Dantz – Retrospect Express / Server 5.5 review

simple but clever incremental backup tool
Photo of Dantz – Retrospect Express / Server 5.5
£39.00 + VAT for Express, £549.00 + VAT for Server (20 user version)

The new versions of the Retrospect Express and Server backup tools add ‘roll-back’ functionality to the backup process, allowing IT managers and end-users to restore the ‘last good’ state of one or more PCs with very little effort. While the Express version is designed for single-user PCs, the Server edition can handle more than 100 client systems over an NT/2000 server-based network. Full disaster recovery features are built-in.

Retrospect is an incremental backup tool. This means that after the first full backup, subsequent backup operations will only store changed or updated files. This saves on storage space and backup time. Usually it also makes the data recovery process more complicated, but Retrospect has some tricks to get around that. Conventional backup tools, whether for the server or the client, usually base their incremental backup strategies on the files’ archive bits. Retrospect takes a different approach, taking into account file name, creation date, size, modification date and other parameters. By doing this it ensures that only new or modified files are backed up.

After each backup, a ‘snapshot’ – basically a full, detailed directory listing – is made, storing information about each and every file on the hard drive. Using these snapshots, restoring files from any backup set is straightforward. You don’t have to laboriously install each ‘increment’ one after another, as Retrospect will simply prompt for the appropriate storage volume and do most of the work for you. This means a PC can be ‘rolled back’ to any backup set, right back to the very first one, with little effort.

Storage volumes can be on just about any form of backup medium. This includes tape, CD-R/RW, removable drives such as Iomega’s Zip, plus any drive with an associated drive letter, including network drives. In our tests, Retrospect found our tape, CD-R and Zip drives without difficulty, by scanning the SCSI and IDE buses rather than relying on the Windows hardware manager. Conveniently, the program supports disk spanning, so any backup set that’s too large to fit on one volume can be spread over two or more.

Backup is just one half of the process. Too often, backup software fails to handle disaster recovery situations, requiring a manual re-installation of Windows before any data can be restored. But Retrospect incorporates a ‘prepare for disaster recovery’ feature. Using this, a bootable CD can be created, which can then be used to install the necessary drivers for your chosen backup medium. This reduces downtime to a minimum and makes disaster recovery a much simpler process than it often is with other backup tools.

Retrospect Server can handle the snapshots and incremental backup sets of 100 or more (depending on the number of licences) network-connected computers separately. The process is largely automated and the software includes native drivers for the vast majority of backup devices on the market. Connection via LAN or TCP/IP is supported. As with the Express version, individual files can be extracted from the backup sets with relative ease, and the ‘roll-back’ function is also available.

Company: Dantz

Contact: 020 8358 5857

Simple, fast and regular backups are vital to the health of any organisation. Retrospect does a good job in this respect and arguably only partition-level utilities such as PowerQuest's Drive Image and (for networks) Drive Image Pro provide a more complete backup solution.