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Commentary from a long term NetWorker consultant and Backup Theorist

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NetWorker Single Server Edition

Posted by Preston on 2009-07-27

Truth be told, I don’t have any real involvement in EBS (Enterprise Backup Software) these days. If you’re unaware of it, EBS is EMC NetWorker, rebadged. When I did have involvement with it, it was back in the days when it was called Solstice Backup.

One of the things that I liked about Solstice Backup was that it basically came with all new copies of Solaris with what was called a “Single Server” edition. That meant that it would support 1 tape drive, no tape library, and only be used to backup the backup server itself. Yes, single server edition would effectively mean a decentralised backup environment, but the purpose of single server edition wasn’t to get everyone to go down the blitheringly idiotic path of decentralised backups. Instead, it had two purposes, viz.:

(a) to provide a basic but very reliable way of backing up servers, and,

(b) to give companies an introduction to enterprise backup software.

You see, you could jump from single server edition to workgroup edition, or network edition, just by replacing the licenses. Your configuration would remain in place, meaning all you had to do was to start extending that configuration to cater for the expanded functionality of the product. Your existing backups were recoverable. Your existing backups would continue to backup. You could just do more.

I can’t say for sure whether EBS still supports single server edition – but it’s not really all that relevant to what I’m about to say, so it doesn’t really matter one way or another.

To this day I think it’s a shame that (Legato first, now) EMC hasn’t come up with a OEM model for NetWorker to allow for the inclusion of single server edition in one or more of the major Enterprise Linux distributions – e.g,. RedHat or Novell/SuSE. Obviously such a model would require an appropriate support system – when effectively giving it away for free (i.e., as part of a base system), there would need to be adequate training to allow the OEM/OS partner to adequately do first level support of the product as part of regular support work, but as we’ve seen with Sun and Solstice Backup Single Server Edition, that can be done. It’s a great way of getting the foot in the door, and in my personal experience at least, many companies that actually took the time to configure single server edition ended up upgrading to at least Workgroup, if not Network edition of NetWorker. Note what I said there: companies that actually took the time. I.e., there’s no guarantee that every single company will want to go ahead with configuring it – particularly with the size of current NetWorker documentation*. In other words, there were, and still are, some impediments to easy untrained roll-outs of NetWorker.

Those impediments to having NetWorker more approachable for rapid roll-out with easy instructions in a ‘single server’ environment however are readily quantifiable and easily resolvable. To prove that I’m not talking out of my butt, I’ll do my best to quantify the “top 5” items that would be necessary:

  1. Documentation – Rumblings on the NetWorker mailing list aside, NetWorker documentation has significantly improved over the last year. There’s been a big push to get useful documentation – hence the technical upgrade guides, the “continuous improvement” that’s going into PowerLink articles**, etc. However, quick start guides are still needed.
  2. Server merge functionality – If you’re going to do a single server edition, it’s necessary to support merging multiple NetWorker server media databases, configuration files and indices into a single datazone. That’s to allow for companies that might initially start down the path of a few standalone servers before realising they need to consolidate and have grown-up backups.
  3. Backup to disk + tape – In this day and age, single server edition should support say, 1TB of disk backup in a single device + a tape drive. That allows for basic cloning/staging and support for high speed devices, but doesn’t give away so much functionality that it discourages purchase of a full license. (Indeed, I’m inclined to suggest that it’s high time EMC includes in all the base NetWorker licenses, support for 1TB of disk backup space.)
  4. Manual Backup in NMC – This would take effort, but it’s something that would feed into all versions of NetWorker, so it would be worth the effort, giving NetWorker better selling points. I’m not talking about running a group manually – I’m talking about browsing a client (the wizard in 7.5 supports this, after all), and manually selecting files for backup, as is currently available in the Windows user program and used to be available in nwbackup. It should be available in NMC.
  5. Recovery in NMC – As above, and even more important than the above, we should see the complete ditching of (filesystem) client GUIs – nwrecover and winworkr, and see NMC support recovery as a standard option within that GUI.

Will the above points take time? Yes. Are they worth it? Yes. Will they carry through to other versions (Workgroup/Network/Power)? Well, point 3 is irrelevant to those versions, but all the other points are very relevant to all tiers of NetWorker, so implementing them will certainly help continued adoption of NetWorker – not only that, they’re all highly logical.


* Having a Getting Started With NetWorker guide would probably help in that sort of scenario too. (Yes, I’m getting closer to formalising what I’m going to do on that front.)

** Yes, there are some outdated PowerLink articles regarding NetWorker, but that’s true for any product that’s been around for as long as NetWorker. The point is, there are active and ongoing efforts to improve the documentation in PowerLink. Credit where credit is due.

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