N-able Backup Review

Single pane of glass dashboard allows me to create and tweak filters and know that everything's working, at a glance

What is our primary use case?

We use it to do complete server backups, including system state, for disaster recovery. We also have a few workstations that we back up as well.

We are trying to promote everything being backed up on the platform: Out of sight, out of mind, just back up everything. We've created a new pricing model to help that along and hopefully clients will see the value in having that.

How has it helped my organization?

The single pane of glass saves a ton of time. We can sort by data resources and scroll down and see which servers have SQL, which servers have enabled the system state, which are only file and folders backups, and we see the Microsoft 365 SharePoint, Microsoft 365 Exchange, and OneDrive backups. If you set it up this way, it has color bars and each of the color bars represents 28 or 30 days or 31 days. When you hover over each day you can see the date. If it's a solid green or a light green that means it's great. If it's orange that means it failed once or twice or three times for whatever reason; whether you rebooted the server or whether there was a power loss and the server was off. You can figure out what the problem was really quickly.

If it's a server that's been on for a long time and that has always reported in, and the backup fails, it's literally as simple as remoting in, stopping the backup service controller, stopping cryptographic services, restarting that service, restarting the backup service controller and letting it back up off to the next pass. A few hours later, you look back and you say, "Everything's working again." It works like a charm. It really is a completely hands-off, set-it-and-forget-it system, with great alerting. 

I spend about five minutes in the portal, and even that is an exaggeration, just to make sure everything is good in the morning. I'll pop in at some point in the afternoon, and I'll pop in during the evening just make sure everything is good, because sometimes I don't check my email. I'll just go into the dashboard and see that single pane of glass and know that everything's working. I don't really think about backups. It's a tremendous time-saver. It's truly easy to use. There's a single pane of glass. You tweak it a little bit, create your filters, and then you look at it a few times a day. If I spend five minutes a day on it, that's a lot.

What is most valuable?

The most valuable feature is that it's hands-off. I log in every morning and there are pre-canned filters that I've created to make my life easier. I have something called server status color bars, and that gives me all the servers and, in a nutshell, I can see

  • if any errors are being reported
  • when the last backup was
  • if one is not working, should there be one, and it literally jumps off the page.

You know right away that there's a problem, and that's accomplished through the filtering capabilities, because you can save a filter. Once it's set, you can even duplicate it and then change the parameters and create another filter. It's almost like using tags, but it's allowing you to see the information you want on the screen.

It literally takes me two seconds to understand, without even looking at alerts that have been generated, and to instantaneously have peace of mind that everything was backed up.

And If there's a problem, it's very quick to resolve.

It's also one of the easiest solutions I've used. In fact, out of the entire SolarWinds stack—next to the RMM solution, which is a very mature enterprise-ready solution—SolarWinds MSP Backup & Recovery is in its own class. It just works.

In addition, the solution provides a single dashboard for all types of data protection. And the single pane of glass gives you status.

It also reports and sends out email alerts, functions that are pretty simple to set up.

When we need to restore a file, we don't even have to remote in to our client's system. We just log in to the system management, connect to that machine's Backup Manager remotely, and choose the file. If you know the exact file name you do a search and you can see all the files that have been backed up and when they were last backed up. We choose the most recent one, restore, and then say, "Okay, check to see if the file opens." It works that quickly.

In terms of the efficiency of the solution’s resource and bandwidth use, when you first load the client onto a server, you have the option of seeding the backup onto a local drive and then sending that drive to them for them to seed the backup, and then continue the backup. We don't do it that way. Most of our clients have modern internet bandwidth upload speeds that are very high. We've never had limitations in terms of upload speeds with SolarWinds. So we just kick off the backup and we don't limit bandwidth. It has really been very quick. With most of the server systems that we deal with, the upload is very quick.

The cloud storage, wherever it's backing up to, is happening behind the scenes and you really don't realize it. It basically just starts backing up to the cloud until it's done.

What needs improvement?

An area for improvement that would really work out well would be if there were a little bit more of an elegant handshake relationship between SolarWinds RMM and the PCs that are being backed up, to advise regarding "up" status. We all expect servers to be on all the time; we never have a problem with servers. But when I look at my desktop status, using the color bars filter, I can see a dozen systems that haven't backed up in a while. Because of COVID, some of these systems may be off. It would be awesome if there was some sort of indication that the system is on, some sort of a "heartbeat" functionality, to see if the system is on. If the system hasn't reported in, that might be tied in with the heartbeat. But if it's tied in with the RMM, and the RMM is reporting that it's online and it's showing that it's failing, it should tell us online. Then we would see that it's failing and that it may need attention. 

And that would be more "glue" for sticking with SolarWinds or moving to SolarWinds, to have exactly that functionality.

Currently, what we have to do is swipe the name, copy it, put it into the RMM, do a quick search, and then I know it's offline. I have to do that with each one of them. That's the most time-consuming part of the solution. If they could improve that and provide a heartbeat, it would be an amazing, 100 percent solution.

Since RMM is an agent that feeds back that a machine is alive and on, I don't see any reason why they can't either tap into that one feature or build the same exact polling within the backup agent, to update right away and say the system is online or offline.

For how long have I used the solution?

We transitioned over to SolarWinds MSP Backup & Recovery a little bit more than a year-and-a-half ago.

I founded this company in 1997. We are a small, mom and pop, white-glove, complete VIP, service for small businesses. We do anything and everything for our clients. Most of the clients are very in tune with our recommendations in terms of backups, various security measures, and solutions that we have in place.

What do I think about the stability of the solution?

Overall, it's very stable.

The only problem we come across is if a PC shuts down, reboots, and it's in a bit of a funk. In that situation, we stop the cryptographic and the backup service controller. We then start the cryptographic and the backup service controller. If it doesn't work, then there is a second step where we have to delete the indexing file and it will just redownload and recreate a new indexing file. It then syncs up with what's in the cloud and then continues the backup process.

It is very sensitive to System File Checker failing. We had six instances, with six different servers, where System File Checker was erroring out. It turned out that Trend Micro Worry-Free Services was causing the problem. After uninstalling and reinstalling Trend Micro, File Checker started working again. Because System File Checker was failing, it was not allowing us to back up. I don't know exactly how it does it, but it knows that System File Checker isn't working. We also had one instance, among those six servers, where System File Checker was failing and we had to do a DISM file system repair onsite. Once we did that, System File Checker ran successfully and the backup started working properly again.

It's sensitive to System File Checker which, by the way, is a natural alert, which is great. If it's failing and the first two resolution attempts don't work, we know to run System File Checker right away and make sure that it isn't failing. And if it is, I can stop trying all the other possibilities and resolve SFC error. 

But really that's the only issue. I've never had to uninstall or reinstall the solution. It just works. I put myself out there and I take my job extremely seriously. I wouldn't be with SolarWinds right now if I thought there was even a remote chance that this would not serve my needs when I need it. It's really that reliable.

What do I think about the scalability of the solution?

The scalability is unlimited. If I had a million systems out there, using this solution would just involve the time it would take to provision them. After that I could bill nicely for it and it's really hands-off. 

As I mentioned, if I had a million systems, and all these systems were reporting failures because they were not turned on, that is the only issue I would have with the system because I wouldn't know what the status was of each of those machines. Maybe they have something to help with that and I just don't know it. But if it had the ability to let me know that this system last reported in on this day, that would be great.

We're a small shop. We have 100 systems, servers, and a few workstations in place right now.

How are customer service and technical support?

SolarWinds' technical support for this solution is excellent. Phenomenal. They are just amazing. If you have to call them, you press "two" for technical support and, within half-a-minute, you've got somebody on the phone. It's very rare that you have to wait on the call. Their response rate is phenomenal. 

All the people are pretty good. Everyone tries their best. I've had some situations where it may have dragged out a little bit longer, but I've been in this business long enough to realize that some support people are going to have more experience and some are going to have less. Sometimes you wind up with one that has less because they're still learning the ropes and getting used to it. They may not be as versed and experienced in the world of computing. But it's a rarity.

Which solution did I use previously and why did I switch?

We transitioned to this solution from eFolder. That was not nearly as good a solution as this is. The eFolder solution was a solution that works hand-in-hand with StorageCraft. We are a big StorageCraft client. They're our vendor for local backups. They serve the StorageCraft business community very well. 

SolarWinds is a different approach to backups. It's its own dedicated, proprietary solution. You load the agent and tell it to pull all files, folders, system state, SQL—whatever there is to back up.

Before we considered buying this solution we took about a month to test and evaluate the product, and it tested 100 percent. Each scenario—we restored a server, we restored a workstation, we restored a laptop—just worked. We said, "This is great, that's it. We're sold." That's the reason why we went with it.

Another factor was cost. SolarWinds is a major cost- and time-saver. The time-savings were even more important and, of course, also equate to money. It's a completely hands-off solution and there's no charge for the software, as one would expect. We just charge for storage. There is the option to buy storage and everything aggregates into one, if you need it to. But at the end of the day, it's a very profitable solution.

How was the initial setup?

The setup is very simple. We have an Excel spreadsheet that we set up with the PC server name. We then have to create a code and provision it through the system. It provides you with an encryption key, which we document. We also set a GUI password so that if it were to be compromised, you click on it if you don't know the GUI password. That way there are two levels of encryption. There is one at the GUI level and another at the connection level, for establishing a backup and having it speak with the servers. 

When we provision or install the agent, we do everything using remote, background services on SolarWinds. We're never on-prem. We're never physically controlling the PC. Everything's done in the background. We do a silent install. We can see if the service has been created and when the service starts. Then we just finish up the provision and process. 

It's relatively simple. We have it down to a science: Silent installation, confirm services have started, stop the services, apply a policy, restart the services, log in using the GUI, kick off the backup, done.

To do the entire deployment, from start to finish, takes about 10 to 15 minutes per device. I do it myself because it's so quick.

I could train somebody to do it, of course, and there is the ability to create a template for the onboarding process. We're going to be doing that in our new PSA solution so that others can do it as well. But it's such an easy process. 

You can do it quicker because they have a featureand I'm afraid to use it—where, if a client needs the solution installed on every machine, you can deploy it  as a self-provisioning installation process. It installs whatever it needs to install on all the systems. It can probably be done through a group policy. It's all documented. For anybody who has that type of scenario, it's super-easy.

What was our ROI?

The ROI depends. It's a very competitive market out there. But because we're hands-on with our clients and we're monitoring this, and there's not much to monitor—I only spend about five minutes a day on it—from a cost perspective, our ROI is anywhere between 300 and 700 percent profit.

What's my experience with pricing, setup cost, and licensing?

Pricing is per GB. If you're backing up workstations, they provide you 100 GBs. If they are doing servers, they provide you 500 GBs right off the bat. But that's all aggregated for us, as an MSP. So the more clients we have, the more they're adding to the amount of space we have available for the entire client base. We wind up not ever having to pay overages and we wind up being able to grow into the amount of storage that becomes available.

Because we were moving away from another solution and had a decent amount of data that we were going to be backing up, I was able to negotiate a very good rate. There is flexibility. The rate that they presented was reasonable. It worked out that I got locked into a great rate. It made it easier for me to sell the product based on the fact that I get a lower rate.

Which other solutions did I evaluate?

There are so many different backup solutions that are out there, but when it comes to ease of use, it's hard to even look at anything else.

What other advice do I have?

If you want to go through the motions of testing it, I get it. You have to do your own due diligence. But I've done the homework and it works. And if you have a RAID drive and you need a RAID controller driver, you can actually insert the RAID controller driver into the boot media so that it saves the volume. And it will just work.

We use a neat feature called Virtual Disaster Recovery (VDR) status. It only works on servers. I believe it's $5 a month to do recovery testing and it's certainly worthwhile. We even bill out for that, and having that feature built-in is making us money. It's automated. Once or twice a month it will virtually mount the backup and provide a screenshot and advise whether or not there have been any errors. 

Some of our clients' servers are very big, so the VDR process will be completed with errors. I've since been told that's because they've got very large volumes. If the volume is larger than one terabyte, they're not going to mount it, probably because of resources and to make it economically affordable to do a test. But most C-drive partitions, which is the system partition, are short of a terabyte. Most of our clients will have one terabyte or less for these partitions. What this feature does is provide you with a verification result and shows you a screenshot. 

It mounts the operating system, provides you with logging, and reports an error if a volume is too large. And I'm okay with that. The whole verification process, to make sure that the integrity is there, works out-of-the-box. The VDR status functionality, which is an add-on—you have to add each service to it—gives you peace of mind that the data is mountable and that you're good to go. That peace of mind is enough for me to go about my day and do whatever I have to do. It works.

If it reports an error, that's because the volume might be two, three, four, or five terabytes in size. As a result, they're not going to be mounting that.

It would take a long time. We would need resources and the type of an environment to be able to download the tens of terabytes that we have for clients. We didn't want to be out of compliance when downloading that locally on our network. We don't have the resources to be able to store that kind of data locally. Everything's cloud-based now. The option to do so is certainly there, but we don't do it because that's what the VDR testing does for us. It's a major time-saver because it's already being done by them when you elect to do it on a particular server.

You enable VDR recovery testing, choose once a month or bi-monthly, and you're done. The next time it's scheduled to run, it runs. You can see the history and the status. It's very easy. There's nothing to set up.

If you do Office365, which we're going to be embracing, SolarWinds seems to be the leader with Office365 backup, or at least they're dominating the market with advertisements. I feel good that I'm using a product for both backups and for Office365.

The Virtual Drive also looks pretty cool. I've never used it, but I could see how it would be cool. I'd have to find out whether that's something we can just install on a server and, if we need it, it would be there and allow us to restore a file right away without even having to log in to the Backup Manager. That would give us direct access to the files as if it were a regular file system. And they do support that functionality. 

The Recovery Console has worked, 100 percent. I used to do recoveries that way for each of the clients, but it would take a long time for downloading. That's why they introduced the Virtual Disaster Recovery testing. I don't use the Recovery Console anymore to test backups. If it tests in the cloud, I trust it will test fine if we were to download it.

I try to embrace the SolarWinds solutions as much as possible. They've served me and my company and my clients well. For servers, first and foremost, it's just a rock-solid solution. The restorability is excellent. We've had very few problems. And usually, if there's a problem, it's not on their end, it has to do with the server itself.

**Disclosure: IT Central Station contacted the reviewer to collect the review and to validate authenticity. The reviewer was referred by the vendor, but the review is not subject to editing or approval by the vendor. The reviewer's company has a business relationship with this vendor other than being a customer: Partner
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