Product Review: Kroll Ontrack PowerControls

 

Product: Ontrack PowerControls 7.0

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Introduction

Data recovery has been and continues to be an essential aspect to all avenues of IT. Exchange data, SharePoint data, really all forms of data are in jeopardy from disasters that are man-made or brought upon by nature. And for years the focus was on greater resiliency of servers and, as a last ditch effort, smoother restoration. In modern times a new task has been put in the hands of IT. The burden of regulatory compliance. Data retention (not just recovery, but retention for extended periods of time) and discovery (instant discovery, the faster the better!) is a weighty task.

Ontrack PowerControls makes these tasks easier without making you change your existing backup procedures or your current Exchange environment. This tool has the ability to reach into and read your existing backups, archived EDBs, and PSTs, SharePoint MDF files, etc. and pull out anything you need. This allows you the granular ability to restore individual messages (as well as tasks, notes, contacts, etc) and it also makes discovery of backed up or archived EDBs incredibly easy. Personally, after extensive testing, I was impressed with the feature-set, the ease of use and the speed of this software solution. But before I jump too far ahead, let’s re-visit the challenges facing IT.

Note:
Ontrack PowerControls has a SharePoint tool included as well but for this review I was primarily focused on the Exchange capabilities in my testing.

The Challenges Facing IT

In the past we used terms like RPO and RTO meaning recovery point objective (aka how much data can you lose?) and recovery time objective (how long will it take you to restore that data?) but these terms have become moot in Service Level Agreements (SLAs) because the answer is always: “I cannot lose any data, not one email” and “I want everything restored immediately”. Modern availability capabilities, that are built-in or can be purchased for higher availability, have folks thinking they are ever safe. But anyone in the business of recovering data will tell you there are no absolutes and you need to truly know your plan for recovery. So, you have to take your backups and you have to be prepared to restore that data, let’s say Exchange data, whether the entire server, a mailbox database, a mailbox or that one message the VP deleted months ago that has moved beyond the grasp of the deleted item retention time. Now what?

Recovering Exchange data is usually very, very tedious and frustrating, especially if you are using built-in Windows Server backup. Just to get folks up and running fast you might perform a dial-tone recovery where you set up a dial-tone database to get folks back to work, set up the recovery database and restore from backup (make sure the database is solid with an eseutil) and then swap the two and then merge the two databases so that the work of the day is now merged with the backed up data. If you have ever done it, you know it’s a bear. Restoring a single mailbox or message is just as tedious and frustrating. If you’ve done it, and moved mailboxes over to PSTs so you can crawl through and find that one message, you know it’s not ideal. And don’t even get me started on regulatory demands and the need to be able to archive appropriately and discover that data should litigation come your way.

So what can folks do? Many businesses don’t have the finances to purchase expensive third-party backup recovery tools with all the bells and whistles. They may be forced to use Windows Server Backup, which is only suited for full backups, it doesn’t do brick level (individual mailbox) backups. And that may not be such a bad thing because brick level backups, while giving you some flexibility, they cause added expenses due to the storage needs (and you still have to have a full backup because you cannot restore your servers or databases off brick-level backups.)

Some are willing to pay the added expense for storage and the tools and so they look at tools that can back up both the entire database and individual mailboxes. They want the added functionality of being able to go into a mailbox that has been backed up, select the email that needs to be restored and simply put it back into the Inbox. No recovery database, just a simple copy/paste operation.

For many Exchange admins it feels like a catch-22. Pay for the added tools and storage, or pay with time should you need to restore from backup or discover the data. There has to be a better way. With Ontrack PowerControls you have a powerful tool that is incredibly easy to use. As mentioned at the outset I did some extensive testing with it and it passed every test with flying, fast colors.

Ontrack PowerControls 7.0

The Ontrack PowerControls software, once installed, comes with 3 different tools.

  • Ontrack PowerControls ExtractWizard: The ExtractWizard tools help extract data from Exchange or SharePoint from a backup set located on disk or tape. After extracting the data you can restore mailboxes and/or individual mailbox items (messages, tasks, etc.) to a running Exchange server or .pst. On the SharePoint side you can restore lists, folders and items to a running SharePoint server.
  • Ontrack PowerControls for Exchange helps you search and extract information from .edb files, .pst files and .cas files that are not part of a backup set. Note: Use the ExtractWizard tool if you are looking to restore from backup. You can locate the mailbox item you need and restore it directly to a mailbox without having to use a recovery database or do anything super complicated to make it happen.
  • Ontrack PowerControls for SharePoint allows you to use .mdf, .ndf and .ldf as source files for search and extraction of SharePoint data. If you want to extract from MDF files that are the back of a backup set use the ExtractWizard tool, but if you have individual files you are looking to pull from and restore, this tool lets you do it right to a running SharePoint server.

Understanding the primary usability scenarios here is a key to my evaluation of the software and here is a bulleted list that highlights what this software can do for you:

  • Minimize the time needed to restore individual Exchange messages, mailboxes or entire EDB files – or SharePoint items, lists, libraries, folders and entire sites.
  • Find items meeting specific search criteria faster – even across multiple data sources – then copy and export those items to your desired location.
  • Eliminate the need for a recovery server. Both applications work directly with your backups and allow you to extract and restore only the items that you need!
  • Keep your current production and backup processes intact. Ontrack PowerControls requires no changes to your current processes and runs on any Windows-based workstation.
  • Manage your users’ complete set of mail items, including the Exchange Server Personal Archive Mailbox and Recoverable Items features.
  • Migrate efficiently to a new Exchange Server, by eliminating the need to have your new and old servers coexist simultaneously. Save time and resources by fully automating the ability to copy legacy email to your new server using the Mailbox Creation Wizard.
  • Enhanced metadata preservation when exporting Exchange and SharePoint source data – a key requirement in forensic data collection for investigations, litigation, and regulatory requests.

Installation and Ease of Use

There is plenty of documentation on the install and configuration process. It’s a bit overwhelming rather than comforting at times. For example, the ExtractWizard guide was a 186 page pdf with the Exchange tool guide weighing in at 208 pages. Personally I think the Exchange Deployment Assistant is a tool that all software companies need to consider. You answer a few questions on what you are trying to do and it culls through all the documentation to boil it down to what you need, when you need it. A step-by-step just for you. I prefer that to combing pdfs. Nevertheless, I like a support document that is thorough and Kroll Ontrack is quite thorough, making it easy to work through the software and quickly adjust settings if something isn’t working out just right.

The install process is a Next-Next-Finish type of install. When you kick off the installation you’ll get a splash screen with some options (shown in Figure 1). From the splash screen you can choose to view the Readme Files for information on installation requirements for each tool.

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Figure 1: Ontrack PowerControls splash screen

Ontrack PowerControls can be installed on virtually any OS (server or workstation) and I chose to run it on a Windows 8.1 Enterprise system running Outlook 2013, which was necessary for the Exchange tool. During the install process you have the choice of installing one or all of the tools (shown in Figure 2).

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Figure 2: Selecting features to install

Once the installation is complete there is a message for folks looking to use the SharePoint tools and that is to install the Ontrack PowerControls Agent for Content Transfer Service on the SharePoint farm (shown in Figure 3)

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Figure 3: SharePoint reminder message

Once the tools are installed you can reach for whichever one you want first. I went for the Ontrack PowerControls for Exchange to start because I wanted to see how easy it would be to first, reach into a very old pst file that I’ve been meaning to grab an email from and second, reach into an .edb file from an offline copy backup of Exchange that I took off my Exchange 2013 server.

When you first open the Exchange tool you’re greeted with a Data Wizard to help you get right to work (shown in Figure 4). From here you choose your source file and then you can choose the target type and path (shown in Figure 5).

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Figure 4: Choosing your source

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Figure 5: Choosing your target

So, for me personally it jumped into the source files with no problem. I was able to see my email and immediately click through it as if I was looking at the Inbox from Outlook. But I had a little trouble with the target side. I kept getting an error message about Autodiscover and Outlook Anywhere (shown in Figure 6). I knew my Exchange server was working fine, so this was odd. I mention this because within 5 minutes I was able to pull up the support documentation (I said it was thorough) and find that I needed to jump into Preferences and turn on the two target options for both Autodiscover and Outlook Anywhere (shown in Figure 7). And after that it connected to my running Exchange server, to the mailbox of my choosing, and I was easily able to copy the email from the source to the running target. Worked perfectly.

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Figure 6: Error connecting to target

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Figure 7: Configuring Preferences

My next goal was to connect to an .edb file that I performed by unmounting it on my Exchange server and then copying and pasting the edb (with logs and such) so I could peer inside. Worked perfectly. At that point I started testing the discovery side to the tool and I performed a search for emails sent from a specific person. The response was immediate (shown in Figure 8). I was quite impressed with the speed and ease of use all around with the Exchange side of the tool.

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Figure 8: Find in Source

Next up, I wanted to test the ability to search and extract data from a Backup Set so I opened up the ExtractWizard tool. I appreciated that there were a number of different options for selecting the catalog options (shown in Figure 9) and in addition to the tool working with Windows Server Backup, agents were available to make it work with EMC NetWorker, IBM Tivoli and CommVault Simpana as well.

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Figure 9: Catalog Performance Options

Once again, ease of use and helpful documentation made using the tool quite effortless. That’s always a complaint I hear from admins. Every time they get a new tool they have to spend hours learning how to work with it. Sometimes it involves attending classes, which is necessary depending on the complexity of the tools you’re using, but not the case here with Ontrack PowerControls.

Pricing and Support

The pricing is based on licensing and is flexible based on data capacity, license period and simultaneous sessions required. I was able to find out that the average price for 100 mailboxes, with 1 year maintenance, is roughly $1,200. However, they do offer pricing starting at 25 mailboxes and up for the SMB market. For more information on licensing costs you can check out the breakdown of license models here. There is a link at the bottom of the page that leads to a contact sheet with two basic questions: How many email mailboxes are you personally responsible for supporting? And how many email mailboxes your organization supports – at all locations? Ultimately it looks like you are better off calling and working out your deal directly based on the licensing needs you have. Enterprise level pricing is more customized to meet the needs of larger organizations.

As mentioned earlier the documentation was thorough and helped me whenever I got stuck. I prefer a bit more streamlined approach but obviously it got the job done. I used the website to search for some additional information but everything was already built into the product in terms of support and I never had to contact support to speak to a human (a win in my book).

Final Thoughts

Ontrack PowerControls is a great solution. It was easy to get up and running, easy to use, performed as advertised and incredibly fast whether I was pulling in new sources of data or searching through those sources for specific data. This tool is perfect for occasions where you need to perform more granular search and restore on your Exchange data, or migrate data over to new email systems, or discover content in your EDB archives or backup sets. Kroll Ontrack is known for data recovery expertise. Ontrack PowerControls is an excellent part of their product offerings.

MSExchange.org Rating 4.5/5

Learn more about Kroll Ontrack PowerControls or download a free trial here.

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