Basic Server Backup Just Got Easier

by Joseph Moran

Maxtor moves its external backup drive solution from the desktop to the server. It's not perfect, but if all you need is basic backup, this hits the mark.

Anyone who runs a business knows — or at least should know — that backing up your data is critical if you want to be able to survive and recover from unexpected nasty events. Backing a server up to tape has been the traditional method of data protection employed by small and large businesses alike, but tape backup schemes can be often be costly to implement and cumbersome to manage, especially for smaller organizations that may lack dedicated IT staff.

Maxtor aims to make data backup faster, easier and less expensive for these businesses with its One Touch II Small Business Edition, which is an adaptation of its line of external hard drives for desktop systems.

If you've used Maxtor's One Touch II for desktop systems you'll probably be comfortable with the Small Business Edition, because the hardware and software included with the two versions are similar, at least in most outward respects.

Both ship with Retrospect Express HD backup software from EMC/Dantz (the Small Business Edition is optimized for server backup), and the Small Business Edition's hard drive has only minor physical differences compared to its desktop brethren — it has a blue front fascia instead of grey and it lacks the FireWire ports that are present on many of the desktop models.

Unlike the desktop product line, the Small Business Edition currently is only available in a single capacity of 200GB. Taking a cue from the tape industry it targets, Maxtor also quotes a compressed capacity (compression performed by the Retrospect software) of up to 300 GB. To its credit, Maxtor arrives at this figure assuming a 3:2 compression ratio — or a 50 percent increase in capacity — which is a more realistic approach than the rarely attainable 2:1 compression (100 percent increase in capacity) quoted by most tape vendors.

The Maxtor One Touch II Small Business Edition is compatible with almost all versions of Windows 2000 and 2003 Server including the Small Business Editions.

Maintaining Ease-of-Use
Setting up the One Touch II Small Business Edition is a very simple task. The drive connects to a USB port on a server (the drive supports both USB 2.0 and 1.1, but use 2.0 for optimal performance) and the operating system automatically recognizes and configures it. Afterward, you just need to install the maintenance and backup utilities.

Most backup utilities have a reputation of being as easy to understand as the U.S. tax code, but Retrospect Express HD takes a markedly different approach. It doesn't present the operator with a Byzantine array of configuration options — in fact, there are almost no self-configurable settings at all. Instead you get a short wizard, in which you simply choose the backup source (i.e. the entire system, specific files and folders, or only certain file types) and then select the external hard drive as the backup destination. You can use the button on the front of the drive to initiate a backup, or schedule them to take place automatically at specific times or days of the week (or daily). Retrospect verifies each backup automatically once it's completed.

Choose Your Backup — The Retrospect software lets you select which data you want to save: all of it, specific files and folders or file types.

Restoration Software
Retrospect saves a completed backup to the hard drive as a "restore point". The backed-up data is not stored on a file-by-file basis but rather amalgamated into a series of "image" files. To conserve disk capacity, subsequent backups include only new or changed files.

When the time comes to restore data, you can simply select a specific restore point and Retrospect consults its catalogs and uses as many of the restore points as necessary to reconstruct the data as it existed at the desired time.

To prevent backup failures for a lack of disk space, Retrospect automatically erases the oldest restore points whenever space gets tight, but you can designate any restore point as "locked" to prevent this erasure.

Retrospect's restore point method combined with the serial access of a hard drive (rather than tape's linear nature) is undoubtedly a more efficient and speedier way to both backup and restore data than by juggling numerous tapes in a rotation.

In Retrospect, Nothing's Perfect
But while Retrospect's minimalist approach staves off a lot of backup-induced frustration, its simplicity comes with drawbacks.

For example, most backup utilities offer software agents for special applications like e-mail servers and databases to ensure that their data files are up-to-date before being backed up. Retrospect in contrast treats all files and folders the same, so while it can back up open files that are constantly in use (like a Microsoft Exchange data store for example), the backed up file may not reflect the true state of the user mailboxes when the backup was performed. As a result, restoring an Exchange data store file from Retrospect would likely result in the loss of recent messages.

Also, there's no disaster recovery option to hasten recovery from a total system failure. If a complete hard drive restore proves necessary, you must first re-install the operating system, any relevant service packs and the Retrospect software before performing the restore.

In addition to the Retrospect software, Maxtor's One Touch II Small Business Edition ships with small utility that can be installed on any client system on the network and used to remotely initiate and monitor the progress of backup operations. You can also configure it to send e-mail notifications upon backup failures or other notable events.

While useful, the utility suffers from a shortcoming in that having e-mail notifications sent from the client utility rather than the server itself depends on that client system functioning properly and being connected to the network, which of course may not always be the case. A way around this would be to install the client on several systems (including the server itself), but that could result in duplicate notifications if each was configured for e-mail notification. Having notifications issued directly by the server software is a better solution.

One disadvantage to hard drive backup in general is that any connected drive is vulnerable to a host of wide-ranging systemic problems like a power surge, virus attack or a natural or man-made disaster. (By comparison, a tape can be easily rotated off-premises for an added measure of protection.) To ameliorate this limitation, Maxtor recommends using two or more drives in rotation, keeping one off-site at all times. The company says any Maxtor external drive will work for this purpose. (But based on my time with the product, Retrospect seems to work with any kind of external drive from any vendor.)

With a list price of $599.99, the One Touch II Small Business Edition is more than double the price of Maxtor's equivalent product for desktops. However, when you consider that $599.99 is less than the cost of most backup utilities (before even considering the cost of hardware, tape media, and additional software options) the One Touch II Small Business Edition seems like a bargain. Adding another drive for off-site backup storage will of course increase the cost of Maxtor's solution, but in most cases it still compares favorably with tape.

Bottom Line
Maxtor's One Touch II Small Business Edition does deliver on its promise to make backing up data faster, easier and less expensive than using tape. The Retrospect software will be too simplistic for some who need a degree of backup customization, but if just need basic backup, the One Touch II Small Business Edition makes the job as easy as it can possibly be.

Pros: Extremely simple interface; fast backup and restore
Cons: No disaster recovery option; no agents for special applications

Joe Moran spent six years as an editor and analyst with Ziff-Davis Publishing and several more as a freelance product reviewer. He's also worked in technology public relations and as a corporate IT manager, and he's currently principal of Neighborhood Techs, a technology service firm in St. Petersburg, FL. He holds several industry certifications, including Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE) and Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA).

Do you have a comment or question about this article or other small business topics in general? Speak out in the SmallBusinessComputing.com Forums. Join the discussion today!

This article was originally published on Wednesday Jun 29th 2005
Mobile Site | Full Site