PC backup moves forward

Most agencies recognize the importance of regularly backing up server data to secondary or offsite storage systems, but few have taken the next step to similarly protect data stored on desktop PCs and laptop computers. This backup blind spot leaves more than half of a typical enterprise's data vulnerable to loss, according to industry estimates.

However, client-side backup is climbing the priority list, mainly because of Sept. 11 and its impact on government thinking about disaster recovery and business continuity plans. Also, desktop backup products are more effective and easier to use, according to analysts.

"This will be the year that client backup software really starts to move," said Fred Broussard, a senior research analyst for desktop software at IDC.

Connected Corp., one of the vendors in the market, already has customers at the Education Department, the U.S. Postal Service, the Army and the National Weather Service.

From an information technology management perspective, the former focus on backing up server-based data is understandable. Servers number far fewer than client computers, are usually centrally located and traditionally store the most important data. As a result, an investment in server backup delivers a big bang for the buck.

The payback on the client side is finally starting to catch up. First, the value of data on desktop and laptop computers has increased as these platforms take on a greater role in everyday computing. An enormous amount of work goes into creating spreadsheets, correspondence, presentations and planning documents — all of which are typically stored on a user's PC or laptop hard drive.

Meanwhile, client computers face risks that rival those of servers. Viruses passed via e-mail can wipe out data on desktop hard drives. Laptops malfunction more often than office-bound computers and are more likely to be lost or stolen.

The problem with client backup has been that it traditionally requires end-user involvement — either the client saves the files to a network or backs them up to an external storage device connected to the PC or laptop. The new crop of backup solutions aims to take end users out of the equation.

"The less responsibility you burden the user with, the more successful your solution will be," said Steve Sussman, product manager for LiveBackup software from Storactive Inc.

For example, once LiveBackup is loaded on a client's PC or laptop, it works in the background and automatically copies any new data that is saved to that computer. If the client has a PC connected to a network, the backup copies are sent to a server, where they are stored. If the client has a laptop, the copies are written to the server when the user opens a dial-up or broadband connection to the office network.

To minimize network traffic, the time it takes to make backup copies and the amount of archival space required on the server, many of the new client backup solutions offer features such as single-instance storage and delta copies.

For example, Connected's TLM 6.2 can recognize that one user's version of a budget document is identical to another user's already on the server. Instead of duplicating the file, TLM 6.2 merely stores a pointer to a common version. If a user edits the file, the software will back up only the delta copy — the specific blocks of data that are different from the original.

Another important feature in many of the new products is the flexibility they allow when restoring lost data. With Veritas Software's NetBackup Professional 3.5, for example, you can save certain critical files or the full system. If data is lost, you can then recover those specific files, or you might do a full rollback and restore the system to the way it was at a certain point in time.

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Backup tools

Connected Corp.'s TLM 6.2

Highlight: Offers Web-based offsite hosting service to store encrypted backup copies, which saves customers the expense of maintaining their own server storage.

Price: General Services Administration pricing starts at $100 per client and $10,000 per server. Hosting service costs $145 annually per client — no server software is required.

Storactive Inc.'s LiveBackup 2.5

Highlight: Continually monitors and backs up files as user saves changes, provided an open connection to server is available.

Price: Suggested retail price starts at $129 per client. Federal customers get a 5 percent discount. There's no fee for server software.

Veritas Software's NetBackup

Professional 3.5

Highlight: Bare metal restore allows user to recover a complete hard drive image to a new computer via a CD.

Price: Suggested retail price starts at $69 per client and $100 per server.

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