Product Review – GFI Backup 2010 Business Edition

Product: GFI Backup 2010 Business Edition

Product Homepage: GFI Backup – Business Edition

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GFI Backup 2010 Business Edition is a full-featured backup product that is powerful but easy to use. Using this product you can back up sensitive business data stored on your mission-critical servers and also data stored on workstations. You can back up Server Message Block (SMB) shares on file servers and web servers, and it even lets you back up databases on SQL servers. GFI Backup has a Web-based administration interface that uses HTTP or HTTPS to let you securely back up data on computers that have the backup agent software installed. Backups can be created using industry-standard Zip compression, and backups can be protected using 256-bit Advanced Encryption Standard (AES-256) encryption. GFI Backup lets you monitor backups and restores using email notifications, and it generates reports you can view and print for your records. Other features of the product include is include/exclude filters to let you specify what should and shouldn’t be backed up from a particular location; integration with the Volume Shadow Copy Service (VSS) to allow open files to be backed up; and the ability to synchronize files stored in shared folders on different computers. For a detailed list of the features of this product, see GFI Backup – Business Edition features.

For this review, I tested GFI Backup in an Active Directory test environment that included several SharePoint 2010 servers with SQL Server 2008 R2 databases. The actions I performed during my review included installing and configuring the product, configuring Windows Firewall to allow the Web-based administration interface to communicate with backup agents on other computers, deploying the backup agents to computers using Group Policy, performing a backup of some SQL Server databases, monitoring the backup, and examining the report generated once the backup was finished.

Installation and Configuration

GFI Backup can be installed on any of these platforms:

  • Microsoft Windows 7 (x86 or x64)
  • Microsoft Windows Server 2008 (x86 or x64)
  • Microsoft Windows Vista (x86 or x64)
  • Microsoft Windows Server 2003 Standard/Enterprise (x86 or x64)
  • Microsoft Windows XP (x86 or x64)

I chose to install GFI Backup on a server running Windows Server 2008 R2 x64, so after downloading the product installation file gfibackup2010business.exe from the GFI web site, I double-clicked on the file to launch the installation wizard (Figure 1):

Figure 1: Step 1 of installing GFI Backup 2010

After accepting the EULA, I decided to use the default connection settings, which use port 5580 for HTTP and port 5543 for HTTPS (Figure 2):

Figure 2: Step 2 of installing GFI Backup 2010

The next step involved specifying the credentials to be used for installing the product and configuring its components and services. I was logged on using the default domain Administrator account so I used this account here (Figure 3):

Figure 3: Step 3 of installing GFI Backup 2010

When you finish the wizard, you are presented with a summary of the settings you have configured (Figure 4):

Figure 4: Step 4 of installing GFI Backup 2010

Clicking Finish ends the installation process and launches the Startup Wizard, which walks you through the post-installation configuration steps you need to perform. The first thing you must do is specify the credentials that will be used to access the admin console (Figure 5):

Figure 5: Step 1 of post-installation configuration of GFI Backup

The second and final post-installation configuration step is to specify a domain account that has the necessary privileges in order to access the data that I will be backing up. Since the domain Administrator account has the necessary permissions needed to be able to back up the databases on my SQL servers, I will specify this account here (Figure 6). Note that this would not be the best approach in a real-world environment—it would be better to create a separate domain account and use SQL Server Management Studio to assign the db_backupoperator and dbo_owner database roles to the account so that GFI Backup can use the account for backing up your SQL Server databases.

Figure 6: Step 2 of post-installation configuration of GFI Backup

When I clicked Finish, the dialog shown in Figure 7 appeared, indicating that I needed to download and install Adobe Flash Player:

Figure 7: Step 3 of post-installation configuration of GFI Backup

Adobe Flash Player is required software for the Web-based administration console to function. This is important to know, for in a production environment you probably don’t want to install extra software like Flash Player on a server as I did here. Instead, you would probably want to install GFI Backup (and thus Flash Player) on an administrator workstation running Windows 7, Windows Vista or Windows XP.

Configuring Windows Firewall

Before you can use the Web-based administration console to configure backups on other computers, you first need to open the necessary firewall ports on the computer where you have installed the admin console. On computers running Windows Server 2008, Window 7 or Windows Vista, you open firewall ports by launching the Windows Firewall with Advanced Security console, right-clicking on the Inbound Connections node, and selecting New Rule. This launches the New Inbound Rule Wizard, and on the first page of this wizard you select the Port option (Figure 8):

Figure 8: Step 1 of creating a firewall port exception for the admin console

On the next wizard page, type the two ports you need to open, separated by a comma (Figure 9):

Figure 9: Step 2 of creating a firewall port exception for the admin console

On the next page, leave Allow The Connection selected to allow inbound traffic on the ports you specified (Figure 10):

Figure 10: Step 3 of creating a firewall port exception for the admin console

On the next page, you can leave all three firewall profiles selected (Figure 11):

Figure 11: Step 4 of creating a firewall port exception for the admin console

On the final wizard page, type a descriptive name for the new firewall rule you are creating (Figure 12):

Figure 12: Step 5 of creating a firewall port exception for the admin console

Once you have finished the wizard, the new port exception will be displayed in the Inbound Rules section of the Windows Firewall With Advanced Security console (Figure 13):

Figure 13: A firewall port exception has been created for the admin console

Deploying Agents

Before you can back up your servers, you need to install the backup agent software on them. The simplest way to do this in an Active Directory environment is to use Group Policy Software Installation. Before you do this, copy two files (gfibackup2010.msi and setup.xml) from the %ProgramFiles%\GFI\GFI Backup 2010 Administration Console\htdocs\agent folder to the folder from which you will be deploying the agent software, which in my test environment was the shared folder C:\AgentLocationShare on the server named NYC-DC-01 (see Figure 14). Note that if you install GFI Backup on an x64 system, these two files are found in the %ProgramFiles(x86)%\…\agent folder instead.

Figure 14: Step 1 of deploying backup agents using Group Policy Software Installation

Now open the Group Policy Management console, which is installed by default on all Windows Server 2008 domain controllers. Next, either create and edit a new Group Policy Object (GPO) or open an existing GPO using the Group Policy Management Editor. For testing purposes, I used the Default Domain Policy GPO which lets me deploy backup agents to all computers in my domain. Once your GPO is open, expand Computer Configuration, Policies, Software Settings, Software Installation in the console tree. Right-click on Software Installation and select New Package (Figure 15):

Figure 15: Step 2 of deploying backup agents using Group Policy Software Installation

In the Open dialog, browse Network to select the gfibackup2010.msi Windows Installer file (Figure 16):

Figure 16: Step 3 of deploying backup agents using Group Policy Software Installation

Click Open, then make sure Assigned is selected as the deployment method (Figure 17):

Figure 17: Step 4 of deploying backup agents using Group Policy Software Installation

Once you click OK, the agent software to be deployed will be displayed in the GPO editor (Figure 18):

Figure 18: Step 5 of deploying backup agents using Group Policy Software Installation

The agent software will be deployed to computers the next time these computers are rebooted.

This means you will need to reboot your servers (and any workstations that you are backing up) at an appropriate time.

Note #2:
Running gpupdate /force on these computers will not initiate agent installation on them. This is because the Group Policy Client Side Extension for Software Installation does not process in the background; it only processes on restart or logon.

Once the agent software has been installed on the computers you want to back up, launch the admin console by clicking Start, All Programs, GFI Backup 2010, GFI Backup 2010 Administration Console. The web browser opens and you enter your credentials (Figure 19). Note that GFI Backup requires either IE 8, IE 7 or Mozilla FireFox 3.

Figure 19: Logging on to the administration console

After you log on, the home page of the admin console is displayed (Figure 20). This page provides quick access to backing up and restoring data, managing agents, and viewing and generating reports. The lower portion of the page also displays backup tasks and agent activity, disk space for backups, and messages.

Figure 20: The home page of the administration console

When you click the Agents tab you will see a list of computers on which the agent software has been installed and authorized (Figure 21). Note that the Help information for the product indicates that agents must be authorized after being installed on computers. I found however that such authorized occurred automatically once the agent software had been installed.

Figure 21: The Agents tab showing servers and workstations on which the backup agent software has been installed and authorized

Performing Backups

GFI Backup can be used for both SMB-based backups (e.g. backing up shared folders on file servers) and SQL Server backups (backing up databases on SQL servers). For this review I decided to try the SQL Server backup functionality to see what the product can do. So I next performed a backup of some SQL databases on server NYC-SP-01 in my test environment. To do this, I began by selecting the Backup and Restore tab of the admin console (Figure 22):

Figure 22: Step 1 of performing a manual backup of SQL server databases

Clicking New Backup displays options for what I can back up (Figur 23):

Figure 23: Step 2 of performing a manual backup of SQL server databases

Clicking Backup SQL Servers now displays the New Microsoft SQL Server Backup Wizard (Figure 24):

Figure 24: Step 3 of performing a manual backup of SQL server databases

I clicked the first option on the above page because I want to back up my databases to the network share \\HV-1\GFI. Clicking the first option displays the General tab of the New Backup Wizard where I specified a descriptive name for the backup (Figure 25):

Figure 25: Step 4 of performing a manual backup of SQL server databases

On the Computer tab, I selected the SQL server that I want to back up (Figure 26). Note that before I selected NYC-SP-01 on this tab my other SQL server NYC-SP-03 was also displayed; selecting one server resulted in the other one being hidden—you need a separate backup task for each SQL server you want to back up.

Figure 26: Step 5 of performing a manual backup of SQL server databases

On the Source tab, I selected the databases I want to back up on the server (Figure 27):

Figure 27: Step 6 of performing a manual backup of SQL server databases

On the Destination tab, I selected LAN folder because I want to back up my databases to a network share (Figure 28):

Figure 28: Step 7 of performing a manual backup of SQL server databases

I then specified the UNC path to the network share (Figure 29):

Figure 29: Step 8 of performing a manual backup of SQL server databases

On the Options tab you can configure compression and encryption settings and the type of backup to perform (Figure 30):

Figure 30: Step 9 of performing a manual backup of SQL server databases

On the Scheduler tab, I selected Run Manually (Figure 31):

Figure 31: Step 10 of performing a manual backup of SQL server databases

The Pre & Post Actions tab lets you configure notifications and other actions (Figure 32):

Figure 32: Step 11 of performing a manual backup of SQL server databases

The last page of the wizard summarizes your selections (Figure 33):

Figure 33: Step 12 of performing a manual backup of SQL server databases

Clicking Finish prompts me whether I want to run the backup now (Figure 34):

Figure 34: Step 13 of performing a manual backup of SQL server databases

Monitoring and Reporting

Once the backup is underway, the Status column of the Backup And Restore tab displays progress (Figure 35):

Figure 35: The backup is underway

When the backup task is finished, the Reporting tab displays a View Report link for the backup (Figure 36):

Figure 36: The Reports tab

Clicking the View Report link displays a report concerning the backup task with detailed info (Figure 37):

Figure 37: Viewing a report

My Evaluation of the Product

While I found GFI Backup Business Edition straightforward to install, configure and use, I found the product documentation somewhat lacking. For example, the Getting Started Guide states that you need to open ports 5580 and 5543 on the computer on which you install the product, but it doesn’t describe the steps for opening these ports in Windows Firewall. The online Help for the product says that after agents have been deployed to computers you will need to authorize these agents on the Agents tab of the admin console. However, I found that the deployed agents were automatically authorized with no intervention required on my part. And on further research I discovered that the Administration and User Guide for the product does say that “By default, GFI Backup automatically authorizes newly installed Backup Agents” so it’s the online Help for the product that needs updating. The online Help also said that deploying agents using Group Policy “might require a reboot of the user’s computer to allow for the agent installation” but in my own testing such reboots were required and not optional. Apart from these relatively minor issues however, the product seems robust and performs as designed.

It’s worth discussing how GFI Backup compare with other backup solutions. For example, you can use Transact-SQL commands to back up SQL Server databases from the command-line and instructions for using these commands are well-documented on TechNet. The advantage of GFI Backup over using T-SQL commands is that a GUI backup tool like GFI Backup is easier to use than working from the command line. In my experience you’re also more prone to error when performing admin tasks like backups from the command line. On the other hand, the power of the command line approach, provided you know enough T-SQL, is that you can create scripts you can use to automate the backup of your databases and transaction logs in a customized fashion that meets your specific needs. So it’s simplicity and reliability on one hand vs. Automation and power on the other—you take your pick.

As far as performing SMB-based backups of file servers and network shares, GFI Backup is more flexible in my opinion than the Windows Server Backup utility included as part of Windows Server 2008. For example, GFI Backup directly supports backing up to various tape drives including DDS (Digital Storage), DAT (Digital Audio Tape), LTO (Linear Tape Open) and AIT (Advanced Intelligent Tape) types of tape drives. Windows Server Backup however does not natively support backing up to tape drives. GFI Backup also lets you encrypt your backups using AES encryption; Windows Server Backup doesn’t include encryption support. On the other hand, Windows Server Backup lets you perform a full system recovery onto bare metal should your server experience a catastrophic failure; GFI Backup doesn’t provide such system recovery functionality. So once again, your choice of which backup tool you want to use will largely depend upon your specific needs such as tape backup, encryption, or system recovery.

In conclusion, I am giving GFI Backup Business Edition a rating of 4.5 stars out of 5 for its well-designed web-based administration interface and its broad range of functionality. You can evaluate GFI Backup – Business Edition by downloading the trial from the GFI web site. Rating 4.5/5

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