Trawling through the Backup Exec forums sees a number of postings regarding whether or not it is worth using the agents that BE has at its disposal. It’s interesting seeing the responses, with 2 sides arguing for, or against the use of agents.
In light of this, I decided to put forward the argument for using agents, as opposed to not using them.
Some of the questions that need to be asked when evaluating whether or not to purchase agents should include:
- How quickly do you want to recover your application?
- How easily to you want to set up and maintain your backups of your applications?
- How critical is my data by spending the money on the required agents. Vs unnecessary and possibly costly downtime to recover your application or site?
Backup Exec ships with a number of agents that, if licensed, unlock more functionality in the programme. Examples include: Symantec Backup Exec Agent for Microsoft Exchange; Symantec Backup Exec Agent for VMware Virtual Infrastructure, and Symantec Backup Exec Agent for DB2 on Windows Servers.
The only argument I can see for not using an agent is cost. There is the initial outlay to purchase the agent, and the yearly renewal of the license. Many small to medium-sized companies simply do not have the finances to purchase the required agents, which leaves the backup admin to find a solution to get around this. Most of the time, this involves stopping the particular application in order to do a flat-file backup. This in turn, causes the following issues:
- Unnecessary downtime of an application/business – in order to back up Exchange without an agent for example, Exchange itself needs to be taken offline. This would mean a possible critical messaging system being taken down (even at night) in order to run a backup, for the duration of the backup. Dismounting/mounting the Information Store would have to be scripted, causing an additional complication.
- Restoring of data would be more difficult – using the example of Exchange again, to restore any emails into Exchange, the Information Store would have to be staged/restored to disk. Once done, it would have to be mounted on either the same server (risking data loss of the production IS if not done correctly), or manually mounting on a standby server. The same goes for the SQL agent, and the Oracle agent for example.
- Trying to hash a backup – BE has Active File Exclusion (AFE) built into the application. What this means is that certain files (like *.mdf/*.ldf and *.edb) are excluded automatically. Selecting the installed directory for applications like Exchange/SQL/Lotus Notes etc. means those files are left off, unless you put them in as an inclusion (you’d still need to stop your application services to enable this!).
- Wasted time – time to ensure that agent-less backups run successfully and that your data is indeed being backed up by doing long and complicated restores.
The other side of the coin to using agents would include:
- The ability to do easier backups and restores – Agents allow easier backups and restores by doing both while the application is still online. The application never needs to be downed, meaning no unnecessary downtime for the business or users. This leads to better application uptime, and no chance of a monetary cost to taking the application offline.
Agents allow for easier restores in the same way, and some go a step further (like the Exchange agent) by allowing for Granular Restore Technology (GRT) restores of individual items.
- Easier configuration of jobs – enabling the agent by entering a license allows BE to see the application when browsing the server concerned. Simply clicking the application’s database adds it into the selection list details…no other tinkering needed.
- Ease of use – adding a license in takes no more than a couple of minutes. Once done, there is nothing else to it.
LiveUpdate installs required updates on the media server, and if needed these are pushed to any remote servers. No individual installations required.
For these reasons, and probably many more, I’d recommend going the route of buying the required agent. In backups, the idea is to simplify the entire process, not complicate it. If proper backups and restores are what is required by your business, then make some provision to purchase the tools for BE to enable this.