Product Reviews

Veritas Tackles Offsite Backup

Storage Replicator is a fine alternative to failover.

When my company president asked me to develop an offsite backup strategy, two thoughts came to mind—this could be a real headache, and could cost a bundle. Real-time backup programs are like sledgehammers—useful in certain situations, but dangerous if you’re not careful. With some reluctance, I went searching for an inexpensive software solution and found Veritas Storage Replicator (VSR). After several weeks of testing, I was pleasantly surprised.

Installation is a snap, and includes the ability to push the replication agent from the primary VSR server to remote computers. There are three pieces to the software: the replication agent (installed on all servers), the admin console (installed on as many servers as you want), and the replication management server (installed on only one server). I decided to install the replication management server on my offsite computer and the admin console on one computer onsite and one offsite.

The single biggest advantage VSR has over its competition is the interface. The creation and management of replication jobs is amazingly intuitive. My definition of intuitive is, "can I make it work without referring to the manual?" Yep, I can, and so could any competent administrator. Individual jobs can encompass an entire server’s file system or just a single file. Replication can be continuous or on a schedule. The status of each job can be displayed in a graphical or text representation, along with any error messages. If you don’t want to use the GUI, a complete command-line interface called srTool is also included. My favorite feature is job-specific bandwidth throttling, which allows allocation of a specific portion of your available bandwidth for use by VSR. I wanted to allocate half my T1 for backup purposes, which was no problem. I even went so far as to allow VSR to use 50 percent during business hours and 90 percent after hours. Granted, I had to set up two different jobs encompassing the same files, but VSR didn’t skip a beat.

Speaking of bandwidth, one small disappointment is that VSR doesn’t have any built-in encryption or compression for offsite links, but it does work well with any number of third-party solutions. At first, I attempted to use it over a link with a mobile-user VPN (a computer-to-firewall connection, rather than firewall-to-firewall), but with no luck. Then I bit the bullet and implemented a 3DES VPN using two brand-name firewalls, and the Veritas software allowed replication over the VPN link without any special modifications.

One of my big concerns was how well VSR would recover from a network or power failure. To that end, I tried rebooting source and target servers, simulating power outages, and pulling out network cables at will. Obviously Veritas thought long and hard about these possibilities, as the software automatically restarted active backups or synchronizations when the link between the servers was restored. This makes it much easier to deal with the occasional reboot, or when someone accidentally pulls out the wrong network cable (not that I’ve ever done anything like that…).

Not only can run-of-the-mill files be backed up, but whitepapers are available for the proper configuration of VSR to work with Exchange 5.5 and 2000, as well as SQL 7.0 and 2000. For those who have custom network-management applications, VSR includes a myriad of SNMP alerting options. Windows NT, 2000 and 2003 servers are all supported.

The cost per server simply can’t be beat, with street prices often falling below $1,000.

Veritas Storage Replicator 2.1
Configuring jobs is a snap with the Veritas GUI. (Click image to view larger version.)

Possible stumbling blocks with this software are few and far between, but worth mentioning. When I initially installed the software on our primary file server, the machine hung on reboot. It turns out that Arcserve 2000’s open file agent and Veritas’s filter driver are incompatible, which I would have known had I actually read the Readme file. I spoke to a Veritas senior technician, though, and found out that they develop within Microsoft APIs and participate in the Microsoft Developer plugfest. As mentioned previously, automatic failover to a target server isn’t supported, but Veritas supports VSR within a number of high-availability solutions (Microsoft Cluster Server and so on), making it a useful tool to add to uptime-critical applications. Also, since the software relies strictly on TCP/IP communication, network connections that include a NAT translation aren’t supported. Finally, backup of NFTS-encrypted files is not supported.

For an inexpensive, dependable, easy-to-use backup and live-time replication tool, VSR is truly a tough act to follow.

About the Author

Bryce Austin, MCSE, MCSA, MCP+I, CCNA, A+, is the Vice President of Information Systems for a financial services company in Minnesota.

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