Backup for Workgroups is an unpretentious name for what turns out to be an uncomplicated product. Not much about this product is very clever, but that works to its advantage. Its lack of sophistication makes it a must-have for the workgroups it mentions, and for many more small business networks who might miss the point.
The point being that this is a straightforward approach to backup that even Bob in accounts can use – assuming someone sets it up for him. Under test, the software was easy to install and setup, worked faultlessly, sent a detailed email on what it had and had not done, and even coughed up a checklist on how to restore a disaster-struck system.
The backup Windows 'server' can be a dedicated server, a commissioned file server or just an available workstation on a server-less LAN. The software needs 10MB of storage on any Windows system from 98 onwards.
The server also needs sufficient disk space to store all the backups. Lockstep's rule of thumb is to allow about 2GB per user, but this proved to be a generous allowance. Still, when it comes to backup security, it is always better to err on the generous side.
By using the disk, Backup for Workgroups' day has arrived with the availability of cheaper drives with large capacities. Even enterprise backup specialists are now seriously talking of demoting tapes to pure offline archival duties, rather than near-line. One of the reasons is speed and, in the workgroup environment, the difference between tape and disk can be considerable. Restoring is even faster when a single file has to be located. On disk, locating the file is almost instant, whereas on tape it can take several minutes.
The only criticism of the software is that it does not provide true off-site storage. Lockstep's solution is to provide mirroring and suggest attaching a removable hard drive to store the copy. It would not take too much effort for the average computer enthusiast to lash up a broadband link to a remote site. On the positive side, this is about as complicated as the system gets.
The user interface brings back the theme of simplicity with a vengeance. A wizard leads the way through the setting up of the data repository and then clients can be added and their backup profiles configured. Networks that already use Active Directory are easier to configure, because the Data Repository has a check box. Tick that box and the user is automatically entered into a backup set.
The screen consoles are big, colorful and unambiguous, but perhaps too dumbed down for some tastes. These control when the backups are instigated and also manage the roll-back and restoration processes. The excellent help screens can lead any user through recovery procedures, from a single file to full disaster recovery.
After the initial run, future backups are incremental, which saves space. Further savings are found through file compression and the rejection of duplicate files. Further security for the system can be provided by switching on encryption. Combined with compression, this should ensure files are secure enough, but remember that encryption does increase the backup time.
In tests, the software worked extremely well. Setting up takes time, but this is a workgroup solution, so it should not be too arduous. To check the Undelete function, about 6MB of small files took a few minutes to restore. Disaster recovery takes longer because the original operating system has to be loaded first. After half an hour of Microsoft activity, overlaying the registry, files and settings from a backup took around 14 minutes.
For small companies, this brings the additional benefit of being able to deploy new desktops or laptops within minutes if they have been pre-loaded with Windows. Using an existing backup for replacement systems and standardised configurations for new deployments saves having to use disk images.
Although not provided for this review, Lockstep also sells add-ons specifically targeting Microsoft Active Directory and Exchange mail servers.
The Active Directory backup keeps the security ID numbers for users so moving a user from one machine to another preserves their identity to the Exchange mail server and does not mean they lose access to their existing mailbox.
The software can be downloaded (Link text) for $99 per server or workstation client for up to five clients. This falls incrementally to $35 for 100 or more clients – although such a large deployment would probably take some time to configure. The Active Directory add-on is $49 and Exchange will add $99, but both need at least one client license and Exchange requires a mandatory Active Directory installation.
Backup for Workgroups is an excellent choice for SMBs, remote offices or even departmental use. The cost is a moderate addition to the price of a PC and its ease of use is hard to equal.