Retrospect is one of the longest-lived backup packages on the market, and over the years it has gone from a relatively simple client-server backup package to include all the extras it needs to compete in this market – support for tape auto-loaders, for example, and application-specific functionality such as explicit support for SQL Server databases. Retrospect has a concept of 'volumes' that it can back up. A volume could be the same as a Windows volume, or you can define your own – you could, for instance, decide that a 'My Documents' folder should be treated as a volume in its own right. It’s a nice idea because once you’ve defined a volume, it’s treated as an entity in its own right throughout the Retrospect GUI, so you can add it to backup and restore jobs easily rather than having to go groping through the directory structure all the time. You can do immediate backups, or you can schedule jobs to run unattended. When you define a backup job you simply tell the server which source(s) to back up, and where to back them up to (a tape drive, a local or remote disk, a writable CD/DVD or an archive file). “Backup Sets” as they are called can span multiple entities in each case, and when (for instance) you fill up a DVD-R, it’ll ask you for a new one. Each set can be password-protected and/or encrypted in case, for example, someone strolls off with your backup CD. The backup wizard includes some extra options, such as what types of file to back up (e.g. system files only, or data files only), a preview of the list of stuff that matches the current backup criteria, whether to do complete or incremental backups of your SQL Server database, and so on. You can choose to run a backup immediately, or you can set them to run automatically via an idiot-proof scheduling routine. Ease of use
Restoring from a backup is as easy as falling off a log. You choose what you want to restore (an entire volume or just a selection of files/databases), where you want to restore it to (you can overwrite the existing version or choose to restore to a different location), and hit “Go”. If, as we did in our test, you wish to restore an SQL Server database, you’re offered a number of “snapshots” to restore; this is because when backing up such a beast, Retrospect takes an “image” of the database contents so that when you come to recover the data, everything’s in sync and you don’t have some complete tables and some incomplete ones. Retrospect also includes a disaster recovery option, which enables you to take a complete snapshot of your entire machine and write it to (say) a DVD, so that if you completely trash your world you can easily recover from a backup. You must remember to turn on all the optional flags, though, to make sure your file security information and open files are copied to the backup. All this said, the thing that’s always appealed to me about Retrospect since I first used it back in the early 1990s is its ability to back up client machines over the network. This is particularly useful if you run a fleet of portable PCs (and Unix machines, and Macintoshes – in fact Retrospect started life as the leading Mac backup tool), because you can tell the backup server to go and fetch the desired files from any number of computers across the corporate network, and to restore to these machines in the event of a data loss. Retrospect is a devilishly flexible backup tool, and is extremely easy to use even if you’re not particularly experienced with backup tools. Okay, it doesn’t have as many specialist add-ons as the likes of Veritas Backup Exec or the more high-end packages on the market, but for the average installation that has a bunch of client computers plus Windows servers with Exchange and SQL Server, it’s just the job.