All-in-one backup for SMBs

Breece Hill BizGuardian bridges tape and disk-based data protection

Choosing a proper backup solution can be a challenging task for a small business that may lack the time and skill to implement a winning mix of backup application, tape device, and intermediate disk layer. If ever there were a niche that cried out for an appliance-based solution, this is it.

Enter longtime tape library vendor Breece Hill and its BizGuardian, a self-contained appliance that combines tape drives, disk space, and a backup application under the easy management tools of Windows Server 2003.

[ BreeceHill BizGuardian was selected for an InfoWorld Technology of the Year award. See the slideshow to view all the winners in the storage category. ]

I have reviewed more backup solutions than I care to remember, but BizGuardian is the only one that made me feel as if I was in control of my backups, because it removes that divide between backup application and hardware that you’ll find in just about any unintegrated approach.

In just 4U the BizGuardian packs eight SATA drives, an LTO3 (Linear Tape-Open) tape drive, and room for eight cartridges, plus all the connections and devices that you would expect from an application server. To make optimal use of the space, those components are arranged in a somewhat unusual but practical layout.

On the front of the appliance, a large door gives access to the robotics and all the slots; you can feed a single cartridge via an adjacent mail slot. Also mounted on the door are an LCD screen, four comfortably large buttons to navigate the control panel, the recessed power on and reset switches, and a string of diagnostic LEDs.

The back of the unit contains eight 250GB removable disk drives, a combo DVD/CD recorder, three power supplies for redundancy, and all the usual connections you would expect in a server, including human interface devices, Gigabit Ethernet, and Ethernet ports.

Without compression, the BizGuardian has a nominal disk capacity of 2TB. That shrinks down to about 1.3TB after you carve space for the OS drive and set up RAID; however, that space joined to the 10 LTO cartridges should give sufficient staging capacity for many simultaneous backups. If your backup needs exceed that space, you should consider other solutions, because BizGuardian cannot be expanded.

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My test unit came with Windows Server 2003 and EMC Retrospect 7.5 backup software preinstalled, and enough license keys to activate most of Retrospect’s features. After connecting the appliance to my network I was ready to go.

The perfect backup mate

Out of the box, BizGuardian supports as many as five clients with open file backup and disaster recovery. To unleash support for unlimited clients, or to make use of SQL Server and Exchange agents, you may need additional Retrospect licenses.

My first step was to install a Retrospect client on each of my application servers. The client is in essence an agent that will send backup data to BizGuardian over the network.

Retrospect agents run on a variety of OSes, including Mac, Linux, Novell, Solaris, and Windows. After installing the agents, I went back to my BizGuardian to register my application servers with Retrospect, which created the virtual paths between my servers and my backup appliance.

Using agents to push the backups is a clean approach that doesn’t require changing your network shares. If installing the Retrospect client is not a convenient option, you can make your application servers’ shares visible to BizGuardian, but using the clients gives you more flexibility. For example, you can choose from among three connectivity options the one that creates minimal disturbance to your network.

The powerful and feature-rich GUI of Retrospect can be intimidating, but its complexity is nicely hidden by wizards that can reach deep inside the directory structure of the clients to select granularly the files to back up, where to direct the data, and how frequently to repeat the job. Retrospect can even encrypt your sensitive data — supporting up to AES (Advanced Encryption Standard) 256 — though I didn’t make that part of my test.

Automation features separate Retrospect from the rest of the backup pack, and make it a perfect complement to the versatile hardware of the BizGuardian appliance. These allow you to put just about any backup-related activity on a schedule, including automatically copying backup files to tape, creating duplicates of source directories and volumes, and cleaning up old backup sets to reuse disk space.

Creating test schedules for my application servers was easy and even fun. In addition to comprehensive scheduling options, Retrospect easily creates separate catalogs to keep backups organized according to your needs, letting you group them by application or business unit, for example.

Taking care of backup business

After setting up my schedule, I sat back and watched BizGuardian create copy after copy of my data. Retrospect keeps track of the various jobs with a monitoring tool that pinpoints successful executions, overdue jobs, and failed backups. Even when I kept my servers powered off, Retrospect was quick to resume all missed backups when they were back on.

Restore operations are also well-supported by wizards. You can reach out to single files, entire directories, or a full backup, and restore to the original location or to a different one. Search and reporting features in Retrospect make it easy to find which backup sets contain the latest version of a file.

I couldn’t find much to point my finger at in my test of Breece Hill BizGuardian. You shouldn’t expect top-notch performance, given the single GigE connection to your servers, but the time you save by automating your backup activities, not to mention the resulting peace of mind, should more than compensate for that.

InfoWorld Scorecard
Value (10.0%)
Scalability (25.0%)
Management (20.0%)
Setup (10.0%)
Ease of use (10.0%)
Performance (25.0%)
Overall Score (100%)
Breece Hill BizGuardian Appliance 8.0 8.0 9.0 10.0 10.0 8.0 8.6