I'm a small business person and run three computers: the main desktop, a secondary desktop and a notebook computer. These are connected together via a WiFi network and share an ADSL router to get to the Internet. It's a very small network but then I run a very small business.

The systems all run Windows XP and have all failed at least once, mostly through hard drive crashes. Backup has been a constant problem; both the low level 'I deleted a file I shouldn't' type backup and the 'I need to re-install everything' type problem.

I started out with Zip disks, tried Colorado tape - unbelievably slow - and then, gratefully, discovered CD burning. But, oh it's tedious, and only got done for the main PC. Then, what bliss, disk-to-disk backup came along. So now my main PC is backed up to a USB-connect external disk, using an incremental backup, every day. The other two computers get backed up when I remember and by file copy to the external hard drive connected to the main PC.

It's far from perfect but I'm much better protected than I was. Why aren't I protected better? I'm not a skilled Windows administrator and don't want to be. They would be backed up better if I could software that could do network backups without me having to read the manual and write complicated backup scripts.

What I'd like is to have backup software that automatically backs up the main system and the other two systems automatically and daily to disk. It should use incremental backups and not require me to take a course in Windows system administration. It should enable me to prepare a recovery CD so that, if I needed to replaced a crashed PC I could do a bare metal restore from the recovery CD and all my applications, settings, folders and files recovered in one session. Not a lot to ask.

It seems as if I've found it. EMC Retrospect for Windows 7.5 does what I ask. You load the CD in the main system and install the software. There's a registration procedure to pass through and your firewall has to be opened up sufficiently to let network backups take place. Then you load the CD in the other systems and install the client software. There's a password to be entered for each one and their firewall settings have to be altered too. When you backup a client PC from the main one you need to enter this password. Then you launch a first and full backup on the main system.

The GUI is simple and intuitive with few choices. (There is an advanced way of using Retrospect but for the purposes of this review I didn't want to know.) The backup runs and is then verified. Next you run Retrospect again but this time choose to backup a networked notebook PC. Retrospect looked for it on the network and presents it to you. Obviously it has to be switched on. You tell Retrospect you want to do a full backup and tick the Prepare for Disaster Recovery radio button. I chose not to compress the files or to encrypt them as they came across the network, speed being more important to me. Off Retrospect goes. Four hours or so later I had a protected secondary system.

It was vastly slower of course than backing up the main system to its own external drive. The average MB/sec rate was 12-25 compared to the 300-700MB/sec for the main system. That's WiFi for you. It used 35 percent of the WiFi bandwidth. I had to remember that the first backup of a system will be a full backup. The later ones will be incremental and thus much quicker. Still, the obvious thing to do is to schedule evening or over-night backups so that they can run uninterrupted.

Any business with fast Ethernet should be able to run much faster.

The next step was to prepare a disaster recovery CD for it. Retrospect 7.5 will prepare a 3-page set of instructions for this as well as creating a DR CD. In essence you have to start the failed client system using its Windows XP CD, create a partition on its disk, enter the Windows XP product key, set up TCP/IP networking on it, install the Retrospect client software and then restore from the server using the most recent local disk snapshot. This isn't my ideal, that of being able to do a bare metal restore from a single CD but Windows won't allow that.

It's probably best to rehearse this procedure before having to do it for real.

The interface is pretty good although it will come up with messages when you want to exit such as two executions ready to run and there is no obvious way of finding out what these executions are and how to get rid of them. You have to read the manual and you have to be able to cope with Windows' own peculiarities

All-in-all Retrospect 7.5 is jolly good software. It enabled me, a complete non-Windows XP administrator, to fully protect my small network of machines, both for data loss and for situations needing a complete software install. Retrospect 7.5 can do much, much more, of course, including things such as data grooming, backing up to optical disk or tape and more besides. There's no reason to doubt that Retrospect would be a thoroughly capable backup application for any small business. You can buy more client licenses than the two included with my software if you have more clients. There is also a version of Retrospect for businesses with multiple servers.

This is good software. It moved my data protection capabilities significantly further forward and I'm now radically better protected against both file and system loss.

OUR VERDICT

For a small business owner with a network of machines and a need to protect them from a central point this product will back them up to disk or tape and provide disaster recovery facilities.