Dell PowerVault DL2000 Powered by Symantec

Executive Summary:
The Dell PowerVault DL2000 Powered by Symantec bundles a Dell PowerEdge 2950, a PowerVault MD external disk array, and Symantec Backup Exec into a solution that's intended to streamline setup and configuration of a backup system for companies having from 15 to 60 servers. It's a very good enterprise-level system, although not the turn-key solution it's portrayed as—if you don't have an experienced administrator, you'll likely want to get some help from a consultant to set it up.

Not every company has a dedicated administrator who's up to the challenges of implementing a complete backup solution. This is the gap that Dell's PowerVault DL2000 Powered by Symantec Backup Exec wants to fill. The DL2000 packages a Dell server and external disk array with Symantec's Backup Exec backup software into a solution that's intended to streamline setup and configuration of a backup system for companies having from 15 to 60 servers.


Dell PowerVault DL2000 Powered by Symantec Backup Exec

PROS: Reliable hardware; proven backup software; outstanding North America–based support
CONS: Little advantage over purchasing and configuring the components yourself; setup wizard encourages unnecessary configuration changes
RATING: 3 diamonds out of 5
PRICE: Starts at $14,000; $18,789 as tested, including 4TB raw (3TB usable) storage
RECOMMENDATION: The DL2000 is a very good bundle, but it isn't a turn-key solution. I recommend it as a good solution for anyone, but shops with inexperienced admins will need to make an additional investment in consulting time to configure it properly.
CONTACT: Dell • • 800-999-3355

The product I tested consisted of two boxes. One was a DL2000-labeled server (actually a standard PowerEdge 2950 under the covers), which had two 250GB drives and Windows Server 2008 Standard Edition and Backup Exec preinstalled. The second component was a PowerVault MD1000 external disk array with eight 8,500GB drives for a total of approximately 4TB raw storage and about 3TB of usable space (expandable to 180TB of raw storage or 144TB of usable space). You can add disk arrays and tape backup units to support business needs and accommodate growth.

After I racked the units, gave them standard 100-250V AC power, and cabled them together with the included Serial Attached SCSI cable, I powered everything on. I promptly ran into a snag when I tried to log on to Server 2008 Standard and didn’t know the default password. The password wasn't included with the unit and I couldn't find it in the web-based documentation.

I called support, but the technician who helped me didn’t know the password either; he had to do some research to find it. Although he wasn't familiar with the DL2000 or what it did, he was very helpful and genuinely interested in finding a solution. (I found it interesting that the server showed up on his screen as a 2950, not as a DL2000.) He even emailed me a direct link to the user's guide that lists the default password so that I'd have it for future reference. I highly recommend that Dell add a bright sticker printed with the default password to the front of the server—preferably on top of the power button—to reduce the number of support calls and eliminate the frustration that customers feel when they can't log on to their brand-new server.

When I finally did get logged on, the configuration wizard appeared. This wizard helps you with the basic server configuration, with settings for Default Password, Network, Hostname & Active Directory Domain, SNMP, and Disk. This screen has a couple of warnings about making sure that you have a network connection and that the MD1000 external disk array is connected and powered on. A little farther down on the page is text that alerts you to the fact that Backup Exec doesn't fully support User Account Control (UAC) and recommends that you turn it off if you aren't logged on as the default Administrator or default Domain Administrator. I found this lack of UAC support a little odd, to say the least—in my opinion, there's no excuse not to support this Windows security feature.

When you first log on, the nice console-like application in Figure 1 is on the desktop, apparently to keep inexperienced users away from server settings that they might misconfigure. The console shows the appliance status, available disk storage, and information such as the logged-on user and amount of server memory. You can launch Backup Exec from the console, and when you do so for the first time, you're greeted with the standard Backup Exec startup wizard, which walks you through setting up the backup devices (tape or disk) and media sets.

Because the system is marketed as a turn-key solution, I questioned the need to walk through this wizard. Dell told me that the appliance was created for companies that have little or no backup experience, but in that case, why prompt users to run through a wizard that will just confuse them? These questions prompted me to call tech support again and ask "Is it necessary to back up to a drive letter, as the wizard is prompting me?” The technician said that it was necessary, so I proceeded to create a backup-to-disk folder.

After completing the wizard, I found the folder I'd created in the Backup Exec program and on the physical drive. I also saw two backup devices, VIRTDISK 1 and VIRTDISK 2, that had been set up at the factory. There was no reason for me to set drive letters on these disks and configure them in Backup Exec after all; it had already been done for me! I've used Backup Exec many times and understand the concepts; however, someone new to the software could quickly become frustrated by this unnecessary configuration change.

The Software
Another hiccup that might fluster a new user is the task of adding the Backup Exec client to each computer that you want to back up. To install the agents, you need to find the wizard by going to the Tools menu, then clicking Install Agents and Media Servers on Other Server. However, this information was missing from the quick-start guide, even though it's an essential part of backing up other servers on the network.

As soon as I had the Backup Exec server configured and the agent installed on my production servers, I was ready to start backing up. I backed up Active Directory, Microsoft Exchange, and a Windows Vista workstation. I timed the Vista backup of 50GB over my simple 10/100 Ethernet network and realized a backup rate of well over 300MB per minute. Setting up backup jobs is easy with the step-by-step wizard, and editing existing jobs is simple. Symantec has kept the familiar Backup Exec interface over the years, despite continually adding new and exciting features.

The preloaded Backup Exec 12.5 worked flawlessly; it's a great enterprise-level backup solution. It can back up open files and almost any Novell or Windows machine, as well as Linux, UNIX, Apple Macintosh, Microsoft SQL Server, Exchange, SharePoint, Active Directory, IBM Lotus Domino, Oracle, and DB2. In recognition of the virtual environments that are increasingly becoming a part of our lives, Backup Exec also supports VMware Virtual Infrastructure and Microsoft’s Virtual Server. However, I couldn't find anything on Dell's site about support for Microsoft's more advanced Hyper-V virtualization technology.

It's been a few years since I've used Backup Exec, and I was surprised at some of its new features. The granularity of the restores is very impressive. Although the backup itself isn't a “brick level” backup of individual objects, Backup Exec's Granular Restore Technology (GRT) lets you restore individual email messages in Microsoft Exchange and single objects in Active Directory, as Figure 2 shows. GRT gives you the best of both worlds: Fast Information Store–level backups (brick-level backups are notoriously slow) and object-level restore.

Is It for You?
Both the Dell hardware and the Symantec software are great products and would earn high marks individually. But in my opinion, with the exception of having the disks provisioned, some additional monitoring tools, and Backup Exec preinstalled ahead of time, you're no better off than you'd be if you purchased the components individually. Those who are familiar with Backup Exec will appreciate that it's preinstalled and set up for you, but if you're experienced enough to configure everything yourself, you could save about $1,200 by buying the pieces separately. If you're inexperienced in backup concepts and implementation, you'll probably need to engage a Value Added Reseller to help you set it up. Dell can provide this service (for a fee) as well.

What's the final verdict? I have no reservations about recommending this product to someone who's well versed in how backups work. If you're new to backups, the DL2000 will be a good system for you, but you'll also need to invest in some consulting time to ensure that your project is successful, and that means looking harder at the price of the DL2000 compared with other solutions.

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