Tasks you should automate: Backups

As network speeds get faster and storage space gets cheaper, the emphasis has shifted from strategic, selective backups of the server to whole-system backups that can do bare-metal restores if needed.

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 that sort of full-system backup with as little intervention as possible?

As network speeds get faster and storage space gets cheaper, the emphasis has shifted from strategic, selective backups to whole-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. Whole-system backups restore everything without needing a reinstall of the OS; they're largely a one-button operation.

The most widely recognized bare-metal imaging solution for servers is probably Symantec Corp.'s LiveState Recovery Advanced Server 6.0 (free 30-day trial; approximately $1,100 for 10 seats; prices vary). LiveState not only performs full-system images, but it also performs passive incremental imaging -- recording changes from a given point in time or being able to restore to a specific point in time before a disaster or an unwanted configuration change.

Another edition of the program called the LightsOut Restore Option ($345) can perform unattended bare-metal recovery operations on remote or headless servers -- especially useful if your servers are being managed in another location such as a hosting company's data center. When it comes to this program, the only work that needs to be done by the operator is to select an option from the server's boot menu; the rest is automatic.

Another strong competitor in this field is Acronis Inc.'s Acronis True Image 8.0 Server (free 30-day trial; $699), which features incremental and bare-metal imaging and restoration, scheduling and scripting options, and is designed to make backing up and restoring as passive and hands-off as possible. A newly released 9.0 version of the product offers in-place restoration (allows you to restore while still working) and the ability to back up system and in-use files. It also is available by free trial.

I should also mention Winternals Software's Recovery Manager (free evaluation CD available; pricing varies), even though, strictly speaking, it's not a whole-system imaging solution. Its focus is on incremental backup, but it can be a more precise way to get a system back to normal than doing a whole re-image.

A particularly interesting backup application is Lockstep Systems Inc.'s Backup for Workgroups (free 30-day trial, $99 per client starting price). 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 does involve reinstalling the operating system, which is a bit of a drawback when compared to a full system-imaging solution. But this level of targeted guidance is unprecedented for programs like this.

Serdar Yegulalp is editor of the Windows Power Users Newsletter. Check it out for the latest advice and musings on the world of Windows network administrators -- and please share your thoughts as well!

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