How did I go from considering NTBACKUP a crutch to a nice little extra? It started when my Backup Exec program finished abnormally one day and did not commit and delete existing Exchange log files.
(Note for those of you who don't know how Exchange works: As email goes in and out of your system, Exchange creates log files of all the data, i.e., the emails. These log files keep building up throughout the day, until a backup is performed on the system.)
As I said, one day Backup Exec finished abnormally so the log files never got backed up and deleted. Which was okay. . .until I noticed that we had only 1GB of space left on our Exchange server because I had 30GB of log files stacking up.
What's an administrator to do?
My Backup Exec job is scheduled each evening, so I now schedule an additional NTBACKUP job early each morning - - just to back up the Exchange database and log files to an extra disk each day. If Backup Exec fails, NTBACKUP backs up the Exchange database and commits and deletes all the log files. My script puts the time and date in the name of the backup file and also deletes any backups, catalogs and log file reports over two days old so they don't start building up on the disk. (As a systems admin, backup redundancy can be a nice feeling.)
You can run a similar script to shut down the MSSQL service and back up MSDE and MSSQL databases as flat files, then restart those services. Admittedly, this was a paranoid admin precaution because restoring a database that was open and active at the time of backup can be very tricky and time-consuming. . .not to mention hazardous. Restoring open databases is a whole different ball game – trust me!
Using NTBACKUP to back up System State
What else comes to mind for NTBACKUP? Why not back up the System State on your main servers daily and set your script to only keep your date- and time-stamped backups for two days? This way, if your registry, boot files or (heaven forbid) Active Directory gets corrupted (or infected), you can boot into "directory restore mode" and restore within the last few days. This way you won't have to depend on network access or backup tapes.
This process has even other advantages, considering that many people never test their third-party backup jobs, and Microsoft tech support can even walk you through restoring your NTBACKUP from the command line if needed (if you're making your server boot disk and Emergency Repair Disk [ERD] like you're supposed to. Yes, there are ways to do that in XP and Windows Server 2003 events, even though ERDs have been phased out.)
This is all great for the admin, but what about your Joe Schmo tech geek? Personally, before I install any third-party Internet programs, I like to make a Restore Point, but I also use regedit to back up the registry again, and then sometimes use NTBACKUP to back up the System State. (Okay, so now I have three backups of the registry. What can I say? I'm paranoid of malware.)
This way, if the third-party app is not what I wanted, I can not only run the uninstall, but I can run a system restore, restore the registry and\or system state manually. . .and (if I feel really geeky) do a "file compare" of the before and after of the registry files for the program that was installed and see what it did to my system.
Of course Microsoft is trying to "evolve" the newest desktop OS Vista, and just about all the NTBackup functionality I love has been taken away. In Vista you can't back up just one directory such as C:\Progrm Files. There's nothing granular about the new backup utility in Vista. Heck, it's not even called NTBACKUP anymore. When you want to do a backup in Vista, it's "all" (the whole computer) or nothing!
It was nice knowing you, NTBACKUP. I'll miss you.
If you'd like to share your thoughts on the NTBACKUP utilty, how you used it, or the fact that it's no longer available in Vista, email it to us.
This was first published in May 2007