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Fast and Easy Backups over the Web

Backup is the bane of computers but a lifesaver when computers go bad.

Fast and Easy Backups over the Web
By William Wong

Backup is the bane of computers but a lifesaver when computers go bad. Unfortunately, mobile users often forego backups because they are slow and inconvenient. NovaSTOR's NovaNet-WEB ( helps address these problems for remote users with even a transient Internet or network connection. It provides user-initiated restoration of files and NovaNet-WEB can also create a CD-R disk with this information. The disk can then be sent to a user to restore or setup a new system. Best of all, the entire process is secured by encrypting the data.

NovaNet-WEB consists of two parts. The server software resides on a Windows NT or Windows 2000 server with a network or Internet connection. The client's software resides on each user's workstation. Files can be backed up and restored by users whenever their workstation can connect to the server. This may be over the Internet, for example, when a laptop is plugged into the local network or when a remote user calls into the network.

NovaNet-WEB is remarkably fast with high speed connections like DSL or cable modems. It is also quick over modem connections for two reasons. First, backups are incremental so only files that the user has changed are sent over the modem. Second, NovaSTOR's optional FastBIT system only sends changes to existing files instead of the entire file like most backup programs would. FastBIT keeps a cache of files so it can compare the current file's contents against the last backup. This means significant time savings for large files with minimal changes such as a company address book database or an e-mail message log. NovaNet-WEB's client can be configured to backup a subset of the files further reducing backup traffic.

NovaNet-WEB's server needs a network connection and a large hard disk since all information is stored online. Although backup data is compressed, the available disk space must be sufficient for users' needs even after multiple backups. The server can automatically prune very old files and user accounts can be setup with storage limits. The NovaNet-WEB backup database should also be backed up to tape or other removable media. Any backup application, such as NovaSTOR s own NovaNet tape backup server will work.

Setting up NovaNet-WEB's server is easier than setting a conventional backup program because there are no tape drives to configure. Only the initial backup disk location needs to be specified. Backup directories for individual users can also be specified so files can be distributed across disks or even across servers. The big job is setting up individual users. User authentication can be done using Windows domains, LDAP or NovaNet-WEB alone.

There are a number of options that can be set for the server and this is worth doing before users begin to back up their data. The first is to setup a list of redundant files so the backup server will only maintain a single copy of these files. It also means that a backup that includes these files will not have to transfer the data to the backup server. Redundant files usually include common Windows files and office applications. Second, create master encryption keys that will allow an administrator to recover data for users that forget their password. Users can also prevent the backups if this feature is enabled for their account. This is often done where data must be restricted to only the user, such as a company's financial data. Otherwise a master encryption key would allow the administrator to access the data as well as the user.

Other major options include client update, disk full actions, logging and alert notification. The final step is to configure client access. Typically this entails opening a port in the firewall to the server or setting up a SOCKS proxy server. Dial-in support requires Windows Remote Access Service (RAS) or similar dial-in service. These provide access to the network and are setup independent of the NoveNet-WEB server.

Once the server is set up, users must be provided with client software, a user name and password. They must also be provided with the NovaNet-WEB server's domain name or IP address. This assumes that TCP/IP and network access is already installed on the PC.

It is preferable to have a workstation connected directly to the NovaNet-WEB s network for the initial backup if the entire contents of a hard disk are to be saved. The exception is where the majority of files are on the redundant file list. This is often the case when a company installs a standard complement of applications on a workstation. Subsequent backups use less bandwidth since only changes are transmitted. Most users generate comparatively little new data solely from just the writing letters or routine office documents, most of the increases in data volume result from large e-mail attachments.

The major client setup chore is creating backup sets. Wizards make this job relatively painless. A single set could backup an entire hard disk but a more sophisticated approach is to frequently backup important files and backup less important data less often. Backups can be scheduled or initiated manually with a button click. Users employing a more sophisticated scheduled backup regimen may need to adjust schedules based on the value of the information they are saving. Since the data's value may change over time so these data sets may need to be periodically revised.

Restoration is where NovaNet-WEB stands out. Users simply employ the same network connection for back ups and restoration as they use to access server-based files. A different recovery procedure is used when a system or hard drive crash turns the data into a mass of useless bits This recovery procedure requires a re-installation of Windows and a request to NovaNet-WEB to create a restoration compact disc. The disc contains a restoration program and encrypted restoration data. Users run the program, enter their name and password, and the program decrypts and restore the files to the hard disk. The system administrator, or NovaNet-WEB manager, specifies the user, backup sets and backup date that is used to create a restoration image.

NovaNet-WEB worked as advertised. It required minimal management, such as adding or removing users and occasionally updating a restoration disc. Wizards streamline various server management procedures including creation of the restoration files. Most management was done remotely with e-mail notification of server events. Administrators with heavy system usage will appreciate support for the Windows Performance Monitor.

NovaNet-WEB's only major shortcoming is reporting. It generates text transaction logs. I would like to see predefined reports that includes summary information, server information and per user information. This would allow managers to see who was performing regular backups.

NovaNet-WEB will work equally well for individual companies or ISPs wanting to provide backup services to customers. NovaSTOR has web-based signup services available for ISPs.

Novastor Corp. Simi Valley, CA 93065 $895 per server for 10 users

Bio: Bill Wong is a network consultant and the author of a number of programming and network books including Windows 2000 DNS Server.

Copyright 2001, Reprinted by permission.


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