Sorting through the backup software maze

Choosing a backup software program can be overwhelming with all of the options on the market. Here are some basics to help you decide among applications.

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Just as there are businesses in various forms and sizes, from one-person operations to large corporations with tens of thousands of employees, there are backup software applications that target specific sized enterprises.

Since different sized organizations have different computing requirements, each will have its own requirements for backing up data. But no matter how small or large your enterprise, there are numerous backup software options available to you.

Here is an explanation of the different categories of backup software and what you can expect from each.

Enterprise backup applications
Enterprise backup applications are typically designed to back up data from many different servers to many different backup devices according to a complex schedule.

The three dominant enterprise-grade backup applications are NetBackup Enterprise Server from Veritas Software Corp. (, BrightStor Enterprise Backup from Computer Associates International Inc. ( and IBM Tivoli Storage Manager from IBM (

Enterprise-level backup applications typically offer the greatest performance and flexibility, but they also have the highest price tag. Depending on the number of servers an enterprise has, it is not unrealistic to expect to pay anywhere from $50,000 to $250,000 (or more) for enterprise class backup software.

So what exactly do you get for spending such a hefty sum? Obviously, every backup package has its own unique set of features, but enterprise-grade backup programs generally offer you the ability to run parallel backups of multiple servers to multiple backup devices. Typically, enterprise-class backup software also supports high-end backup devices, such as robotic tape loaders. Many enterprise-grade backup products can perform backups of remote facilities through the use of the iSCSI protocol. Running multiple, parallel backups with high performance devices can really drain the network's bandwidth. Most good enterprise-class backup products will therefore regulate bandwidth consumption automatically or give you an interface for doing so manually.

Of course, power is nothing without manageability. Enterprise-class products must generally be capable of indexing billions of files. Otherwise, it would be nearly impossible to locate a single file among countless backup tapes. This type of software may also support automatic tape labeling or bar coding to help keep tapes organized.

Midlevel backup applications
Midlevel backup applications are designed to back up multiple servers, just like enterprise-grade products, but at a more affordable price. For example, a single server license for Backup Exec from Veritas is $795. As you would expect, the lower price tag also means lower performance. Even so, most midlevel backup applications offer an impressive array of features.

For example, most mid-grade backup programs can function in heterogeneous environments. It is fairly common for midlevel backup products to be able to back up Windows, NetWare, UNIX and Linux servers. A midlevel backup program typically offers a nice interface that allows you to schedule and monitor backups from a central console. The management console can usually produce a variety of reports regarding what has been backed up.

Midlevel backup applications generally lack the parallel job capabilities of their enterprise-grade counterparts, but they still offer some features that might be thought of as something for the enterprise. For example, some mid-grade backup programs support clustered environments, which means that the backup application can be installed on a clustered server. That way, if there is a hardware failure, another node would take over and you would still get your backup. At least one mid-grade product even offers a management pack for Microsoft Management Console. This allows Microsoft Management Console to monitor the application and take proactive action if it appears that a problem might occur.

Some of the more popular midlevel products are Backup Exec from Veritas (, EMC Corp.'s EMC Legato NetWorker ( and BrightStor ARCserve Backup from Computer Associates (

Workgroup backup applications
Workgroup-level backup applications are intended for small businesses and are usually much less expensive than the backup applications targeted toward medium-sized businesses.

The capabilities of workgroup-level backup applications vary greatly, so it should be fairly easy to find an application that fits your small business. A good example of this is a product named EMC Dantz Retrospect 7 ( Dantz makes versions of Retrospect that support either single server or multiple server environments. There are also versions of the Retrospect software that are specifically designed for Microsoft's Small Business Server.

One thing to keep in mind about small businesses is that there can be quite a difference between them. Both a 100-person operation and a one-person shop are technically referred to as a small business. While the $699 price tag for a single server license of Retrospect might not be a big deal for a larger small business, but it could represent a serious investment for the smallest small businesses.

Really small organizations typically use either the NTBackup software that comes with Windows or a personal backup program. A good example of such a product is NTI Backup NOW! 4.0 from NewTech Infosystems Inc. ( Although this software is technically designed for backing up individual machines, it can be used to back up network drives if drive mapping is used, and the $79 price tag is tough to beat.


Brien M. Posey, MCSE, is a Microsoft Most Valuable Professional for his work with Windows 2000 Server and IIS. He has served as the chief information officer for a nationwide chain of hospitals and was once in charge of IT security for Fort Knox. As a freelance technical writer, he has written for Microsoft, CNET, ZDNet, TechTarget, MSD2D, Relevant Technologies and other technology companies.

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