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Using iSCSI to backup your environment to a NAS with Backup Exec

Created: 07 May 2012 • Updated: 07 May 2012
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CraigV's picture
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There are a fair amount of forum topics that have been raised over the past couple of months around backing up to a NAS using Backup Exec. While it might be a viable option, and in most cases cheaper to tape (it also gives you the backup-to-disk ability that most backup vendors are now pushing), it hasn't always been easy to set up.

The main reason behind this has been the requirements from Backup Exec in order to accomplish this. For further information around this, read the Symantec TN below:

http://www.symantec.com/business/support/index?page=content&id=TECH14963

This TN details the requirements in order to use a NAS as a backup target. Most of the time, this wasn't possible, although I noticed a change with Backup Exec 2010 R3 where this became a bit easier over previous versions.

About 2 years ago, we started rolling out Iomega NAS devices (StorCenter px4-200r initially), and have subsequently standardised on the Iomega StorCenter px12-350r. The main problem we faced on a number of our sites were failing tape drives caused by poor environmental conditions. During this time, local disk-based backups became insufficient due to the amount of data being backed up, and it was hoped that having a NAS on site would solve this.

When the NAS was Active Directory-integrated, the backups worked well. But the NAS had the tendency to stop synching with AD causing time-outs, failed backups, and we ended up placing the NAS back into a workgroup...leading to issues with BE connecting to them.

My solution in this case was to activate the iSCSI option, present disks to the backup server and use these.

This is where the crux of my article comes in...using iSCSI is a good alternative to a traditional CIFS-based backup, if your NAS is capable of running iSCSI.

The definition of iSCSI, as per Wikipedia, is an Internet Protocol (IP)-based storage networking standard for linking data storage facilities, and it allows a storage device to provide servers with the illusion of locally-attached disks.

The end result? Your NAS looks like local disks to the server. The bonus for you? You can use the NAS as a backup target without any issues with credential checks failing, battling away with connectivity issues when trying to backup to CIFS shares, and you don't need any additional expenditure to make it work (bar a hardware-based iSCSI card if you want to offload the iSCSI processing from the server).

The best OS for this is Windows Server 2008 R2 (previous versions up to Windows Server 2003 have a downloadable installer, but I found that these tended to give a number of configuration issues, requiring multiple reinstallations and server reboots). The iSCSI service comes as standard with Windows, and is very easy to set up and configure.

The configuration process I went through was as follows:

1. On the NAS, enable iSCSI, and carve out the necessary iSCSI disks.

2. On the backup server, create a connection to the iSCSI-enabled NAS (put in the IP address in order to get around any DNS issues).

3. Once a connection is created, the disks will pull through and you're able to connect to the drives you want.

4. You can either leave the drives as individual drives, or span them (I did) in order to create 1 large drive to target your backups at.

5. Create your B2D/s on the new "local drive", and target backup jobs to them.

Check the Microsoft link below for further information from an OS perspective.

http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/ee338476(v=ws.10).aspx

This is basically how it works, and it works well. It allows you to work around a number of potential stumbling blocks in trying to get a NAS to work, it's a free option with no further investment as I said before.

Before buying your NAS, always check your version of Backup Exe'c Hardware Compatibility List. Although I haven't seen any issues with iSCSI-enabled NAS's having backups run to them from Backup Exec, it covers yourself to do the necessary research. No additional server or Symantec lisencing is required to do this.

Lastly, Symantec have a great tool called B2Dtest.exe which you can run against your NAS (if you already have 1 in place). This will run a test and check compatibility of the NAS against the tool's support matrix. Check it out on the link below:

http://www.symantec.com/business/support/index?page=content&id=TECH69107

Just 1 note...without a harware-based iSCSI card, your server will take strain (how much is another story). This will obviously offload the iSCSI functionality from the server to the card, and in theory should make backups run a bit faster. As always, there will be shortfalls (type of network you run, speed of the network, amount of data etc) which will affect the speed of your backups. But this is a great and viable alternative which would be worth investigating, if you're in the market for this.

A decent NAS from a reputable manufacturer is also a bonus, if budgets cater for this. The main reason would be the hardware behind the NAS (CPU, memory etc) which would help with backup speeds and scalability.