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Review: Does ROBObak Beat The Remote Backup Blues?

The CRN Test Center puts ROBObak, a software-only backup solution, through the paces. Does it beat the remote backup blues? The application offers the ability to schedule and restore backups, encryption, hot backups, and de-duplication. The name reflects the company's focus on Remote Office and Branch Office backups.

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Enter ROBObak, a software-only backup solution from Atlanta, GA-based company with the same name. The application offers the ability to schedule and restore backups, encryption, hot backups, and de-duplication. The name reflects the company's focus Remote Office and Branch Office backups.

CRN Test Center engineers found that ROBObak is an easy to install, yet robust backup solution with an aggressive price point that makes it a great choice for small and medium business customers. Pricing depends on how many Gbytes are stored on the central server after de-duping: But for 200 Gbytes of data after de-duping, the price is about $1,990. And ROBObak, which is currently recruiting new partners, says solution providers can expect 30 percent margins.

CRN Test Center engineers installed the sever software on a Gateway box running Windows 2003 Server with IIS, ASP.NET, and .NET. The client software was installed on a machine with the Windows XP operating system. Test Center engineers selected a wide range of file types for backup, including source files, executable and library files, multimedia files, and basic Office files.

One of ROBObak's goals is to make the backup process as straightforward and simple as possible. The smaller remote offices usually have a smaller IT presence than the corporate headquarters " smaller in both personnel size and the amount of experience. Missing backups at remote offices is a serious problem in case of hardware failure or data loss. ROBObak hopes to avoid this scenario by making the application package easy to deploy and to maintain.

ROBObak required a lot of installed components in addition to the server software: BitBackupServer and its SDK, Web Operator, MS SQL Express 2005 and its client tools, and the .NET 2.0 Framework. However, installation was a snap because the ROBObak installation software takes care of installing all the individual components. After the installer verified IIS was installed, it identified the missing required components and ran the appropriate installers. The executable also checked the machine's hardware to ensure it met minimum requirements (enough memory?), and displayed its results in a little checklist.

Maintenance is performed through a browser-based interface. Clean and administration and maintenance is simple. The interface can manage multiple backup servers at once by defining locations. Users are created and assigned to a particular location where their files would be stored. This way, it's easy to identify which users are backing up to which machine. The interface also provides access to audit logs.

The way ROBObak manages locations allows the application to back up multiple remote sites concurrently. The software application can also concurrently send the backups to multiple sites.

ROBObak software can do three kinds of backups: local, internal and external. The local setting, pointing the server to 127.0.0.1, backs up the data on the local server. The internal setting, putting in the internal IP address, allows other machines on the internal network to back up their data to the server. The external setting requires a static IP address visible outside the network and allows machines on the WAN to use the server to write data. CRN Test Center used the internal network configuration for the review. Engineers were still able to make local backups under this setting.

The client software has eight options in its menu. While users can run backups on the fly, the client can also create a schedule, removing the process from the user's hands. This way, a user can't say, "I forgot." The user can also determine what files are backed up, either manually or by creating template defining which file-types and file extensions should be saved.

The client can backup multiple machines at once. When creating a backup job, the user can choose the local machine, a different machine by IP address, or by navigating the Microsoft Windows Network for other computers visible on the LAN and the workgroup.

The initial backup generally takes longer because the files are being transferred to the server, but the subsequent backups take only a few seconds. The first backup for CRN Test Center engineers took about four minutes 33 seconds to back up 284 files, of which 15 were large video files. Subsequent backups were reduced to seconds.

ROBObak said the software can also handle Linux and Unix applications. Test Center engineers backed up Linux files successfully.

ROBObak's tight integration with Microsoft products means it can perform hot backups of open Microsoft applications. The machine was backed up three times while this article was open in Microsoft Word and the file backed up properly without any data corruption. This is particularly important for backing up Exchange and SQL Server files, since neither of them will need to be shut down during the backup window.

Files can be restored from the backup in a matter of clicks. The restore process can transfer the file to its original location or to another location. If multiple files are being restored, say, music files, which were originally located in multiple folders, the restore process gives the option of either restoring them back to different folders or put them all in one single folder.

ROBObak offers solution providers an array of choices. They can choose to bundle the software as part of a backup or storage solution or as a stand-alone software solution. The provider can also decide to install the software on to a server and sell it as an appliance. Shawn Lanham, an account executive with Technology Group, a San Diego-based solution provider, calls the product, "neat," and is looking for ways to sell the product. "It's very provocative in that it starts a conversation about what they are currently doing in their production environment," he said. The conversation can lead to a more productive discussion on backup strategy rather than just one listing components and price tags.

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