Veritas’ Backup Exec (which used to be Seagate’s Backup Exec) is a Windows NT and Windows 2000 backup and restore facility. According to the company, Backup Exec is the world’s most widely used NT backup package, displacing products like ArcServe from the throne. Version 8 is the latest release of the product, arriving too late for inclusion in our wrap-up of backup and restore software in the last issue.

I’m very familiar with Backup Exec because I use it on my own network and have done so for over a year now. Every day, four backups are produced by the package, as well as occasional restores. In the year since Backup Exec replaced Computer Associate’s ArcServe IT as my primary backup solution, I’ve grown to both like and dislike Backup Exec. Here’s both sides of the story.

To begin with, Backup Exec is a simple to use backup and restore system. The software comes with a wizard that can guide you through the steps of producing a backup, as well as restoring from a backup. The wizard is a good tool to use when you’re learning the package, but I found after a few days I ignored it completely as everything you can do from the wizard you can do in half the time from the main menu. Still, as a front-end for inexperienced users, the wizard is a good tool. The documentation that accompanies Backup Exec is excellent: a thick perfect bound Administrator’s manual adds all the information you’ll need.

Backups can be orchestrated to any device connected to the Windows NT or 2000 system, but not to remote devices without a lot of remapping. During the backup procedure, a status window can be displayed that shows the progress. By default, there is no indication of the percentage complete because there is no estimate of the amount of time or the amount of data required to backup. This feature can be turned on with a menu option, and is highly recommended as it gives you a good idea of the progress at the expense of only a few minutes delay at the start of the backup. Backups can be easily scheduled for any time, recurring intervals, or immediate procedure. Restores are easy to do, as well, and can be redirected anywhere you want.

When Backup Exec processes a tape for the first time, it assigns a unique identifier to that tape. If you forget the label your tapes, you will regret the omission when it comes to restoring, as the default behavior of Backup Exec is to prompt for a tape identifier. You can catalog the tapes if you are not sure of the contents or their identifiers, but this is time-consuming. Also, by default, Backup Exec doesn’t keep track of the contents of a backup tape, just the directory names. If you want to restore one or two files from a backup, this is a major inconvenience. Cataloging the tape doesn’t solve this problem either. In the end, I just restore the whole tape and allow it to replace whatever is missing (a poor solution, but the easiest).

Backup Exec supports SANs (Storage Area Networks) as well as a wide variety of new devices. The latest release adds some handy features, such as automatic holiday scheduling capabilities, as well as SNMP notification. A virus scan has been added to the package, but this will need frequent data upgrades to stay current.

Performance of Backup Exec is good, but not stellar. I back up about 25GB of material four times a day from four different video production machines. A typical backup of 25GB to a Sony AIT 50/25GB cartridge can take four to six hours, which is slower than the same configuration running ArcServe IT. The network traffic can’t be blamed, because the backup machine and four video authoring systems are on a dedicated 100Mbps Ethernet network. The software compression scheme used by Backup Exec doesn’t seem too efficient, as there is usually no compression effect noticed on the video files. Granted, video files don’t compress too much, but even on a regular Windows NT main drive (operating system and applications), compression is usually less than 10%.

There’s a lot to like with Backup Exec: the menus are easy to work with, the windows are clear and usually helpful (although the restore process could be streamlined and more informative), and the system works reliably. In testing over 100 backups with Version 8, though, we had eight failures of a backup, only to be repeated with exactly the same directories and tapes and have them succeed. The error messages from Backup Exec usually indicated access errors to the networked drives being backed up, but the repeated process worked fine. Further, after 20 restores with Version 8, three didn’t restore completely, indicating invalid file types (usually .avi files). Again, repeating the restore cycle resulted in success, although one tape required four tries for a successful restore. We’re not sure why the aberrations, but they are annoying.

Version 8 of Backup Exec includes a RedHat client which allows you to control backup and restores from a RedHat Linux system (no other version of Linux is supported). The client still has to connect to the Windows NT server, but you could control most aspects of Backup Exec’s routines from the client without problem. If you need dedicated Linux backups with no NT host, Veritas also offers a package called NetBackup that alloiws network-wide Linux-based backups, albeit at a very expensive price. NetBackup is intended for large corporate use, while Backup Exec can be used on smaller networks.

Whether Backup Exec suits your needs depends on two things: do you need simple, almost ignorable backups of network drives, and are you willing to put up with the occasional hassle in a backup or restore (about 4% of the time). Backup Exec isn’t the only package to have idiosyncrasies, as ArcServe IT had similar traits. Backup Exec is easier to use than ArcServe and is friendlier. These are not inexpensive products, and they are Windows-only, but backups are a critical part of all system administration procedures. Finding the right tool to do the job often involves compromises. I’ve tested all the NT backup packages available and still use Backup Exec.

$795 (basic server version)
Backup Exec
400 International Parkway
FL 32746
407-531-7670 fax

Summary: Windows NT and Windows 2000 backup routine. Excellent documentation and useful wizard for newbies. A few annoyances, but still the best NT tool available.