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Tools to automate full-system backups

As network speeds increase and storage space cheapens, the emphasis has shifted from selective backups to full-system backups. Our desktop management expert tells administrators about the tools they can use to automate full-system backups.

In a managed environment, there's usually some provision for backing up and restoring workstations. If data is kept on a server and the workstations are built from a single managed image, restoring a crashed workstation isn't that big of a problem. But what can be done with the server itself, especially if you need to do more than just back up data? What if you want to do a full-system backup with as little intervention as possible?

As network speeds get faster and storage space gets cheaper, the emphasis has shifted from selective backups to full-system backups that can do bare-metal restores if needed. Selective backups would be akin to what the Windows NTBACKUP utility does when you perform a System State backup -- restoring only the bare operating system, not applications or data. Full-system backups restore everything without needing a reinstall of the OS; they're largely a one-button operation.

The best-known bare-metal imaging solution for servers is probably Symantec's LiveState Recovery Advanced Server 6.0. LiveState not only performs full-system images but also passive incremental imaging -- recording changes from a given point in time or restoring to a specific point in time before a disaster or an unwanted configuration change.

Symantec's LiveState Recovery LightsOut Restore Option can perform unattended bare-metal recovery operations on remote or headless servers. This is especially useful if your servers are being managed in another location such as a hosting company's data center. With LightsOut Restore, all the operator needs to do is select an option from the server's boot menu; the rest is automatic.

Another competitor in this field is Acronis Inc.'s True Image Server for Windows. Now at version 9.1, it features incremental and bare-metal imaging and restoration, scheduling and scripting options. It is also designed to make backing up and restoring as hands-off as possible.

Another backup application is Lockstep Systems Inc.'s Backup for Workgroups. The program supports the usual backup and restore options, including scheduled/hands-off backups, but, most significantly, it automatically produces a set of system-specific instructions for performing a bare-metal restore. This automation process does involve reinstalling the operating system, which is a drawback when compared to a full system-imaging solution. But this level of targeted guidance is unprecedented for programs like this.

Five back-end tasks Windows administrators should automate

  Automating Active Directory maintenance
  Automating Group Policy Object management tasks
 ;Automating DNS management tasks
 Automating full-system backup tasks
 Automating Web server log archiving

About the author: Serdar Yegulalp is editor of Windows Insight, (formerly the Windows Power Users Newsletter), a blog site devoted to hints, tips, tricks and news for users and administrators of Windows NT, Windows 2000, Windows XP, Windows Server 2003 and Vista. He has more than 12 years of Windows experience under his belt, and contributes regularly to SearchWinComputing.com and SearchSQLServer.com.

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