Best backup software

Maintaining business continuity doesn't need to be a headache

Data backup is something no business can afford to skimp on. If you're operating without a comprehensive strategy for protecting crucial data, you're gambling with your company's very survival.

Yet, too many organisations just keep their fingers crossed: a report published last year by Small Business Trends revealed that 58% of SMEs are unprepared for a data disaster - even though 60% of those that do suffer a major data loss are out of business within six months.

Backup doesn't have to be difficult, or expensive. There's a huge choice of products out there, to suit businesses and budgets of all sizes. In fact, the biggest hurdle facing SMEs today is probably the sheer range of solutions to choose from, which can make it seem like a daunting challenge to pick one that fits their data protection requirements.

To save you the trouble, we've pulled together some of the best hybrid backup products out there aimed firmly at SMEs. They all combine cloud and onsite backup, so you get the advantages of both offsite and onsite storage - and they all come with free time-limited trials, so you can check each one out before buying to make sure you end up with the right backup product.

Backup Everything Business

Price: From 10 per month for 100GB (exc VAT) from backupeverything.co.uk

The name makes quite a claim, but Backup Everything Business (BEB) covers an impressive range of platforms. Windows, Linux, Mac, VMware, Hyper-V, Exchange, SQL Server, SharePoint - you name it and this product can back it up.

That makes it ideal for smaller businesses whose IT resources have grown organically. And the price will definitely suit such organisations: it starts at 10 per month for 100GB of cloud storage, with extra capacity costing a mere 10p per gigabyte per month. Those are compressed capacities with no client limits, and the company's two data centres are both based in the UK, so nothing leaves these shores.

To help you get up and running quickly, there's also a free vault-seeding service, which lets you physically deliver your first backup set on an encrypted removable drive, rather than having to upload everything over the internet.

Setting up your clients involves a little bit of work: there are no push services, meaning the BEB client has to be downloaded to each system in turn. Still, that only takes two minutes, after which you can get on with creating your backup sets from the main interface.

This is a cheery affair, with big colourful icons for the six main functions. Don't make the mistake of thinking this is a basic bit of software, though. Once you've picked the type of backup you want, you can choose to protect files, system states, virtual environments, Exchange datastores and message-level backups (MLBs), SQL databases and even data from Lotus Notes and Domino.

Backup Everything Business lets you back up individual VMs

It's smart, too: when we selected Exchange, the client automatically checked the host and brought up the database ready for selection. You can choose specific mailboxes and individual items to protect. We were also able to pick which databases on our SQL Server 2014 system to back up, and which individual VMs on our Hyper-V host. One neat option is the ability to create local backups of selected VMs without compression or encryption, so they can be very quickly restored and brought back online in case of disaster.

Another clever feature is that you can additionally back up files from your Dropbox, Amazon, Google, Azure, OneDrive, OpenStack and RackSpace storage. Synology NAS shares can also be included, if you install the BEB DSM package.

The final step is to set up backup schedules and destinations. Available destinations include cloud storage and all types of local drives and devices, and you can configure encryption options here, too. You can use your account password as the encryption key, provide a unique key yourself or let the client generate one for you. BEB keeps a copy of your key, so you can't accidentally lose access to your data - but keep your records up to date, as it will only be shared with the account administrator.

And, if disaster ever does strike, restore operations are a cinch. Simply choose the restoration option from the BEB interface, pick a backup set and decide what you want to recover. You can restore files and folders to their original location, or to another destination of your choosing, on any supported client.

Similarly, SQL databases and Exchange datastores can be restored in place or as duplicates, while MLB item-level recovery is run at the Exchange host. And, if you've backed up your VMs without encryption, you can mount them as local volumes on the Hyper-V host for drag-and-drop data recovery.

In all, Backup Everything Business offers a superb range of hybrid backup features for all the major platforms. It's highly flexible when it comes to restoring your data - and it's perfectlypriced for smaller businesses.

Verdict: Probably the easiest, most user-friendly hybrid backup solution we've tried - and it's great value, too

Barracuda Backup Vx

Price: From 399 per year (exc VAT) from barracuda-security.co.uk

Barracuda's backup solutions were previously offered in the form of hardware appliances; now the company has branched out with this clever virtual appliance that runs within a Hyper-V environment.

This makes it very quick to set up: we simply downloaded the image, imported it into our hypervisor, expanded its virtual hard disk, assigned it to a virtual switch and powered it up. The final step is to link the Vx appliance to your Cloud Control account by entering its details in the web portal. Unfortunately, after we'd done this, the appliance continued to report that its cloud connection was down. A call to Barracuda's helpful support identified a problem with the appliance's certificate, and we were up and running within two hours.

From here on it should have been plain sailing - but, embarrassingly, before we'd even had a chance to upload our first backup, Barracuda's cloud service abruptly went offline. We could still back up and restore data from the local appliance, but we were without cloud services for a full day and a half - not an encouraging start.

Still, when everything's working as it should, Barracuda's backup solution is easy to get along with. Barracuda provides a single agent for all Windows versions and applications, and we were able to set up individual systems as backup sources by simply providing a hostname or IP address.

It's simple to configure backup and restore jobs from the appliance's console

By default, sources are fully backed up once a day, but it's easy to create custom schedules and select specific items to back up. As well as everyday files and folders, we were able to back up individual Hyper-V and VMware VMs, plus SQL databases and an entire Exchange mailbox database. Message-level backups require a dedicated Exchange service account and a management shell command to define impersonation rights, but this is clearly documented, and took only a few minutes to set up. With this done, we were able to browse our Exchange datastore and select individual user accounts to be backed up.

For everyday management, Barracuda's web portal offers a wealth of information about backup health, available storage and deduplication savings. It's recently been updated, but if you prefer the old interface you can still access it from the appliance's own web console (which can also be used to initiate local operations).

Data recovery is quite effortless: from the portal, we selected which systems we wanted to restore, chose specific files and folders, then selected whether we wanted to restore them to their original location or to the system running the portal. Likewise, with our SQL Server host, we were easily able to select databases and chose where to restore them.

Selecting our Exchange MLB allowed us to view all users and opt to recover anything from an entire mailbox to a single email. And while VMs can of course be recovered to the host, we're also particular fans of the Cloud LiveBoot feature, which lets you launch backed-up virtual machine images in the cloud, and access them using VNC Viewer. This makes it fantastically easy to dig out lost data or test old application instances with zero upheaval.

In short, Barracuda's Backup Vx appliance ticks all the important boxes. The initial outage shook our confidence, but we've no reason to believe it's likely to be a recurrent problem, making this a strong choice for any business that's invested in virtualised environments.

Verdict: Some unfortunate blips during testing, but overall this backup solution is ideal for virtualised environments

SolarWinds Backup 18.4

Price: From 2,275 per year, ten OSIs and 1TB (exc VAT) from solarwinds.com

SolarWinds' network monitoring software has been a long-time favourite here both at PC Pro and IT Pro. Now the company's latest backup product offers an entirely cloud-based service, allowing mid-sized and larger businesses to protect their servers, desktops and apps - wherever they may be - from a single web portal.

As is expected these days, the software takes a hybrid approach. The base subscription comes with a meaty terabyte of cloud storage, while the built-in LocalSpeedVault (LSV) feature adds onsite backup services for faster recovery. You can choose multiple local drives or LAN locations as destinations, and select which systems will make use of them.

The service isn't cheap. Prices start at 2,275 per year for your 1TB of cloud storage, and that only covers ten OSIs (operating system instances). Still, SolarWinds isn't restrictive about what these are. The product supports all versions of Windows, plus macOS and Linux, along with business apps such as Exchange, SQL Server, Oracle and SharePoint - and all OSIs can be either physical or virtual.

To get set up, your first port of call is the Backup & Recovery cloud portal. From here you can add systems to your account, and generate unique password-protected installation packages that can be downloaded or sent to users via an email link.

Three types of agent are available: the regular version allows Windows, macOS and Linux users to choose their own backup sources, while the "Documents" version for Windows uses a predefined profile to automatically back up common document locations twice a day. For more centralised control, the "Automated" package - again, for Windows only - picks up its settings from the backup profiles you create in the portal. You can configure options for specific drives and apps to back up, along with LSV locations and schedules. You can also remotely push profiles to selected systems, and lock them to stop them being changed.

Backup tasks can be customised and monitored from the local client software

One caveat is that when users install the package, they're prompted to provide a data encryption key. It's essential to keep a record of this; SolarWinds doesn't store a copy, and you won't be able to restore data without it.

You should also note that SolarWinds' Hyper-V support is a bit more fiddly than other providers'. Many backup systems only require you to install an agent on the host, but here you have to deploy the Backup Manager software onto each VM you want to protect. SolarWinds doesn't support message-level backups for Exchange either, relying instead on Microsoft's built-in single item recovery service.

Finally, be aware that there's no direct vault seeding service. If you have a large dataset to back up, your best solution is to run a special backup job that copies everything onto removable media. This can then be imported onto a system with a fast internet connection, which in turn seeds the cloud vault.

When it comes to restoring your data, Backup Manager is impressively versatile. At its simplest, it presents a tidy tree structure of all backed-up data and apps; one clever trick is that support staff can remotely connect to the Backup Manager agent running on any individual client, making assisted data recovery a breeze.

You can also mount the latest backup as a virtual drive on a client machine, so users can browse and restore files themselves from Windows Explorer via drag-and-drop. And if you need to perform a bare-metal recovery, there's a built-in restore tool that creates bootable USB boot media. This can be used to restore a backup onto a borked system, or onto new hardware.

SolarWinds Backup's cloud-first approach is ideal for businesses that operate across multiple different sites. And along with great platform and app support, it provides a handy range of data restoration services that are all easily managed from an informative centralcloud console.

Verdict: A great remotely managed backup service - it's pricey, though, and Exchange support could be smarter

Veritas Backup Exec 20

Price: 1yr Bronze subscription, 370 per terabyte (exc VAT) from span.com

Backup Exec has always been a great on-premises backup service - with this latest release, it grows into a truly comprehensive solution. Along with support for SQL Server 2017, Backup Exec 20 (BE20) adds enhanced support for S3 cloud providers, instant recovery of non-Windows VMs and deduplication as standard.

Meanwhile, Veritas has simplified its licensing. The price above is for a one-year Bronze subscription with 1TB of backup storage. This supports all Windows, VMware and Hyper-V platforms, along with physical to virtual server conversions and the option to use one tape drive. The Silver edition adds support for Linux, Exchange, SQL Server and SharePoint plus up to four tape drives, while the Gold edition activates everything, adds unlimited tape drives and includes NDMP support.

The software runs on a 64-bit Windows server; we had it up and running on our Windows Server 2016 system in 30 minutes. The console opens with a highly informative dashboard, which can be customised by simply dragging widgets around.

Next, the client software needs to be installed on participating systems - which is no hassle at all, as you can push it out from the console using the remote deployment tool. The agent also installed happily on our Exchange, SQL Server and Hyper-V hosts. There's no need to deploy within VMs; the host agent takes care of them all.

Backup stores are configured next. We created a hard disk vault on the BE20 host server itself, but Veritas also supports physical and virtual disks, cloud, tape, deduplicating stores, network shares and removable devices, as well as S3-compatible cloud destinations.

The Instant Recovery feature quickly converts backups into VMs

The software comes with predefined jobs for backing up servers to disk, or to the cloud. Naturally, you can customise sources, destinations and schedules, add extra stages such as migration to tape and set policies such as retention periods for individual destinations. The Job Monitor page shows all job activity, along with any issues encountered.

And restoring data, when the time comes, is a piece of cake. From the console you can choose a host, browse its files, folders or volumes, pick a backup or point in time and decide where to send them. Bare-metal recovery comes as standard too, while the Instant GRT feature lets you browse VM backups and restore any item within them - including SQL databases, Exchange datastores and individual mailboxes and emails.

One last great feature is Instant VM Recovery, which can turn any backup into a VM. We found it took just four minutes to generate and boot a virtual duplicate of a past system state.

If you want total control over your data protection, Backup Exec 20 is the perfect choice. It's easy to use, yet provides a superb depth of features, and the price is within reach of even the smallest business.

Verdict: Great server backup features, slick recovery tools and versatile licensing make this a brilliant choice

Image: Shutterstock

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