Help corner: I need to back up my servers!

I love being a part of a global community like the readers of our WServerNews weekly newsletter and the articles here on TechGenix. Why do I love it? Because you get to help others when they have difficulties managing their environment. Let’s face it, none of us is an expert when it comes to every aspect of information technology. Some IT pros are more expert in systems management; others excel instead in network troubleshooting. Some have honed their chops on developing custom applications to meet in-house business needs; others have experience in making sure that sensitive business data is kept safe and secure. A while back one of our community members reached out to me asking for help with a real-world challenge he was facing. “My general manager wanted me to ask what Windows Server backup is the best. We have five servers, three of which host Hyper-V virtual machines. We would like to backup all five and the virtual machines on them. One of the servers hosting virtual machines also has Exchange 2007 in the host OS. Another one has our domain controller in the host OS. The mixture is Windows 2008 R2 and Windows 2003. Services are AD, SQL server, Exchange 2007.” I tossed this out to our community and got many helpful suggestions back and I wanted to share some of their (edited) responses here for the benefit of those of you who visit our site regularly in case their recommendations address any of your own pressing IT needs.

I encourage those of you who are reading this article to visit the sites of the various vendors I’ve linked to below and explore what their backup solutions have to offer that can be of benefit for the systems and applications deployed in your own organization’s environment. Note that not every backup product or solution may meet the specific needs your organization has, so think carefully before spending money on a backup product to make sure you’re getting what you need (and what you may need in the future).

And of course, if any of you after reading this article have any other backup solutions you’d like to recommend to other readers, you can do so by using the comments feature at the bottom of this article. Share your expertise so other IT pros can benefit — thank you!

John from Auckland, New Zealand

“We use StorageCraft ShadowProtect from within the virtual and physical machines. This allows incremental backups. We set it for every hour, and it takes about eight seconds each time, with full backups on Saturdays, to keep the last three weeks, and rotate after that. We have tried all sorts of backup programs over the past 20 years, but ShadowProtect is the easiest, fastest, most powerful, most flexible and most reliable. A free solution is to use the built-in Windows backup; on Server 2012 R2 it is Hyper-V aware and works similar to ShadowProtect, but it’s less flexible.

“For another free solution, you could use a scheduled PowerShell script on the Hyper-V host itself, to 1) shut down the VMs, 2) plainly copy the VMs somewhere else, and 3) start the VMs again. If you copy from and to RAID 1 volumes created with Windows Server 2012R2 (or Windows 10 — but not as effective) you can copy about 300GB / hour. This is faster than many backup programs. Ideally, make the copies to a spare Hyper-V host. That way you can just import (take the ‘With Security’ option) and start them if necessary. You do not need to activate any software. This takes 30 seconds per VM and is the quickest way to be up and running again.”

Spencer from the UK


“Take a gander at Veritas Backup Exec. Veritas has taken the code back after Symantec nearly trashed it. Haven’t tested it on Hyper-V installations, but if Veritas can’t get it right then it’s unlikely anyone else will. Good support for LTO tapes and works fine on Exchange Server 2016 down to granular level. If you don’t mind the loss of granularity restore on mailboxes then the backup utilities provided within WS2012 also work well with the added benefit they are free but no support for tape at all.”

Joseph, a CTO from New Jersey

“After testing a bunch of competitors including the free (to VMware customers) VMware backup, I went with Dell AppAssure. [Editor’s note: This is now Quest Rapid Recovery] It was pretty steep for the first year but maintenance is around $1,000 per year and offsite replication is free. And it works!”

Tim, an IT consultant in Florida

“In response to the question about what is the best backup software for servers, I would like to recommend Altaro Backup FS and Altaro Hyper-V Backup. The HV backup works great and lets you use the software to backup two VM’s for free. We use both products and they have served us well. I highly recommend them, and being you can do two VMs for free, it’s a no-brainer, I think. Also, it backs them up on the fly, so no need to shut them down during backup.”

A reader named Howard

“For backup we use Datto. This is not just a backup unit. If my servers crash I can not only restore from it but if it’s a hardware problem I can virtualize out of it and be up and running quickly.”

James, CTO for a large non-profit

“I found Veeam in your newsletter and trialed it. We ended up purchasing the product for our servers and using their free product for the workstations (which lets us direct the storage to a NAS.) It works very well, fast, low overhead, minimal storage, restores easily. It has pulled our chestnuts out of the fire several times already.”

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