Product Reviews

Take the Pain Out of Backups

The 3X Remote Backup Appliance is a useful system that can serve as your company's private backup cloud.

You're a computer consultant for several companies in your area. You've installed tape backup systems for several of your customers and have shown them how to rotate the tapes to make sure they're backing up their data. It seems like a typical Monday morning to you, but then your cell phone rings and you get this panicked call from one of your customers. He's going on and on about how his company's Microsoft Small Business server got flooded due to a water leak in the building.

You start to tell him not to worry, as you have the data on tape. You ask if his IT people have been following the prescribed backup procedure you set up for them. Then, it's as if the phone goes dead. Your customer tells you that they haven't changed out the tape in weeks and, even worse, they haven't been putting in any tapes at all. So, they have no backup.

How many times have you received a call like this? How many times has one of your road warriors called from the road with a broken or stolen laptop with all of the critical data he needs for those critical presentations now gone? This is where the 3X Remote Backup Appliance (RBA) comes to the rescue.

RBA comes to us from 3X Systems. 3X allows you to set up your own private backup cloud that turns you into your own backup service provider. The 3X RBA is an appliance that makes it quick and easy for you to back up not only your workstations but also file servers, Microsoft Exchange and SQL Servers. The appliance comes in three flavors: 500, Tera and Enterprise. The main difference between the units is how much storage space you have for your backups and the physical footprint. The 500 and the Tera are similar, both coming in a cube or 1U rack-mounted appliance with storage capacity ranging from 100GB to 2TB. The Enterprise -- with an expected release date of Q2 2010 -- will come in a 2U form factor but will have storage ranging from 1.5TB to 6TB.

The good news is that all units support data de-duplication, which will help you maximize your backup storage space on the appliance. Another nice feature is that each unit is shipped with the maximum amount of storage, so if you want to start smaller and grow into your 3X investment, you can purchase additional storage later just by entering in a new license key.

With the 500 and the Tera, 3X RBA is geared toward small to midsize businesses, or maybe even to an individual looking for an off-site backup solution.

Once my 3X RBA arrived, all I did was plug in power and Ethernet, and then power it on. It got an address from my DHCP server. 3X provides a handy admin tool on a USB thumb drive, which helps you find the appliance. From this tool, you can also create a configuration for your RBA and store it back on to the USB drive. This is useful if you don't use DHCP on your network. You can simply create the configuration on your client machine and then bring the USB drive over to the appliance and plug the USB stick into it. You hear a set of tones that let you know the new configuration has been applied successfully to the RBA.

Once the unit is configured with an IP address, the rest of the configuration is done via a Web browser. During this part of the setup, you're assigning the RBA with a name, password, time zone, encryption settings (which, when turned on, will encrypt backups with AES with a 128bit key), compression settings (if you want your backups compressed) and change IP settings. You can even enable UPnP for remote backups or management, as well as alerting so you can know if the appliance or any of the backups has issues in the future.

After a quick activation process over the Internet, I was ready to start doing some backups. As simple as it was to set up the appliance, it was just as easy to install the client to my workstations. You can either do that using the admin tool in the USB key or from the Web management interface. You can also just stick the RBA client software out on your file server. That, along with a client activation key, can let your users install the client on their own. Also, a 3X RBA admin will have to approve any client via the Web management interface, so you don't have to worry about random people using the backup appliance.

There are currently clients available for Windows (32-bit and 64-bit) all the way up to Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2. 3X works on clients for Linux and Macintosh computers as well.

Product Performance
Upon logging in to the RBA Web interface manager, you get a simple dashboard showing you information about the appliance, an overview of your disk information showing you used and free space, and general monitors showing you the status of the appliance.

The top menu in the manager is very simple to use. With just an Administration section and a Client Management section, 3X makes it easy to use RBA to quickly get your clients online, and gives you the ability to do backups and restores to the appliance. Once the clients are installed on your workstations and servers, you can do all management of those clients from the central Web manager on the appliance.

As is the case with a traditional tape backup product, once the clients are installed, there is nothing you have to do on the client itself in order to perform backups and restores. One nice feature would be the ability to push the backup clients from the manager to your workstations and servers, which would then allow you to never have to touch the client machines at all on the console.

Going into the Client Management section of the Web manager brings you to the heart of the product. You can set up the default client settings that you want all your clients to have and use. You can manage your backup schedules, rule sets (files you want to backup) and retention policies, and you even have the ability to manage your clients remotely.

What 3X has done best is make it easy to define rule sets, schedules and retention policies. It doesn't matter if you know very little about what the best practices are in these areas; out of the box the product comes with some good templates that can define your entire backup strategy for you. You can reuse the rule sets, schedules and retention policies over and over again. So, once you create these for one client, you can easily apply them all to clients.

Another capability I'd like to see would be the ability to select multiple clients and push out new rule sets, schedules or retention policies. Right now, you have to go into each client's settings though the Manage Clients function and apply these one by one to your clients.

The client software itself that's installed on your workstations and servers leaves a small footprint but also has some powerful features for a backup/restore client. On your clients, you can enable quotas to limit the amount of backup space clients can use. You can also set up bandwidth-throttling options to limit the amount of bandwidth the client uses. It's possible to enable users to set up their own backup sets if they need or want to back up different files than what you've defined for them.

Running on several of my machines, RBA seemed to always keep up the pace and never lacked in performance. I did a 13.5GB backup of one of my clients' My Documents folder with more than 2,000 files, and it took about 40 minutes to do the backup. Restores were as fast as well, thanks to the disk-based nature of RBA.

Even better, to test out the remote functionality, I did my restore while sitting in a coffee shop connected to Wi-Fi. There was no issue with my client finding RBA back at my lab. There was also no waiting for cataloging, nor was there any extra delay. I was able to simply go into the client on my machine, select the files I wanted restored and to where I wanted to restore them, and then, seconds later, they appeared back on my system.

Some other nice features RBA has are things like open file backups. If your user still has the .PST open, or Access databases, there are no worries about those files making it to the backup.

The unit is licensed based on storage space and therefore allows for unlimited clients to access it and use it. RBA, as you might imagine, uses RAID for its own storage. A nice feature would be to actually have hot-swappable hard drive bays. If a hard drive goes out, you have to take the unit apart to get at where the hard drives are in order to replace them.

Installation: 20%
Features: 20%
Ease of Use: 20%
Administration: 20%
Documentation: 20%
Overall Rating:

Key: 1: Virtually inoperable or nonexistent  5: Average, performs adequately   10: Exceptional

Backup Champion
Overall, I was impressed with 3X Systems RBA. In the past, as a consultant, dealing with backups for small and midsize businesses used to be one of my biggest headaches. I could never get great results unless I had a good person on-site to deal with the tapes and the issues that clients would have.

I love the idea of being able to drop in RBA at a client site, get a good set of initial backups for client machines and then move RBA to an off-site location, providing a much better backup strategy. One thing that could be an issue for smaller businesses is which location to move the RBA to once the company is ready to make it an off-site backup appliance. This could be a great service for a local consulting company: be the off-site location for a bunch of your clients' appliances.

If that's not an option, though, RBA would still be a good local backup system as well, which is certainly better than no backup system at all.

Remote Backup Appliance (RBA), Version 2.5.8

Price ranges from $2,495 (100GB) to $12,995 (1.8TB)
3X Systems

About the Author

Brian Freedman, CISSP, MCSE, CCNA, has more than 15 years of professional IT experience. Currently he works for the U.S. Navy as the technical services lead supporting the enterprise information technology infrastructure of more than 100 sites worldwide.


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