Power User Finds Backup Bliss

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By Richard Nolde

Part I - The Hardware

Until now, it has been tough for a power user, or a serious game player, to find a backup solution that meets the always conflicting requirements of performance, capacity, and affordability. Conner has changed this with their CTM-3200 tape drive.

I leave my system running 24 hours a day, and I was looking for a tape drive that could backup my entire system on one tape. This way, I could schedule it to run in the middle of the night while I slept. I have had nothing but bad experiences with the floppy based drives and programs, so I was looking for a SCSI based solution. For a long time, I had my heart set on either an 8mm or DAT tape drive, but I was waiting for one which would not cost almost as much as the rest of my system.. Enter the Conner 3200. This drive supports 2 GB of uncompressed data using a QIC-Wide 3080 cartridge. This cartridge is externally the same size as the QIC-80 cartridge, but the two are not interchangeable. The drive comes in 3 models, internal SCSI, internal EIDE ATAPI, and external SCSI. The Conner 3200 drive is typically sold in software bundles, the most common being the TapeStore 4000 bundle, which has a street price of around $400 for either internal model. Included in this bundle is Backup Exec software for DOS / Windows and one blank tape. I am using the internal SCSI model with a DPT SmartCache III controller.

The rest of my system consists of a 486DX2-66, 16MB RAM, and 2 Seagate 540MB SCSI disk drives. I am running OS/2 Warp, and use the Back Again/2 software from Computer Data Strategies. A review of Back Again/2 appears in Part II of this review. On my system, with no compression, the average throughput for a backup is 24 MB per minute. At this rate, my entire system is backed up in less than one hour. The drive does have a downside compared to an 8mm or DAT drive. The tape cartridges are more expensive than either 8mm or DAT. At approximately $30 per cartridge, if you need over 20 tapes in you backup set, then you might be better off with 8mm or DAT. Most users, and even many companies, have no more than 5 or 10 tapes. If this is your situation, then the Conner 3200 may be the tape drive you have been looking for.

Part II - The Software

There are many good backup programs for OS/2. My favourite is Back Again/2 from Computer Data Strategies. It comes in two versions, Professional and Personal. The Personal version supports backup to floppy drive, another hard drive in the same system, or network drives. It also supports high capacity removable drives such as the Iomega ZIP and Jazz drives, and the Syquest EZ135. The Professional version adds support for virtually any SCSI and most EIDE ATAPI tape drives. The Personal version is about one third the price of the Professional version. Both versions come with a utility that will modify the boot/utility disks created by Warp. The disks will then contain a command line restore program as well as the driver for your tape drive if it is required. These disks can be used to restore your complete system in the event of a total loss.

Back Again/2 has all of the normal features you would expect in a backup program. Each backup set can be defined to: backup all files or changed files only, reset archive flag or not, verify after save, use password encryption, etc. It also has some very nice features which are not as common. Back Again/2 has three compression modes. The maximum compression option gives me approximately 2.6 to 1 compression, but speed drops from 24 to 5 MB per minute on my system. The second option is to compress for speed. This will yield about 1.8 to 1 compression. The third option is Dynamic Compression. This will only compress blocks of data when the tape drive is busy. This will keep the tape streaming, for maximum speed and less wear, but will still give you some level of compression. Obviously, the faster CPU you have, the better results you will get with this option. There is an extensive unattended scheduling mode. Backup sets can be scheduled to run on a given day or days of the week, at a specific timed interval, or once at a specific date and time. For tapes, you have the option of automatically appending to the tape, or starting over from the beginning of the tape. You can specify how many times to retry a locked file before skipping it and moving on. Another nice feature of Back Again/2 is the very powerful redirection on restore. This gives you the ability to restore any file or directory tree to virtually any other drive or directory tree level. This can be very handy if you repartition your drive, and want to restore your C:\DOCUMENT directory to D:\CASTLE_COMPUTERS\DOCUMENT for example. You can either preserve the directory tree, or place all files directly into the target directory.

Back Again/2 gives you a couple of ways to backup networks. The most cost effective is to backup from the server using the Universal Naming Convention. This way, you do not have to map all directories to be backed up to a drive letter. All you need is access to the directory to be backed up and one copy of Back Again/2 for the server. But let's suppose someone wants their data backed up, but does not trust the computer department with access to their files; perhaps personnel files, or executive bonus spreadsheets. All you need to do is give the person a directory to use on the server, and a copy of Back Again/2 Personal for their machine. They then backup their files to the server using the encryption option. The backup directory can then be backed up on tape, which will backup the encrypted backup set, but not allow the person backing up the server to see what is in it. The information is both safe and secure.

Controlling all of this is a well-designed graphical interface, and a robust 32 bit multi-threaded program. With a little tweaking of the backup priority level, the system remains responsive during backups, particularly with compression disabled. Controlling tape operation, defining backup sets, scheduling unattended backups, and all other functions are very straight forward and intuitive. If you need a good backup program, and do not need support for floppy based tape drives, then Back Again/2 is the first program I would look at.