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I work for a small school that has two Windows 2003 servers. I'm trying to get a grip on cost-effective strategies to handle the failure of one or both servers. I come from a UNIX background, so I understand the various strategies and trade-offs I might use in that world, but I have only about 8 months worth of experience in the Windows server world.

Right we have Norton Backup Exec 12 doing backups to two separate low-end CIFS NAS boxes. Each NAS box has a full set of backups.

All this was set up before I started with this school. My real goal is to take an old server box and use the backups to do a restore, both to demonstrate that the backups work and so that I can document the process in the event of a real failure.

Another goal I've been given is to get an off-site backup. My idea was to setup a Linux box, take a local copy of all the files written by Norton Backup on one of of the CIFS NASes, then move that Linux box out of the building and keep it up to date with rsync. But the NAS boxes don't support rsync, and so far I haven't been able to get Norton Backup Exec to do a backup to a local Linux box running SAMBA. (I'm assuming that it is best to do an rsync of the Norton Backup files because Norton Backup keeps track of NTFS permissions and any other Windows metadata that might be lost by trying to rsync directly from Windows Server to Linux.)

Other Requirements/Constraints:

  • The two servers each have 500 gig of RAID 1 storage. A full backup of both servers using Backup Exec takes about 650 gig.
  • We can afford to be down for a day or so - long enough to do a full restore if needed.
  • We can't afford an off-site stand-by server.
  • We have some older server boxes that we can use to make this all work.
  • We have a business class cable internet connection with about 2mbits upload - fast enough to do some incremental backup out to an off-site server over night.

Is Norton Backup Exec the reasonable way to go? I don't know much about it, and it certainly isn't helping with the off-site incremental backup problem. Will Norton Backup handle a bare-metal restore? Our support contract with Norton has expired, so I can't get any help on this from them without more money.

Given my constraints, is there a better way to handle this? Is there a better backup package or strategy suited to our small shop needs?

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4 Answers 4

The hard bit of a backup is the bare metal restore. Users files are, after all, just user files and can be easily backed up and restored in a wide variety of ways.

If your C: partition is small enough then I recommend using one of the many partition snapshot apps. My own favorite is Drive Snapshot (www.drivesnapshot.de), which I've used for several years, but there are several similar products out there. Drive Snapshot takes a sector level copy of a partition and (this is the impressive bit) it can copy the system partition while the server is running. If you lose the server you simply boot off a WinPE (or BartPE) CD and use Drive Snapshot to copy the snapshot back onto the disk. Snapshot can even create the partitions for you from the info stored in the snapshot. I've done this in anger, and under considerable stress, and Drive Snapshot has never let me down.

I tend to use tape for Backups where I can, as you can take the tapes off site, but I do have some servers that backup to a NAS device. Whichever the case, I have the backup script run Snapshot, then either write the snapshot file to tape and/or copy it to a NAS box. If the snapshot isn't too big I keep the last week or so copies of the daily snapshot file.

Re rsync, I use this a lot myself, but on Windows you'd be using the Cygwin rsync and this tends to hang when syncing folders with a lot (e.g. 100,000) of files. If you're syncing on a LAN there are more reliable alternatives. An app called "reconcile" is my own favourite, but then I wrote it :-) See http://www.ratsauce.co.uk/winsrc/ if you want a play. If you're syncing through a WAN link then rsync is the obvious way to do it.

Some other fairly obvious points that you probably already considered. Is if possible to upgrade the disks in the two servers to provide enough space for the servers to sync to each other? Then you could lose one server and have the remaining one take up the slack. Also note that in general you can't restore a system partition from one server onto another with different hardware and expect it to work very well. If the disk controllers are identical it will probably boot, but you'll lose the network config.

One last point (possibly more for the future) for application servers like Exchange servers I tend to use virtualisation these days. VMWare works very well on Server 2003 or of course Hyper-V is built into Server 2008. Virtual servers are very easy to backup because you just copy the files from the host server.

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Is Norton Backup Exec the reasonable way to go?

The last time I used it, it was Seagate Backup Exec, so it's been awhile. I can only assume it works pretty much the same.

Will Norton Backup handle a bare-metal restore?

Given this article, it sounds like it was introduced around 2006 as an optional package. You might want to double-check your installation to see if it's included. Most commercial backups have additional options that are a separate purchase, so if you don't see it listed, you probably don't have it.

Given my constraints, is there a better way to handle this?

Certainly! There are lots of solutions out there. And you can roll your own as well (see below)...

Is there a better backup package or strategy suited to our small shop needs?

We've used Retrospect for some time now, and while it's a bit simpler (and requires more pointy-clicky), it has worked for us on the occasions that it's been needed. It comes with client software for Windows, OS X, and Linux, and has a reasonable license scheme.

Another option: use robocopy to move files and permissions to a share on a computer that supports NT ACLs, then make the backup from that. Simplify it further: get an external eSATA case, a set of drive trays, and buy a set of drives, and rotate the drives like they were tapes. When you do your robocopy, do it directly to the drive, so robocopy effectively becomes the backup solution. To restore, attach the drive and use robocopy to reverse process.

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+1 Retrospect: Reasonable price, easy to setup/learn/use, works well with disks as it 'grooms' disk backups when allocated space is low - grooming removes older backups to make room for new ones, and it tries to keep 1 per day for the last week, 1 per week for the last month, etc. –  jmsmcfrlnd Jul 9 '09 at 3:02

A point of history: Originally Seagate Backup Exec, then Veritas Backup Exec, now Symantec (not Norton) Backup exec, current version is Symantec Backup Exec 11.

Backup Exec 11 (BE) is actually a very capable product and, since you already have it, I wouldn't go looking for anything else. If you set up your media sensibly and let BE manage it, then you should be able to happily eject a drive occasionally and take it off site. I think that's probably the easiest way for you to get an offsite backup - carry the media offsite. Symantec does have a related product called Continuous Protection Server which could be used to stream small incremental backups to an offsite storage server, but it seems like overkill in your situation.

A simple file copy tool like RoboCopy is too simplistic for server backup and ignores the fact that at any given moment hundreds of files will be in use and need a technology like Volume Shadow Copy to ensure they are backed up successfully. Things like Active Directory, SQL databases, exchange mailbox stores, all need a better approach than simply trying to copy the files. BE handles these situations fairly well.

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Best backup software: PCNumen Backukp - http://www.pcnumen.com

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I'd like to see some additional comment about why this is so - I've never heard of this software, so this all on it's own just looks like an advertisement. –  Paul Holbrook Oct 9 '09 at 17:35

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