Protecting data on a distributed network can be difficult at the best of times and hard disk vaulting has traditionally offered a solid alternative to tape as a backup solution. The DC-Protect from DataCenter Technologies (DCT) is designed specifically for these types of environments and is supplied as a complete appliance that can be dropped into place and configured for use with minimal user intervention.

The appliance is well built and designed with a simple LCD screen on the front panel showing basic unit and network status information. There’s nothing of any note under the lid as this Linux based system uses a simple MicroStar MS-9129 motherboard sporting a 2.4GHz Pentium 4 processor and 512MB of PC2700 SDRAM. Storage capacity is disappointing as all the price of the review sample gets you is a miserly 120GB ATA/100 hard disk. We were advised by DCT that 250GB Serial ATA models are also available which only cost slightly more than this (£6,140 ex VAT). The latter can be upgraded to 1TB but we were advised by DCT that this is a two-day job.

You have to ask yourself how it is possible to run an effective backup strategy for multiple clients when the appliance has so little local storage but DC-Protect has a few aces up its sleeve to reduce the amount of data being secured. It cuts storage requirements by only maintaining a single copy of a file regardless of how many clients it resides on. When a file is copied DC-Protect computes a 128-bit content fingerprint and compares this with files already residing on the appliance and if it finds a match it doesn’t copy the file. Once a full backup has been completed only new or modified files will be copied so subsequent backups will be much shorter. To reduce initial runtimes it would probably be worth ‘seeding’ the vault by first securing clients with typical operating systems, applications and files.

The use of intelligent clients also reduces network overheads as these take on much of the legwork during the backup process. When a backup starts the appliance send a list of files to the target system and as the client finds them it computes a fingerprint and checks it with the appliance. If a perfect match is found it leaves the file and moves on to the next. When candidates for backup are found it performs encryption locally and then sends the file to the appliance. One advantage of local encryption is that backup could be performed safely over WAN links and another is that clients must have the passphrase to be able to restore files.

Installation is indeed a swift affair which starts with a trip to the local console to provide network, DNS and email server details. This is dealt with from a single screen and then the appliance can be accessed remotely via a browser. Client installation is also straightforward as all Windows, Linux and Solaris installer packages are stored on the appliance and can be deployed using a range of scenarios including FTP, email or login scripts. As group membership is determined during client installation the appliance automatuically picks them up as they come on-line and adds them to the relevant group. All you need do is activate them and apply a backup schedule to each one. Each client’s hard disk can be remotely browsed and you can select files, folders and the registry for backup. There are plenty of scheduling facilities and you can also request a client is backed up after a reboot.

Restoration tasks are carried out from the same interface and can be deployed down to the desktop. Clients are only allowed to see those resources they have permission for. They can browse secured files and once a valid passphrase has been supplied they can restore them to the original location or a new destination.

This method of hard disk vaulting isn’t revolutionary as it has been used by Altiris’ Client Recovery Solution (CRS) for a number of years. However, where DC-Protect scores higher is that unlike CRS it supports servers as well as workstations and laptops. It also offers improved security as data is encrypted before being transmitted to the appliance and also looks better value as despite costing around the same, software vaulting solutions expect you to bring your own hardware and storage.

OUR VERDICT

If you want to control all network backup but delegate restore operations down to the desktop than hard disk vaults are a great idea. The DC-Protect may not be well endowed in the hardware department but it is better value than software solutions and is comparatively easy to deploy and use