Saturday, 28 March 2009

Ooops; Time to backup

One of the biggest issues in IT is the subject of backups; they are a real PITA until you lose data, then they are sooooo important. The problem is that it's difficult to get users to set-up a sensible backup regime that they will actually use. And of course when they delete that important file or folder, and it turns out that it isn't backed up, it's all the IT dept's fault.

Over the years, I have tried numerous different products from the big vendors - they all have their good points and unfortunately, many faults. Several are complex to manage and with limited time and resources, it's difficult to maintain a good level of secure data backup. Personal opinion; many of them now are just too bloated with unnecessary addons - they might be needed by larger companies, who might have the people to spend all day managing them, but it's not what I need.

Anyway, just over a year ago, my Dell account manager told me about Microsoft Data Protection Manager 2007. I have to be honest, I was pretty sceptical- someone had sold me a similar thing through another supplier and it was an unmitigated disaster - we eventually got our money back, but it left me with a bad taste in my mouth as a result. Much against my better judgement, I bought one of Dell's PowerVault servers running MS Storage Server with the DPM software.

I have to say though, it was a really good decision; the product worked, literally straight out of the box. Within just a few minutes, we had started getting a secure disk to disk back up from a couple of servers. Later we added one of their MD1000 JBODS to increase the amount that could be stored. Now, with the one device, we do a disk to disk backup of all the servers at our site and at the 2 remotes sites as well; we don't have to rely on them to remember to swap the tapes over. We are even suggesting that we could backup servers in another country.

It operates during the day, synchronising with the data stores; it then creates recovery points automatically, from which we can restore as necessary. Occasionally, we take a quick look to make sure that it is still running - RDP to the server, check the "Protection Groups", all done in about 5 minutes. The Recovery console is pretty simple to use as well; search through the folder list, find the items to restore and press the recover button. Simples!

It also can be set-up to allow the end user to recover their own data (now I know what you are thinking, and I have to agree, who in their right mind would trust the average user to do a data restore?) In fact we limit it to a couple of very specific users that are smarter than the average bear and quite capable of doing it without causing even more damage. Yes, it works and they love it to bits. (I still wouldn't trust most of our users to do it though!)

Sounds too good to be true? Well yes, it has its faults. The data replication / synchronisation from the remote sites is a bit of a lengthy process - we have limited bandwidth and desperately need more (Are you listening Stephen Carter? 2MB by 2012 is NOT enough! We need 100MB NOW!)

We also had a problem with the tape backup process - turns out that the old autoloader was faulty. We bought a new Dell 124 tape loader, but still couldn't quite get it going. It would do a backup to tape, but only if the amount was under the tape limit; it wouldn't swap to a new tape automatically, which is what it is supposed to do.

Anyway, I spent just over an hour on the phone yesterday with one of the Dell support people. Now not so long ago, Dell support was an oxymoron; I have to say, it is pretty damn good now; their guys really know their stuff. Finally got it sorted and now the loader seems to be doing its thing as it should (still got to check it out).

As you can probably tell, my staff and I are pretty chuffed with this product. It has definitely improved our backup process - we reckon that we save about 1 to 2 hours a week. We used to have major issues with the tapes on the remote sites, and that is just a distant memory now. Data recovery is so easy, it's almost embarrassing - we had a young lad in on work experence, and even he could work out how to do it without loads of training.

Anyway, if you are a small or medium enterprise with limited resources having backup problems, or want to improve what you are doing, then I would suggest that the DPM Server product is something that is worth considering. Just to help, here's a link

There are loads of white papers / case studies / product notes on the Microsoft site, so you can get a bit more technical - but for me, the main thing is that it works, it works well, and it is very cost effective.

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