Review: Symantec Backup Exec System Recovery 8

By Aaron Weiss
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Let's be honest ‑ for many of us, backing up our PC, while very important, often falls somewhere behind eating our vegetables and working out three times a week. Oh sure, we read the stories of calamity that befalls other people who haven't done their backups ‑ like the architectural firm lost $2.5M worth of plans when a disgruntled employee deleted them. The small business incurred several thousands of dollars in costs to pay a data-recovery firm to retrieve what could have been restored in minutes with a proper backup.

Symantec Backup Exec System Recovery 8 (Desktop Edition) may possess an unwieldy name, but it represents the veteran vendor's latest evolution in streamlining the backup process. Additionally, Backup Exec System Recovery 8 (BESR8) separates system and data from hardware, which lets you restore backups on different hardware or even migrating system images between physical and virtual machines.

Out of the Virtual Box

You can download BESR8 directly from the Symantec Web site (though you have to register first). The download includes two 400MB files—one is the software installer, the other an ISO image for a bootable recovery disk with BESR8 restore tools.

Installing BESR8 on any 32- or 64-bit Windows 2000/XP/Vista system is straightforward and defaults to a 60-day trial version unless or until you activate the software with a license key. A single desktop license runs about $81, and you must buy one license per desktop where BESR8 will be installed, though the per-desktop cost decreases with volume above 25 units.

It is clear from the start that Symantec has designed BESR8 to present a very user-friendly face on top of a potentially complex feature set. On install, a wizard prompts you to create an initial backup of your system and data, though you may opt out.

The interface is neatly divided into five categories ‑ Home, Status, Tasks, Tools and Advanced. Most of your time using BESR8 will be spent clicking on Tasks and Tools.

Symantec Backup Exec System Recovery 8 (Desktop Edition)
We like the user-friendly Tasks page in Symantec Backup Exec System Recovery 8 (Desktop Edition).
(Click for larger image)

Schedules and Triggers

BESR8 backups are known as recovery points and they represent the data needed to restore your PC to its state at that moment in time.

To begin a backup, you first define a job, which specifies what data will be included in the recovery point. The default and most common job is "My Computer" which covers your whole Windows install. You can optionally choose to backup data from other drives and partitions as part of this same job (or in another job of its own).

You can then assign jobs to an automatic time-based schedule: day of week and times, and you can run backups multiple times per day. You can also launch backup jobs by event triggers, such as when new or specific applications are installed, specified users log on or off, or a specific amount of data has been added to a drive.

Finally, jobs can also be launched in consultation with Symantec's ThreatCon global security threat metric. ThreatCon is like Symantec's version of Homeland Security threat level colors, but for PC malware. Using this feature, BESR8 will launch a backup job if deemed necessary by the ThreatCon level, as determined by Symantec.

Because backup jobs run in the background, you can continue working while BESR8 takes care of business. A small informational window pops up briefly when a backup event begins.

A simple calendar view in the Status menu lets you view future scheduled jobs and optionally click on any date to edit its schedule.

Backup Targets

Storage capacity is cheap, which removes one old excuse for avoiding backups. You can point BESR8 jobs to just about any storage destination – a network share, thumb drive, external USB disk and even a remote Internet location via FTP. Because Windows will sometimes assign different drive letters to attached storage devices like USB disks, BESR8 recognizes these drives by "branding" them with a data tag, allowing the software to assign specific jobs to specific external disks.

Saved backups (recovery points) can be managed after the fact using the Copy Recovery Point task, which lets you, as the name implies, copy a recovery point to another storage location or even to writable CD/DVD.

When you have created a full system recovery point, future backups within the "life" of that recovery point (as defined in the schedule) will contain incremental changes. This saves disk space, because each recovery point does not need to contain duplicate data, which can save you many gigabytes.

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This article was originally published on July 10, 2008
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