Fast and easy back ups

Tired of tape? Lockstep's Backup for Workgroupsis worth a long look.

Let's have a test. Pretend the next colleague or user who comes up to you says, "I thought I deleted everything in my C:\OldData directory, but I was in the C:\Data directory instead." How long before you get their files restored?

Need a worse scenario? How about, "My PC says there's no operating system." This happens sometimes when Windows (of all flavors) scrambles the boot loader section of the hard disk that starts everything. How long before you can recreate the entire computer system, including the operating system, applications and all the data files?

Statistics promise this type of meltdown will happen to about a third of you. Experience promises you'll spend at least a day getting everything back in working order-that's assuming you've got a good file back up system in place. But if your backups are old, or nonexistent, it may take weeks or longer to recreate the data. 

Enter Lockstep Systems' Backup for Workgroups. Aimed at small workgroups without a dedicated file server, the product uses hard disk storage to back up Windows PCs.  The advantages of hard disk backup include speed, easy restoration (no tapes to search through), and relatively low cost (around a dollar per hard disk gigabyte lately).

Backup for Workgroups leverages the peer-to-peer file server capabilities of networked PCs (running Windows 95 or later). One PC runs the Backup Server software and saves the backup files to a local or networked hard disk drive; the other PCs run Backup Client software. Backup for Workgroups uses file compression to minimize disk space usage, and the company claims 40 users can safely use an 80G-byte drive for backups. After all, 2G-bytes of unique data for each of 40 people is quite a bit.

One critical problem: How do you take backups offsite if they're stored to a PC hard disk? Tapes are easy to carry offsite, as are CD-ROM disks for those of you burning CDs for backups. Backing up a standard Windows PC requires more storage than a CD-ROM writer (about 650M bytes) or Zip disk (750M bytes), so a hard disk in a removable carriage is your best bet.

Backup for Workgroups also offers a mirrored disk-drive option that stores copies of your archived files on two separate hard disks (on the same or two different computers). Use removable hard disk drives for one of the back-up drives, and offsite storage becomes relatively simple. In my lab, I used a Linksys EFG80 network-attached storage (NAS) unit with an 80G-byte hard drive for the primary back-up disk. Then I configured the mirrored drive to replicate the back-up files on an Intel 20G-byte NAS system on the network. The Lockstep software automatically synchronized the two back-up locations, copying all files to the newly assigned mirrored drive.

Worried that storing files on a local computer might entice an employee to sneak a peek at confidential salary information? No need. Backup for Workgroups by default saves files in "scrambled" mode, yielding gibberish. All back-up files are renamed and organized completely differently than on the client machine.  There's also an encryption option, which slows down the back-up speed but will keep the files safe if someone steals your back-up disk.

For my first test, I deleted a directory full of files on a client, then clicked on the Undelete button on the Lockstep client software. Restoration took all of two minutes. Lockstep Systems Backup for Workgroups compared the files on the client with the files on the back-up disk, found the missing files and restored and verified them a minute later. Nice. You can also choose to "roll back" your files to a particular back-up session time, which is handy to recover from a virus or configuration mistake.

Next, I tested the "disaster recovery" mode by erasing a Windows 2000 installation and reinstalling from the product CD. Then I loaded the Backup for Workgroups client and chose to restore the complete system on the same PC and same operating system. The restoration took eleven and a half minutes over a 10Base-T network connection, and the computer appeared exactly as it was before. Very nice.

Though speedy, my biggest concern with Backup for Workgroups is that it relies on removable hard drive systems, which are not common or simple to install. A way to move certain critical data files to a CD-ROM burner would be nice. An arrangement with an online back-up storage services vendor to host the mirrored files would be great. While tape systems provide better offsite storage options, Lockstep offers speed and convenience. Most back-up systems are used to reclaim accidentally deleted files, giving the edge to Lockstep. Unfortunately, companies that lose all their computer data due to a disaster almost always go out of business, reinforcing the need for an offsite option.

Lockstep's Backup for Workgroups costs $299 for three clients, $499 for five clients, or $599 for 10 clients. Hard drive removable trays range in cost from $30 to $90, and 80G-byte hard drives can be bought in the hundred dollar range. External hard drives using USB or FireWire connections ease the offsite storage problem, since you can rotate two external drives between onsite and offsite, but they range in price from $150 to $200 for 40G bytes up to 120G bytes.

The least expensive external back-up tape drive around today costs nearly $400 for 15G-byte capacities and up to $1,000 for larger capacities just for the drive, and tape cartridges range from $10 for 12G bytes to $75 for 60G bytes. So Lockstep's pricing isn't out of line compared with a tape back-up system.

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This story, "Fast and easy back ups" was originally published by Net.Worker.

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