Data security – Who’s your backup?

The key to any backup strategy is a good application: one that can scale in line with data volumes and user numbers. Traditional data backup involves taking all the files on a system, or at least those of most importance, and either mirroring them to another drive or location, or copying them to some form of removable media, most commonly tape, CD or a removable hard drive.

This has the advantage that individual files can be easily plucked from the backup archive as needed. However, it can make restoration, particularly if a complete copy of the system was not kept, difficult and time-consuming.

This is where imaging comes in. Products such as Ghost and Drive Image capture a complete snapshot of the system, and create a compressed disk image of the entire hard drive contents that can be saved to different media types. This means a hard drive image can be exported to a set of bootable CDs so that, in the event of a major system crash, hardware failure or other fault, the disks themselves can be used to effect a restoration of the entire system very quickly. But extracting individual files is not easy, although it can be done using tools to mount the images as virtual drives.

The principal rival to Symantec’s Ghost, Drive Image focuses on creating complete images of system drives as opposed to copying the individual files or directories.

As with Ghost, two versions are available: the basic Drive Image 2002, aimed at single desktops and laptops; and a more powerful version, which forms part of PowerQuest’s PowerDeploy suite, aimed at centralised imaging and management of an entire network, including servers. Drive Image can also operate within Windows, allowing for the creation of images while the system is running.

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Aimed at small to medium-sized businesses, Retrospect Backup comes in two flavours, one for the client and another for servers.

The server product will not only deal with backup requirements of a file server, but can be used as a central management console for backing up networked PCs and laptops, using automated backup scheduling and prioritisation for mobile devices that are not permanently on the network.

Retrospect can produce disk images, and bootable ones, albeit awkwardly as the feature appears to have been a bit of an afterthought. A plus point for the bootable disk images is you can create one from a file backup, rather than taking a snapshot of the system before it goes wrong.

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The NetBackup Professional client can be installed on desktops and laptops via email, FTP or software distribution tools, making deployment very easy. A standard set-up process handles installation and configuration, while a command line interface supports integration with other products and processes.

When a hard drive fails or a laptop lost, this offers a low-level recovery feature to get machine and user up-and-running quickly. The system administrator creates a bootable CD-Rom that reformats the hard drive and re-establishes the hard drive image as at the last backup, restoring operating systems, applications, unique data, user-specific settings and network addresses.

The CD contains the entire hard drive image, but you have the option of restoring only certain files.

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Datakeep is a software backup application for use with Quantum’s Snap Server network attached storage (Nas) devices. The smaller 1100 unit is the size of an external CD-Rom drive and contains a 40GB hard drive, so is small and light enough to be taken offsite. The software is licence-free and backs up incremental updates to the Snap Server or other Quantum Nas products.

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The maker of the popular FlipDisk portable hard drive has created a combined solution based around the larger capacity Flip2Disk portable hard drive.

Its proprietary FlipBack backup software is intended only for use with Amacom’s own hardware, but the end result is a quick and efficient backup to a device that can be stored offsite or used to image multiple machines.

This works by initially taking a complete snapshot of the system. With FlipBack drives available in sizes from 10GB to 40GB, it is more than suitable for backing up laptops, desktops and smaller workgroup servers.

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One of the most popular backup and disk-cloning tools, Symantec’s Norton Ghost applies a catch-all approach to data backup, taking a complete snapshot of the target machine’s hard drive and exporting the data to tape, CD, another drive partition or even across to a network share.

Operating in DOS, it is small enough to fit on one floppy disk, depending on which features you need. Despite its size, the package includes drivers for most network and SCSI cards, supports most IDE CD writers, and even has basic USB support. However, the interface is not particularly friendly and the documentation is unhelpful.

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Geared towards recovery, not just backup, this is one of the more powerful tools for servers and workstations. It is based around an Emergency Repair Console, an MMC-style environment where you can administer and trigger backups, and the creation of bootable disk image and backup CDs with which a machine can be reinstated if need be.

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Originally released as a backup application for use with its own Zip and Jaz disk drives, Iomega has opened up QuickSync to allow its use with third-party drives and devices. Aimed mostly at desktops and laptops, QuickSync is a straightforward tool with an easy to navigate interface that allows you to choose which files, directories or drives you want backed up to tape, high-capacity disks such as a Zip, CD or external hard drives. It is at the low end regarding features and not very configurable, being designed for out-of-the-box use. If this fits with your needs, its small footprint and transparent nature make it worth a look.

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– Chris Green is technical editor of Computing.

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