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We're running Windows Server 2003 SBS and another machine with Server 2003 Standard on it. The SBS server is about 7 years old running pretty much 24/7 - a HP server of some description. We have an Ultrium 448 cycling LTO2 400GB tapes daily and incrementally backing up approximately 100gb worth of data (20gb C:\ and system state, 40gb exchange, 40gb database for some crap marketing software) on BackupExec 10D. As of 5 months ago, the backups have been consistently failing with IO errors, bad reads and some write errors.

When I say consistent, I mean every time and we haven't had a proper backup for the entire 5 months - So if the server explodes tomorrow, 7 years worth of data will just cease to exist. I've only just recently rejoined the company and am looking at rectifying the more concerning problems, so the first thing I did was try a backup to an USB2.0 external drive. It was excruciatingly slow. In fact it was so slow it took 40 hours and it still wasn't finished. I ended up cancelling it and reconfiguring the selections again to reduce file size. This, however, isn't a permanent solution.

I concluded that the IO error was either from a faulty tape drive (which has a tape stuck in there right now and not coming out) or from a dying SCSI controller. Neither of them are good news and both are extremely expensive to fix. I'm operating on an extremely low budget so have been looking at outsourcing the backups.

A company in Sydney (where I'm located) offer incremental online backups via a NAS. It costs almost double a new tape drive but offers monthly repayments which will let us get through times when cash flow is minimal. It seems like a sweet deal but it is still a little bit pricey. So I'm looking for a cheaper, yet reliable solution. Maybe some in-house NAS or something offsite? The idea is to avoid using tapes.

Are there any recommendations for rectifying my current situation? Or are tapes the only way to go? I'm concerned that the server will die one day in the near future and I must be able to restore it to another server with different hardware.

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4 Answers 4

There are some good discussions on backup already on Server Fault. I'd have a look at them:

I notice that you're already ruling out tape. I'd do a cost-benefit analysis of the alternatives pitted against tape before dismissing tape out of hand. It sounds to me like you've either got a bum SCSI controller, cable, or bum tape drive and it's unfortunate that it has soured you on tape because tape can be very reliable and robust.

I did some calculations a few months ago (posted on Server Fault in one of the questions above, but not updated) and found that tape wasn't necessarily the most expensive route. Call me a traditionalist, but tape has worked very well for me and my Customers, and has proven to be reliable and suitable for disaster recovery. I tend to think that a lot of the "horror stories" associated with tape being unreliable often stem from backup strategies that don't involve testing of the backups after-the-fact. As is often said, backup isn't about backup-- it's about being able to restore.

Having a maintenance agreement for your hardware is, obviously, a component of any robust solution as well. You state that you need a backup you can restore to other hardware, but I'd caution you that your SBS server's "System State" backups aren't restorable by any Microsoft-supported means to alternative hardware. Hopefully your other server is a domain controller, since you'll be losing Active Directory (and, thus, making your Exchange data fairly difficult to get at) if you lose that SBS Server computer.

Having a maintenance agreement on the tape drive and / or server would get you out of the mess that you're in, in this case. It's particularly critical since you've currently got a backup, assuming you don't have another domain controller, for which you really need the identical server hardware available for restore.

You shouldn't center your whole backup regime around writing backups to an on-site storage device. Backup is off-site and offline. Anything less isn't backup.

I'd question if you can restore fast enough to get back up and running in a timely fashion if your main backup is an off-site device and accessible only through your Internet connection. If your renmote backup provider has a provision to ship you a physical storage device I could see that working. If you have to download your entire backup corpus over a consumer Internet connection, though, I'd think that you'd be talking about at least a couple of days to get everything back up and running. Ouch!

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What do you mean by "aren't restorable by any Microsoft-supported means"? Are there ways around this? –  atomicharri Oct 23 '09 at 4:59
    
Here's what Microsoft has to say about restore scenarios for restoring the System State: support.microsoft.com/kb/249694 –  Evan Anderson Oct 23 '09 at 5:51
    
+1, almost like you read mah mind! –  Darth Satan Oct 23 '09 at 8:54

Unless you have a compelling reason to change your strategy (and I can't see anything in your post to suggest that you do - You're well within capacity. LTO2 is still widely available and used, throughput speed/window problems weren't mentioned so I assume not a problem), I recommend sticking with your current system. If a component has failed, replace it like-for-like. LTO 2 drives are still widely available.

Tape backups are not a legacy concept. They're still 100% relevant today, and widely used in most medium and enterprise businesses.

I hate to ask the obvious questions, but lets cover them off just in case: Has the tape drive been taking a cleaning tape regularly (every couple of weeks)? Has the server been rebooted/backup exec services been restarted? Have any Windows patches been applied recently? Have any other configuration changes been made to the server? Is the SCSI cable terminated properly? Have you tried swapping the SCSI cable for a replacement?

I'm always very wary of using a component failure as the business driver to move to a 'new and improved' system. The quickest way of getting a successful backup is likely to be replacing the tape deck with another tape deck.

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+1 for "Tape backups are not a legacy concept". If only hard drive technology was as advanced as modern tape drive technology. –  John Gardeniers Jul 12 '10 at 8:15

As I stated in an answer to another post, I don't like the idea of using any type of hard drive based media for permanent backups. I think they're fine for short term, near-line backups but I wouldn't want to rely on them for my long term, off-site, off-line, or archival backup needs. My recommendation would be to utilize them (if you must) for your daily backups combined with backups to tape of the same data for your off-site, long term backup needs (backup to disk, then back up the disk backups to tape).

I certainly wouldn't rely on any "online" backup provider to fill my primary backup needs. They'd be fine for maintaining a copy of the backup for off-site and archival needs as an augmentation to tape backup. How long would it take to backup to their service? what happens if they go out of business or their facility burns down? What if you need access to your data at 3AM?

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I definitely wouldn't trust an online backup that seemingly exists only virtually. I met with these online backup people and they have a local presence. Basically, the server backs up to a NAS, the NAS sends encrypted data incrementally over to their servers, they transfer the data onto DVD/tapes, I can go and pick these up or they can hold it for me. Best thing is that they're only 15 minutes away from the office and I even had a tour of their facilities. Downside is that they are quite costly in aggregation. –  atomicharri Oct 23 '09 at 4:57
    
@E3: That sounds pretty nice, actually. I wonder how the cost compares to doing your own disk-to-disk-to-tape in-house, over the long haul. –  Evan Anderson Oct 23 '09 at 5:50

Buy a blu-ray external USB drive, and make some backups there.

It is cheap, and with 50GB in each disk (double layer) each of your savesets will comfortably fit in only one disk.

After you have that set up (it is a bit uncomfortable to change disks, but it is a temporary solution) you can think on better alternatives with more time ahead and no pressure.

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