Veritas Tackles Offsite Backup
Storage Replicator is a fine alternative to failover.
- By Bryce Austin
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
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
|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.
Bryce Austin, MCSE, MCSA, MCP+I, CCNA, A+, is the Vice President of Information Systems for a financial services company in Minnesota.