

When I first ran UltraBac, the interface did not impress me--it is a gray box with seven menu items and six buttons. However, my opinion changed quickly because the interface option names are intuitive; when you choose Mode, Select, Tools, or one of the others, you get what you'd expect.

For example, when you select Mode, you get the options Verify, Restore, Backup, or Cancel. When you highlight Select, you get the choice of including or excluding files by name, viewing the selection logic, and selecting the type of incremental backup you want to perform. This option is also where you select which tape device you will be using.

UltraBac works by backing up user-defined sets. After UltraBac creates a set, you can specify a variety of incremental backup methodologies including monthly, weekly, daily, and modified; also, you can specify the number of days between incremental backups. The software had no trouble identifying and operating the three SCSI tape devices hooked to my server and switching among them. To maximize the software's backup speed, the UltraBac engineers wrote device drivers for Exabyte, DLT, and DDS tape devices--I was running one of each. I installed the UltraBac-supplied drivers over the drivers that came with NT 4.0, but I didn't see any noticeable performance improvement.

Under Tools, you can select View Output Media Info to display a comprehensive list of the features and functionality of the selected tape device, and the properties of the media within the drive. This list includes password and write protection, compression, locking and unlocking, loading and unloading, filemark searching, and many other attributes--50 in all. I mention this list because I have tested many backup solutions, and haven't been able to view this information. To finally find a product that offers it, especially on one screen, was refreshing.

Another useful feature is that you can perform a quick erase in addition to the much more time-consuming secure erase. UltraBac also lets users define how long a particular job will be write-protected, and it provides a tape copying utility for making multiple copies of the same job.

When you run the scheduler for the first time, the software looks for other servers and prompts you to add them to a list of UltraBac-supported servers. Better still, UltraBac can install itself to other servers on the network and lets you monitor their progress remotely, using the UltraVue utility. The scheduler also lets you group several sets from different network resources for a consolidated backup operation. Backup logs come in three different flavors, depending on how much detail you prefer, and UltraBac supports email notification, tape ejection, and rewind.

UltraBac's documentation claims that you can run concurrent versions of the software on the same server. Just to see how far I could push this claim, I started three separate sessions of UltraBac that were backing up the same 1GB file to three different tape devices. I enabled software compression on each backup operation to identify how much of a load UltraBac could put on a server's CPU. After all three jobs were running, I opened the UltraVue system monitor to see what the system thought of my test. UltraVue correctly identified and tracked the progress of all three jobs, as shown in Screen 2, and placed the CPU under approximately a 50 percent load. My only question is how many SCSI devices can I run at the same time without seriously hindering performance?

BEI boasts that UltraBac is one of the fastest solutions on the market, which is a reasonable claim. I know of one package, Replica, that bulldozes its way through backups by downloading logical blocks of information from a disc sequentially, without regard to file or folder information. This method is not very elegant, but certainly effective. UltraBac effectively matches Replica's throughput on all the devices tested with the exception of the high-speed DLT drive--in this case, Replica was more than 30 percent faster than UltraBac's best.

However, by recording a digital image of hard disk to tape, UltraBac can mimic Replica for disaster recovery scenarios. By capturing disk information in this fashion, UltraBac maintains and restores disk partitions, so you cannot replace a failed disk that has less capacity. You'll want to shut down all other applications before capturing a disk image, because open files will not be correctly preserved. In all other ways, the recovery scenario worked well, and UltraBac restored my hard disk at the rate of 71MBpm using the DLT drive.

Selecting Options, Preferences from the main toolbar displays an easy-to-read and manage window with a slew of tabs that provide information about everything you need to know for a backup job. Here is where you tell UltraBac what compression to use, whether to record the Backup Registry, and the file attributes to include during the backup. The options are self-explanatory, and using the tabs to get from one option to the next is quick and easy.

Everything is not sugar and spice, however. Although there is a place to enter scripts to be run both before and after UltraBac completes backup operations, the software doesn't include any encryption or virus checking capabilities. And UltraBac doesn't support the right mouse button. Although UltraBac supports Windows 95, SQL, and Exchange through agents, this version won't be good for administrators with distributed multiplatform environments. Also, the software doesn't support writing data streams from multiple sources to the same tape drive concurrently--a must- have in large and very large networks.

If BEI really wants a seat at the Fortune 1000 table, the company will need to add some of this functionality to UltraBac, especially being able to write multiple data streams simultaneously to a single device. However, UltraBac includes enough delectable features that administrators of small to midsize networks won't likely be hungry for more.

UltraBac 4.1
Contact: Barratt Edwards International * 425-644-6000
Price: $1295 Enterprise, $795 Network Server, $495 Single Server, $295 Network Workstation, $149 Personal Edition
System Requirements: Windows NT Server or Workstation 3.51 or 4.0, Windows NT-supported SCSI tape drive, x86 or higher Intel-based processor, IPX/SPX or TCP/IP network protocol, Network interface card