There may be a huge range of data protection solutions on the market aimed at a wide range of businesses but all too many still focus primarily on the backup process. In the event of a disaster, data recovery now becomes of prime importance and yet the processes involved with some products fail to recognise that downtime is now a very dirty word. With the majority of businesses totally reliant on their IT services, the faster a recovery can be achieved the less impact it will have on productivity.

Unitrends’ SafeServe comes at the data protection problem from the opposite side but also aims to provide a total solution that incorporates on-site and off-site backup. One of its key features is its rapid recovery capabilities where it can restore an entire system in minutes. Traditionally, these types of products have been aimed at mid-range companies and enterprises but SafeServe is designed specifically for the SMB as an affordable business continuity solution.

It’s based round appliances that use hard disk vaults to store backed up data and you have one called the DPU (data protection unit) which is installed on-site. This supports both server and workstation platforms and agents are currently available for around twenty-four operating systems. The second appliance, called the DPV (data protection vault), is optional and is maintained in a remote location where it acts as an off-site backup location for the DPU. Choosing not to go with this option doesn’t make the DPU a single point of failure as it also supports removable hard disks and local tape drives.

On review is the entry-level SafeServe DPU appliance which comprises a desktop unit equipped with a Celeron D 2.8GHz processor, 512MB of DDR memory and a pair of 250GB SATA hard disks configured as a fault tolerant mirror. (The unit also comes in 150GB and 250GB customer data versions.) A Linux kernel resides at its foundation and management access is currently supported on local monitor and keyboard links or using the VNC utility to remotely access the appliance’s GUI. Web browser management is supported but it only currently provides access to general settings and not the backup and restoration tools.

The appliance does come preconfigured to slip in with your LAN IP subnet but there is a fair amount of work to do during the installation phase. Networks relying on a DHCP server must configure reservations to ensure it always associates IP address with the same MAC address. Next, you must use the DPU console to manually declare the IP address and machine name of each client system. If the Windows XP SP2 firewall is active you’ll also need to configure it to open two ports for SafeServe access or set the agent as a firewall exception. When the agent is installed the IP address and name of the DPU must be entered and after loading it needs to be associated with a specific backup set as well.

The next step is to create a bare metal recovery disk which can contain information for up to forty clients on one disk. This is used to boot the client into a recovery environment allowing it to contact the DPU ready for a system restoration. The hot bare metal backup comes next and this takes a snapshot of the system partition and a copy of the MBR and operating system. We tested this on a Windows Server 2003 system where it took 399 seconds to create the backup of 7.9GB of data to the DPU over Gigabit Ethernet. Finally, you can now take file backups where you create a single schedule to run regular snapshots plus weekly full backups and daily partial backups for multiple clients. On our test server this took 1899 seconds to secure 27.5GB of data for an average speed of 889MB/min.

Now the SafeServe system can be left to get on with backup duties in the background. The agent is designed to be transparent and will monitor client resources to ensure it doesn’t impair performance whilst running. It also provides a full toolbox for users to run backup and recovery jobs and monitor the current status of their backups. We found the administrative console reasonably well designed allowing us to easily create backup schedules. There are plenty of options here as you can run manual backup and restore tasks, monitor running jobs and DPU utilisation and dig through an extensive range of job reports.

SafeServe scores when it comes to a full system recovery and the process is really very simple. To test this we completely trashed a Windows XP donor system by deleting the data partition. We then booted the system into PartitionMagic, deleted the system partition and then reformatted the entire hard disk as a Linux EXT3 partition to ensure all data had been lost. To restore the client we just booted it using the prepared recovery disk, linked it to the DPU and selected a snapshot. This restores the system disk and operating system along with all applications but will only be as up to date as when the last snapshot was taken. We recovered the XP client along with a 14.6GB system partition in 336 seconds for an average speed of 1.7GB/min. The client is then brought up to date by loading the Windows agent and selecting the full backup and last partial that you want restored. SafeServe maintains as many versions of data as you want so you can restore a system back to a specific date if the data is available.

Don’t think you can take a recovery disk and restore data to a different system as SafeServe links the correct ISO image to the client PCs using their MAC addresses so the recovery disk will only work with the systems it was created to protect. To recover data from the DPU to a different system to where it was backed up from requires a special recovery disk to be created.

Although the installation process is somewhat lengthy the wait is worthwhile as SafeServe provides a slick backup system that is particularly easy to automate. Basing costs on the amount of customer data to be secured rather than the client count makes it better value than many similar solutions but its biggest strength is its efficient and speedy disaster recovery procedures.

Sentral has advised it will give a 10 percent discount on the price if customers mention this article when ordering. Eg: "The price of the unit you reviewed is for 50GB customer data and the RRP is £3,513. However, we will give a 10 percent discount on the price if (customers) mention (this) article when ordering.
Best regards, Ray"
Ray Felton
Sentral Systems Limited
Royal Mail House
Terminus Terrace
Southampton SO14 3FD
Tel: 44 (0)23 8021 1266
Fax: 44 (0)23 8022 5672


When the going gets tough SafeServe delivers the goods and is certainly capable of providing high speed data recovery procedures that’ll reduce downtime substantially when restoring failed systems. We would like to see full web browser management implemented along with PXE boot support but otherwise this data protection solution is offering a good range of features at a reasonable price