Safety in Numbers
The loss or failure of servers can put a strain on your agency through lost productivity and data, and it can send systems administrators searching for the nearest bottle of pain reliever. But once-a-day backups only increase the risk. So what are your options? Symantec’s Veritas Replication Exec 3.1 can ensure continuous protection for Microsoft SQL Server and Exchange applications, and reduce downtime.
Even though it comes with four thick manuals — Admin manual, Clustering Reference Guide, SmartLink Reference Guide and srTool Reference Guide — don’t be intimidated. I skimmed the manuals for a quick-start procedure, and upon finding none, I decided that because I was pressed for time, I should just install it to see how intuitive it is. Luckily, I made the correct choice.
Setup is fast and easy, especially if you are familiar with Backup Exec and Symantec terminology. Otherwise, you will probably need to at least scan the Admin manual to clarify some of the terms used — particularly the three main components and how they interact with one another. For instance, I had some initial confusion as to the “replication management server” and the “administrator console” segments.
When you click on Setup, you get a choice of installations: Complete, Replication Service Agent or Custom.
If you choose Custom, you can install any combination of the three components. Here’s a quick rundown of the basic functions of the three components:
- The Replication Management Server manages the replication jobs.
- The Replication Service Agent allows the machine to be the originator or the endpoint of a replication job.
- The Admin console is for setting up and monitoring the jobs (which actually manages the server component).
So effectively, you can install the Replication Management Server on any server with some spare computing cycles. You can install the Replication Service Agent on any system you want to replicate or on which you want to store the replication, and the Admin console can be located on the network administrator’s system anywhere in the enterprise.
You can either push out the installation from the administrator’s console to a remote machine or install it from the CD or network share. There will be a reboot required to get the service up and running.
After installing the console portion, the job setup interface looked similar to that of Symantec Backup Exec. So I set up a test using a new database server. I wanted to use this as a test because the regular Veritas backup software has sharing issues with the database engine, so I wanted to see how Replication Exec would handle this.
I was able to quickly create a test backup job on the test database application. I had two fellow workers open the database application on their computers to maintain a file lock on some of the files because I wanted to see how it worked under such conditions. I ran the replication job, and as it turns out, there were no indications of file locking, and I was presented with an exact duplicate file-for-file of everything that was in our enterprise resource planning system directory.
Why It Works for IT
With some simple installation of program files, I easily set up a backup server on one of our other file servers in the event our main database server went down and we needed to instantly start it up without skipping a beat. Think about the implications. You could have backup servers in a remote office, in a different room or in a different state, which could back up over a wide area network.
There is also a parameter you can set that will limit Replication Exec to a specific percentage of the available bandwidth. For practicality’s sake, you can set the first replication during off hours with a larger bandwidth percentage, then bring it down to a lower level once the main bulk of a replication is done. At that point, you will replicate changes only, and that won’t require as much throughput. Plus if bandwidth factors change, the percentage works much better than setting an actual bitrate.
Another neat feature is “publishing,” which lets you replicate to more than one destination point. You can send your data to a remote office, another server onsite and a data warehousing facility: instant redundancy.
If you own Backup Exec, you can invoke another portion of the program called SmartLink. This is done by right-clicking your replication job and choosing “Create SmartLink.” This is a command line building utility that links directly to Backup Exec.
There is also a scripting language called srTool that lets you automate the control and configuration of a replication system by providing a command-line interface for detailed scripting of replication tasks, extending capabilities beyond the limits of the graphical user interface, simplifying otherwise tedious object-by-object tasks and extending diagnostic functionality through monitoring of replication activity.
Replication Exec would be a handy resource for any network with a few specialty servers or on a complex network with many virtual servers. It would add the comfort of redundancy and live data at a moment’s notice. Replication Exec would be even more valuable for locations that have limited budgets and resources, giving them capabilities comparable to much larger enterprises for a fraction of the cost.
There are two main hiccups. The first is the daunting documentation. I would suggest Symantec add a fast-start option so a busy IT person could get up and running quickly. Yes, the program is intuitive, but you don’t know that when you look at the box sitting on the shelf.
The second issue is mainly a precaution. Because this application is so easy to use, you might be tempted to start adding multiple small replication jobs without tracking them. The job window gives you basic stats, but it’s hard to monitor all the details at a single glance. Carefully planning the jobs in a spreadsheet will make your life less confusing in the event you need to backtrack through your system. Also, name the jobs with relevance to what they are — for example “AcctngDB2Filestor2,” or “PartsDB2Nas.” Don’t call them just job1, test1 and so on.
All in all, Replication Exec is simple to setup and relatively intuitive, especially if you are familiar with Backup Exec. For the price and versatility, it’s an incredible bargain.
Symantec’s Veritas Replication Exec 3.1
CDW•G price>> $49.87; volume government pricing available