How has it helped my organization?
Before I had this product, I was doing backups one disk at a time using the tool that comes with Microsoft. I do database work and my projects are large enough that I need multiple disk drives and it was just getting to be too much record-keeping. In some cases, I didn't do my backups manually when I should've, and I lost things because of it. Acronis allowed me to organize all that and automate it and so now, my backups happen automatically; I don't even have to think about them.
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What is most valuable?
I use two products. I use the backup solution and I use something called Disk Director, which is a related product. Together, they allow me to manage all of my storage space. I'm a software developer and I'm often reconfiguring things. These tools help me backup my workstations and servers on a regular basis. They also help me reconfigure for a new project.
What needs improvement?
As far as the functionality goes, I haven't had a single issue with it. Rather, I've had some issues with the understandability of the interface. I think if they had someone with expertise in user interfaces to look at this, they could clean up the user interface. There are things that I had to do that aren't even in the normal software package. In other words, I had to go to their website and run some other tool, and I had to run it from the command line. I know how to do that, but I'd rather not have to. Granted, it was something that if I had done things right in the first place, I wouldn't have to do, but still I don't see any reason why they couldn't wrap up all their functionality in one user interface and be done with it.
What do I think about the stability of the solution?
Once I learned how to use it, I've had no issues with it. I had a little bit of a learning curve in the beginning, but it's my own fault because I didn't read the documentation before I started. I would say the product is easy to use, but I would recommend that anybody using it read the documentation from end to end first.
What do I think about the scalability of the solution?
Stability's not an issue for me because I'm a software developer, kind of a one-man band here, and so I have a server and a number of work stations. So far, I've used this for three months with one server and one workstation, and I haven't run into problems. Its performance seems to be speedy relative to other tools that I've used; they seemed to be quite slow. My impression is that it's quick but I haven't really benchmarked that.
On my servers, for example, I have seven disk drives and I schedule a backup. I finally figured out I should do a backup of each disk drive separately and I scheduled them an hour apart. The backup of a 1 TB disk drive happens well within the hour. It's not an issue anyway because if you schedule seven backups to go in order, they only run one at a time. I had huge amounts of disk drives connected to one server; it would take quite a while, but I don't see a way around that.
Some people use an appliance to perform backups. If you use an appliance on your network, you can have a problem with network usage. By an appliance, I mean a set of disk drives that are in their own little box; it's called network-attached storage and that's what most people use for backup. I would imagine it would perform well, but I can't prove it.
One feature that makes backups easy, once I understood it, is you can set up a backup plan that says, in effect, “backup to the W drive”, where W is the drive letter. You can say, “every Sunday backup to the W drive” and that's a backup plan. Then, you can go to as many work stations as you want and you can tell them to backup to the W drive as defined on that work station. I can use the same backup up plan for five work stations with five different backup drives, as long as I give them all the same label. It makes it very easy to set this up. I can see how this could be rolled out to a much larger installation than mine.
How are customer service and technical support?
Technical support was excellent. You have several options for how to contact support. You can send them an email but I haven't tried that. The only method I've used is online chat. You open a chat window and wait a few minutes. Someone comes online and you have a conversation with them. They tell you the answer and they stay online until you solved your problem. Then, they send a followup email with a summary. It's essentially a record of your interaction and they ask, "Is your problem solved?" They keep the case open until I verify that the problem is solved. I don't know any better way to do it.
They also have the option that, if I give them permission, they will actually take over and do something. I have used that with other vendors but I haven't used that with them. They asked me if I wanted to do that, I said, "No, I'd rather learn to do this myself." It seems to me, based on the state-of-the-art and other pieces of software that I use, they're right up there. I have talked to five different people and they were all very knowledgeable. I should mention that I've used this with one of my customers. I actually used it with them before I used it here and I was very happy with that.
Which solution did I use previously and why did I switch?
Previously, I was doing this manually by making copies of hard drives and setting a copy aside. In some cases, if I said, "Oh, I don't need this anymore, making a backup of a disk to a series of DVDs." That worked for different clients. When a client says, "We're done”, I don't have any reason to keep their work online. The one thing I have not tried is to back up anything onto permanent offline storage like a DVD. I have a solution that does a good job at that now, and that's not something that I would schedule.
The strength of Acronis is that you schedule things and you basically don't have to think about it anymore. Whereas, the backup offline, I do that here and there. It's not something I do on a regular basis at all. In a way, I don't care whether they do that well or not, but it looks to me like they would do it. I just have to try it.
How was the initial setup?
Initial setup would be straightforward if I had read the directions. Let's put it that way. I just went ahead and installed it when I got the package. I ran the setup and took the defaults. Here is the way this works: There's a backup manager and you're supposed to manage all your backups from there. Then, there's a backup service that runs on each computer that you're backing up.
What I didn't understand when I set this up is I was installing a different manager on each computer. I had to go to every one to do the backups and I said, "This isn't right, there's got to be a way around." What I found out is, if I had read the directions, they would have said, "Well, you can run the backup manager on a central computer or you can run it in the cloud, or you can run it on each separate computer.” The third option doesn't give you any centralization.
I needed some help from them to change over from what I did and get it all in one computer. They were able to help me in one chat. They told me exactly what to do and when I did that, it worked. All of a sudden, the light bulb lit up about how this works.
What's my experience with pricing, setup cost, and licensing?
Doing what this is capable of doing, the cost of it is in line. I have worked for clients that had big data centers with big racks of blade servers, and so I suppose their server count is in the thousands. One client in particular was using this solution in that setting. Every server has a second network card, so they have two separate networks and one of them is used just for backup because they have very stringent requirements for online service. They have to be online 24/7. They have the production network in the front and behind it they have this other network on which they do backups and redundancy. They're replicating servers all over the place. I think this product is fine, which is what led me to it. I'm essentially using a Ferrari to go to the grocery store, as far as I'm concerned; if you get what I mean.
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What other advice do I have?
The last job I did, I recommended this solution for a modest-sized building company. Their yearly revenues are about $30 million, so they're not a little remodeling contractor. They're building new homes but they're not a big company with hundreds of people, either. They asked me to come in and help them automate their office. They were not doing backups of anything, so they had their whole accounting system on a 10-year old computer with no backup. When I looked at it I said, "Here is a disaster waiting to happen." I set this all up for them.
I do have to go back there and see that it's all working, but it was all working when I left, assuming they didn't disrupt it somehow. I was very happy with how it worked for them. An experienced IT professional could bring this up without any help just by reading the documentation because it's very good. Anyone who isn't an IT professional should hire somebody to figure this out because the documentation is written at a high level. I'm talking about the corporate product, by the way, which I assume is what you're interested in.
For the small construction company, I didn't need the corporate product because they don't have a server, so I used the home product. The home product is much easier to use than the corporate, because the corporate has a lot more choices and things that are squeezed together. The single product they sell for home use they’ve kind of separated from the business one. It's a little bit more complicated and so you have to know how to drive it.
But, my main piece of advice is to hire someone who has either done this before or, at a minimum, is smart enough to read the documentation and set it up for you. My second piece of advice is, move into this in a sensible way. Get it up and running on one server and one workstation and see that you can manage it. Once you've got that working, then add more workstations or more servers to that. It is a solution that, assuming all of your servers are in one place or your workstations are all in the same network, you can run all of your backups - you can run them all - from one place.
In a larger organization, I would say you want to have a workstation that's identified to do this, and you have maybe several people with access to that workstation so they can manage these backups. It has a very good interface. I can see the status of every computer that I'm backing up; it shows me where it is. It shows me when the last backup was done, and if one is in progress. It also shows me the percent completion. I can go in there and click on somebody's computer and say, back it up now.
I can't think of anything that I would add to it. As far as what I need to do, I wouldn't add a thing.
It is perfect for small- to medium-sized business installations. I don't know for a large installation. By large, I mean more than a hundred computers. From what I've seen so far, I could easily manage the backups for five servers and 95 workstations without any problems at all. In my past experience, before such products were available, backing up individual workstations was a nightmare. 20 years ago, there was no way to do this kind of thing. You had to go around to each computer and run a backup. We had IT support staff running around form one computer to another and setting up the backups. Then the owner of the computer would decide, "Oh, my computer is running too slow. Oh, it's running a backup, I don't wanna do that," so they would kill it and then they wouldn't get any more backups. It's just having this level of automation I would consider to be essential. I think they've done a good job at that.