Symantec Unifies Physical, Virtual, Hybrid Backups With Backup Exec 2012

The latest iteration of Backup Exec brings advanced backup capabilities to multiple storage technologies. It also improves the data backup and restoration process for IT administrators using virtual, physical, and hybrid storage technologies.

Symantec’s Backup Exec 2012 has evolved from its once humble roots in to a complete backup and recovery environment that works across platforms, storage technologies and even the cloud.

Although the core Backup Exec application has been around for decades, the latest iteration feels anything but old. Symantec has given new life to the product with a major redesign that combines ease of use with the sophistication to handle multiple, concurrent backup events from a variety of devices and storage technologies.

I last reviewed Backup Exec several years ago and was surprised at how much the product has changed. The latest version, Backup Exec 2012, has a starting retail price of $995 and features a completely redesigned GUI, along with a plethora of new and enhanced features.

I installed Backup Exec 2012 into a multi-server Windows environment that consisted of two Windows Server 2008R2 systems, as well as three virtualized Windows 2008R2 servers, which were configured under both Microsoft Hyper-V and VMware vSphere environments.

Installation was uneventful, which is a good thing, especially considering the complexity of Backup Exec and what it does behind the scenes. Perhaps the biggest enhancement offered by Backup Exec 2012 is its focus on Disaster Recovery (DR). Symantec claims BE2012 now offers a complete recovery environment for physical and virtual servers.

I found that Symantec was dead-on with their claims and that BE2012 was indeed able to quickly recover complete servers, both physical and virtual in a matter of minutes. I tested that capability by using the products administration console to schedule complete backups of all of the servers in my test environment. I had that schedule execute overnight and was presented with a comprehensive backup report the next day. Backups were speedy, however I did have some very basic configurations setup and only about 30Gbytes of files in my test environment.

I simulated a disaster by removing the hard drive in a Windows 2008R2 Server, which contained the VHDs (Virtual Hard Disks) for my Hyper-V based Windows Servers. I also replaced the server running VMware vSphere with a similar system to simulate a “bare iron” type of restore.

I was able to restore my servers without a hitch, just by following the instructions provided by Backup Exec’s DR module. I only had to do a minimal amount of pre-configuration work on the new hardware introduced and Backup Exec 2012 pretty much handled the rest.

One of the most powerful features offered is BE2012’s ability to convert a backed up server into a virtual machine. Here, I was able to select one of my backed up servers and then quickly transform it into a virtual server.

Basically, BE2012 reads in the backup and converts it to a mountable VHD while automatically abstracting the hardware layer, allowing a virtual server to brought up in an almost ready to use state.

That feature alone may be worth the price of entry, simply because many IT managers are looking for a way to migrate live physical servers into virtualized environments. I was also impressed with the product’s ability to perform P2V chores concurrent with a backup.

Here, during the backup process, the software creates both a traditional backup file and a VHD file concurrently. That can be a real time saver when recovering from a disaster simply because you can bring up the failed server as a virtual machine, while repairing the physical system.

In many cases, that can turn a recovery process that normally takes hours into something that can be accomplished in a few minutes. Although these actions may sound complex, BE2012 offers several restoration wizards that bring point and click simplicity to the recovery process.

Another major enhancement is the elimination of backup policies. At first blush, that may sound like a bad thing, however Symantec has replaced the antiquated policy based backup model with something the company calls “Backup Stages.” Here, instead of building complex, text-based backup execution policies, I was able to use a GUI based designer to setup backup stages, where I was able to click on backup related tasks to create an execution map. That proves to be a much easier way to build a backup (or restore) job, than having to deal with the manual process of policy creation.

Other notable changes include the concept of creating logical server groups. With logical groups, physical servers can be placed into multiple groups, allowing the creation of backup stages that execute only on those groups. That in turn creates the opportunity to define multiple backup events and have them executed on specific server groupings. Changing how servers are backed up becomes a simple matter of dragging the physical server icon into a different logical group.

While Backup Exec 2012 isn’t the only enterprise backup product on the market, it certainly offers a new concept in backup execution, which combines physical and virtual disaster recovery with ease of use and reliability. Other products, such as Acronis Backup and Recovery, CA ArcServe and EMC Networker normally focus on a single backup scenario (such as imaging or cloud backups) and require the purchase of additional modules to incorporate robust support for cross platform environments.