Two Well-Established Backup Solutions

Computer Associates' ARCserve 6.5 and Legato Systems' NetWorker 4.4.1

As part of the Lab's ongoing effort to help systems administrators make informed decisions about choosing the best backup solution to protect their intellectual property, I've reviewed two more solutions. I tested Computer Associates' ARCserve 6.5 for Windows NT, Enterprise Edition and Legato Systems' NetWorker 4.4.1 Power Edition for Windows NT to determine the pitfalls and pluses of these two established products.

With ARCserve, Cheyenne, now a division of Computer Associates, has done what few other vendors have been able to accomplish: create a powerful backup solution that is easy to operate. By using tabs intelligently and combining like functions on single screens for control purposes, Computer Associates engineers have produced an interface that competing vendors need to look at. ARCserve also has its share of bells and whistles.

NetWorker has traditionally been the choice for administrators with very large, distributed networks. Legato Systems has been producing NetWorker for more than 10 years, and it offers IS professionals one of the most robust packages on the market. NetWorker supports more file structures and operating systems than any competing product. Although this package is powerful and loaded with features, it remains a solution that only those users familiar with Legato Systems' terminology can implement easily.

ARCserve 6.5 for Windows NT, Enterprise Edition
Computer Associates is on the right track with the latest iteration of its backup and archival solution, ARCserve 6.5 for Windows NT, Enterprise Edition. This full-featured software is easy to install. It instantly recognized my network and the recording devices attached to it. In less than 5 minutes, using one of the many wizards available in the opening screen of the software, I had my first backup job running with ARCserve.

You can choose from two different palettes of wizards in ARCserve:

  • The Wizard Quick Access palette, which includes Backup, Restore, Device, and Disaster Recovery/Boot Disk wizards
  • The Classic Quick Access palette, which has 15 different wizards that offer reports, media pool management, and data migration, among other features

When I clicked on the Backup wizard, a small, Explorer-like window opened and displayed the server drives with their partitions labeled and identified (NTFS or FAT), a check box for system Registry files, a Network icon, and a Cheyenne Agents icon. Screen 1, page 110, shows my network and clients.

You click the Network icon to display network clients. You can then select these clients to display their disk drives and a check box that you can select for backing up the client's Registry. This feature is nice because it reminds systems administrators that these files need to be backed up, and it offers an avenue to quickly rebuild systems that have failed for a reason other than a crashed hard disk. The Cheyenne Agents icon is where you define the platforms for ARCserve to back up. Your options include Windows 3.X, Windows 95, Windows NT, NetWare, OS/2, Macintosh, and UNIX.

After you select the files you want to back up, the program asks you which media group you want to use for the operation. (By default ARCserve loads each device separately into its own group.) After you select your media group, the software asks you what kind of backup you want to perform: full, for machines that have never been backed up, or incremental, for only the files that have changed since the last backup. The first time through the procedure, the default is to back up all the files because no incremental backups are available to compare against.

Another of ARCserve's nice features is that it keeps records of which machines have been fully backed up. ARCserve also keeps track of how long it's been since you performed a full backup.

The wizard's next screen lets you select a check box for data verification if you want to use this option. This screen is also where you can enable software compression. The last screen of the Backup wizard asks you when you want to start the backup operation: immediately or at a future scheduled time. The fully customizable backup scheduler lets you perform backups every minute, hour, day, week, or month. Finally, the Backup wizard asks you to label the job and then click Finish. Your job is scheduled and running—presumably forever.

This scenario doesn't work for backing up whole groups of machines, but it gives you an idea of how ARCserve works: You tell it what you want to do, what you need to do it, when to do it, and what you want to call the backup. Using the Restore wizard is equally intuitive.

Main Toolbar Is a Main Attraction
Although the various wizards are convenient, what sets this software apart from others is the main toolbar, a wizardless interface that is easy to use. The main toolbar provides a simple, straightforward interface to virtually all the options you need to define a job. It features three buttons: the Stoplight icon, the Options icon, and the Net icon.

After you highlight the files you want to back up, you click the Stoplight icon on the main toolbar to activate the scheduler. You can then click the Options icon on the main toolbar (this icon is a hand pointing to two canisters), which displays a window with nine different tabs. These tabs let you set everything from the archive bit adjustments on incremental backups, file encryption, and compression, to virus scanning, open file management, and a command-line prompt for ARCserve to run before or after a backup operation. This dialog box is also where you configure administrator notifications.

ARCserve has one of the most complete notification schemes I have seen. It includes support for Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP), email, fax, pager, Event Log, printer, Lotus Notes, Microsoft Exchange, and Computer Associates' Unicenter TNG enterprise management software. ARCserve comes bundled with the Unicenter Framework.

In addition to logging the standard events, such as a completed or failed job, ARCserve can define customized notification events. Regardless of which tab you select in the Options window, selecting any of the variables displays a short description of how your selection will affect the backup operation. This feature is great.

The third icon on the main toolbar is the Net icon, which filters the files that will be backed up. Users have the option to Include or Exclude particular files based on their extensions, attributes, modify dates (before, after, or between), access dates (before, after, or between), and directories.

Fast But Not Too Flexible
ARCserve is 32-bit and runs tape devices almost as fast as any product I have tested. The speed is fast because it bypasses NT drivers and instead writes data directly to the SCSI miniport.

Although this method is fast, it locks you into using a compatible (proprietary) Hierarchical Storage Management (HSM) solution, because both ARCserve and the HSM solution will need to access the tape drives. ARCserve can also use the NT drivers to access tape drives, which is the best configuration if other applications are accessing and sharing the tape drives.

Similar to most disaster recovery solutions, ARCserve requires three NT-created, ARCserve-modified disaster recovery floppies; it then adds a fourth ARCserve-specific diskette. A nice feature is that the disaster recovery routine includes the instructions on how to create the NT disks.

After making the disks and wiping all partitions from my server's 4.2GB hard disk, I started popping in the disks one by one. I was worried when ARCserve prompted me to repartition my hard disk before I had used my fourth ARCserve-specific disaster recovery floppy, but I persevered and repartitioned the hard disk in a configuration that was nothing like the original. I nearly called tech support when installation prompted me to insert the NT Workstation CD-ROM. This situation was looking a whole lot more like a reinstall of NT Workstation than reviving an old friend from a magnetic grave.

To my relief, a screen popped up and requested the fourth floppy. From this point, ARCserve prompted me again to repartition my hard disk, but this time it gave me a list of the disaster recovery sessions on the tape. The sessions included the size and location of the partitions including file structures, NTFS or FAT, and associated drive letters.

After ARCserve defined the partitions, it prompted me to reset the machine to start the process. My machine required a cold-boot to get going again, but when it came back up, ARCserve was spinning the tape drive and rebuilding the machine I had lost.

Still, this disaster recovery scheme needs a little help. It accounts for and lets you adjust the disk partitions, but my machine now says it has two FAT partitions rather than a FAT partition and an NTFS partition.

Although I ran the disaster recovery scenario several times, I could not get it to restore my NTFS partition. The data was there and ARCserve said it was going to bring back my data in NTFS, but all I got was FAT. This error is pretty serious for software that is otherwise very smooth.

After Computer Associates fixes the disaster recovery scenario, it needs to incorporate this scenario into the package rather than making you buy it as a $395 option. Including disaster recovery as an integral part of a backup solution just makes sense.

What you can't get with ARCserve is interleaving, or the ability to write multiple data streams to one tape device. This capability is a must-have in big enterprise installations; a Computer Associates representative told me that support is on the way. So, other than the absence of interleaving, the partitioning debacle, and an unreasonable disaster recovery pricing structure, what's not to like?

ARCserve 6.5 for Windows NT, Enterprise Edition
Contact: Computer Associates 516-465-5000 or 800-243-9462
Price: $1395
System Requirements: Windows NT Server or NT Workstation 3.51 or higher, x86 processor (call for availability of Digital Alpha-supported version), 16MB of RAM minimum; 32MB of RAM recommended CD-ROM drive
Storage: 30MB of hard disk space for ARCserve for Windows NT, 5MB of additional space for ARCserve database, 20MB of additional space if you use ARCserve Data Migration

NetWorker 4.4.1 Power Edition for Windows NT
To help introduce users to the latest version of its enterprise backup archival solution, NetWorker 4.4.1 Power Edition for Windows NT, Legato Systems includes a digitized, piano-playing bluesman to give you a guided tour. This bluesman walks you through some of the new features and functionality of the latest NetWorker iteration, and he even shows you a few simulated operations. But, if you really want to make some music with NetWorker, the bluesman needs to change his tune.

Although NetWorker has been available as a UNIX solution for a while, this year is only the second that a server version has been available for the NT platform, and the newness shows. Configuring NetWorker on NT is clumsy and is not very user friendly.

Although you can easily load the software to your server's hard disk, configuring the server and clients to work with NetWorker is more difficult. Legato Systems requires that your network be in tune with NetWorker's needs rather than in tune with your needs. To configure my NT network to operate in harmony with Networker, I had to first identify my two workstations and my server in the hosts file located in c:\winnt\system32\drivers\etc.

Legato Systems engineers told me I needed this setup because, for security, NetWorker performs a reverse verify on the IP address and hostname for each request it receives. However, of five other backup solutions I have tested, none required a Domain Name System (DNS) server or the hosts file configuration to operate. Administrators using Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP) also need to be aware that you have to reconfigure the server to operate with a fixed IP address because NetWorker licensing authorization is associated with a particular IP address.

Another Task, Another Hurdle
The next hurdle to clear with NetWorker was making it recognize my tape devices. Although Legato Systems representatives assured me the software does not typically encounter difficulty identifying devices, it didn't see mine. Even worse, getting the software to see the devices isn't easy.

By either going through the Tape Devices icon in Control Panel or running the Legato-inspired command-prompt program, Tapes, in c:\win32apps\nsr\bin\tapes, you first need to identify each tape device as NT sees it. Then you need to create a new device and associate a medium with the device (e.g., 4mm, 8mm 5GB, or DLT). Also, you will not be able to label the devices DLT, Exabyte, or whatever; NetWorker will always refer to them as devices \\.\Tape0, \\.\Tape1, and \\.\Tape2.

After you define the devices to NetWorker, it automatically adds them to a default device pool where they will be preconfigured to cascade from one device to the next when a given medium is full. This feature is nice, but you can't assign a device to back up a job unless you first create a pool that contains the device you want and assign that pool to the saveset you want to perform. A saveset is a collection of files or volumes targeted for backup.

NetWorker backs up, archives, or clones groups. Groups are culled from client machines, which have savesets identifying the drives and folders associated with a particular backup. In creating a saveset, you have the option of selecting from a list of predefined directives (NT, DOS, UNIX, and NetWare are supported) depending on the platform of your client. To include a client in a group, you first create the group, then add the client to the group and define its parameters, and finally define the parameters for the saveset.

I spent a day-and-a-half tinkering and talking to tech support to get my first NetWorker backup operation running. In contrast, I spent less than 30 minutes with other solutions I have tested.

However, NetWorker is considerably more scalable and full-featured than many of the others. In fact, NetWorker has so many options, I wondered whether all of them were necessary. After all, the objective is to back up and restore mission-critical data—nothing more. You shouldn't need a master's degree from Legato University to succeed in this mission, but unfortunately, you will.

Attributes Are Enduring
Some attributes that make NetWorker such a bear to get going are the same attributes that make it attractive to large businesses with very large enterprise installations. These attributes let you manage numerous NetWorker servers from a central location and run one NetWorker master service. A single NetWorker server will support up to 16 SCSI devices (tape or optical) and cascading media pools. You can even write up to 32 data streams from 32 different clients to a single medium simultaneously.

Writing to tape in this manner is called interleaving. This process simplifies backup operations by reducing the number of required media. It also speeds the backup process by eliminating network bottlenecks typically associated with backup routines that sequentially queue and execute client backups one by one.

In addition to its server-side Administrator interface, NetWorker also has User client software. You can install this software through Systems Management Server (SMS), which is ugly but effective, or manually at the client machine. With an Explorer-like interface, the NetWorker client looks like the traditional backup solutions I'm familiar with. It operates like them, too: You mark the drives and folders within the drives you want to back up and tell NetWorker when to go. The software does the rest.

NetWorker's other features include password protection, encryption, compression, incremental and differential backups, customizable scheduling, customizable directives, customizable administrator notification, distributed server support, remote access, media tracking and write-protection, autoloaders, jukeboxes, barcodes, and remote disaster recovery. NetWorker also supports symmetric multiprocessing (SMP) servers, NT Enterprise Edition Cluster Server, Macintosh, OS/2, UNIX, SQL Server, Exchange Server, NetWare, SAP R/3, Oracle, and Informix. Legato Systems representatives claim NetWorker supports more operating systems and data structures than any competing product. The product also supports many media devices.

Even with all these features, there are still some tasks that NetWorker just will not do. For starters, if you want email or pager notification, you will have to integrate a third-party solution. Although NetWorker supports a wide range of administrator notifications, these notifications are all sent via SNMP. If you want virus checking, you must use a different product.

Also, don't try to erase anything in NetWorker—this word is not in its vocabulary. You need to relabel a tape to reuse it. You can delete a failed job more easily (and perhaps only) by going to the NT Services directory and stopping the NetWorker application.

Learning Curve Will Be Slow
NetWorker's requirement that users become familiar with its odd terminology (e.g., using the word relabel instead of erase) and its convoluted protocol for setting up backup operations do little to ease a user's learning curve. The main interface, shown in Screen 2, like the software, has too much going on. It has three frames:

  • One detailing the network hierarchy
  • One for configuring clients, devices, and the like
  • One for monitoring operations

Two of the windows also have integrated tabs. This setup lets you easily apply the backup policy for one server or client to others by dragging properties, and the tabs let you quickly jump from variable to variable.

However, I don't think making the main interface do everything is a good idea—it's too cluttered. Thank goodness for a very functional right mouse button and a wonderful Field Help button on nearly every screen. These two features will help you discern what you need to do.

Overall, NetWorker feels like NT, NetWare, and UNIX all mixed together. I want an NT solution that supports NetWare, UNIX, and others, not a hodgepodge product that happens to run on NT, too.

If you are overseeing a very large distributed network with thousands of machines across the globe, you'll be familiar with the disparities among the operating systems, and be ready to meet the challenges of configuring NetWorker. But if you're running an NT-only network, Legato's NetWorker is more horsepower and hassle than you need.

NetWorker 4.4.1 Power Edition for Windows NT
Contact: Legato Systems 650-812-6000
Price: $5000 (includes support for 10 Wintel clients and all high-speed tape devices)
System Requirements: Windows NT Server or NT Workstation 3.51 with SP5, or NT 4.0 with SP3, NT-supported SCSI tape drive, CD-ROM drive
Server: 32MB of RAM, 44MB of hard disk space
Client: 16MB of RAM, 12MB of hard disk space
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