Alright, so the name’s a bit funky but nonetheless, it’s a product by Symantec. Whether you hate them or love them, chances are you have heard about the Symantec and Norton brands of product. They are best known to consumers as the company that makes the Norton Anti-Virus/Internet Security suite along with the popular (or was) Norton Ghost imaging backup. In this article, I will go over one of their computer backup line of product called Backup Exec System Recovery, here henceforth known as BESR. This review is for the desktop edition meant for home users and not based on the server edition meant for businesses. Does BESR have enough tricks up it’s sleeves worth the admission price of a full-fledged backup product?With a product such as Symantec’s BESR, it’s difficult to go over every single detail of the program in a single blog post. What I have written here is basically going over how to perform some of the main features offered by the program. If you want to dig even deeper, then I highly suggest you go over the user guide. I have uploaded the PDF file and can be downloaded here . Or, if you would like a free 60 day trial of Symantec’s BESR 2010 for testing yourself, than you can download the install files from Symantec’s website here.
Installation was a breeze. However, I would recommend choosing the Custom Install option to fine tune what feature gets installed or not. For example, under the User Interface category, you can safely remove the Agent Deployment feature if you won’t be doing remote recovery using BESR. If you want to play it safe, then go ahead with the default, which will install all features. At this point, you can also choose which directory to install BESR but it’s best to leave it at default unless you want to install it on a different partition or hard drive. Once the install completes, restart your computer as indicated. Before doing so though, you might want to read the Read Me file.
After the restart, you’ll be presented with the Product Activation window. At this time you can either proceed to give it a legitimate key to activate the product or you can choose to activate it later in which you have a 60 day grace period. During this trial period, all features will still be accessible, similar to a fully activated product. Obviously once the trial period is over, you’ll need to provide a product key in order to continue using the product. My advice is don’t be to hasty! Choose the option to activate it later, use the software and if after the trial period you are not satisfied with the product, sell it or if you are generous enough, give it to a friend!
Next, you’ll have the option to run LiveUpdate in which it will search for product updates along with launching the Easy Setup wizard which will help you get started by defining and running your first backup. I’m a manual kind of guy so I’ll skip the latter.
At this point, once the LiveUpdate completes, we can now dive into the actual BESR program and begin our exploration.
Similar when using other programs, you’ll want to head directly into the Options menu to tweak some of the default settings pertaining to BESR. Click on Tasks > Options.
There are many options to configure but not all will apply to everyone. For most casual users, you’ll want to stick with settings under the Settings area. Here you can specify a default backup location which will be used if you don’t specify one when defining a backup job, adjust the performance when a backup takes place, configure tray icons and add/remove file types and extensions. You’ll want to pay special attention to the Performance category. If a backup job is running while you are using the computer, your programs may become a bit sluggish and unresponsive due to the overhead caused by the backup job running. In the slider bar, you can actually adjust the performance of the backup job by specifying whether the job should be given higher priority (Fast) or if it should ease up a bit and let your other programs get more breathing room (Slow). BESR also allows you to backup to a network destination and here, you can adjust the maximum speed (in KB) in which you allow BESR to consume your bandwidth.
Defining Back Up Jobs
Alright, so let’s get into the heart of things and see how we actually perform some of the things that BESR was intended to do: backups. BESR allows you to create two different types of backups: a complete image of your PC (which ultimately backups up everything on your hard drive including installed programs, music, pictures, documents, settings and configurations and even the operating system itself), or specific files and folders of your choosing. It is recommended that you have at least one good image of your PC. This is because if something dramatic happens, for example not being able to boot your operating system or if your computer suddenly got heavily infected with malware, you can then re-blast that image on to your hard drive and your computer will be restored up to the point that image backup was created. You would manually want to backup important folders and files that contain critical data.
Backing Up Your Entire Computer
First let’s create a complete image backup of my desktop PC and store it to my external USB hard drive for safe-keeping. We select Tasks > Define New Backup. To fully backup our computer as a whole, we select the first option, Back up My Computer.
Next we select the drive that we would want to back up. Normally this would be the hard drive hosting your operating system, the C:. After hitting next, you will then be presented with the Related Drives window. Basically it’s telling us that some applications are using one or more hard drive/partitions listed below. In my case, it’s the System Reserved partition created when I first installed Windows 7. Everyone should also have this partition if they are using Windows 7. It is recommended that you backup this partition as well.
Next we choose the Recovery Point type. This is just another fancy word used by Symantec to mean whether you want to create a full backup every single time (independent), or do you want to create a base point and then use incremental recovery points thereafter (recovery point set). Creating a independent recovery set takes a lot longer because it is basically creating a full image everytime. With a recovery point set, the first backup run will be treated as a independent recovery point since it needs to backup everything as well. However, subsequent backups will be a lot faster because only files that have changed since the last backup will be saved.
Next we choose our backup destination/folder to store our full PC recovery point. The Offsite Copy feature basically allows you to create a backup of the backup. You can save this *second* backup to a different drive, network folder or even to a FTP server. Not sure if casual users would need this feature but hey, you never know.
Next, we are allowed to configure a few more options for the backup job before it starts. We can give the backup a name, choose a compression method, whether to verify the backup after creation, limiting how many recovery point sets are allowed to be created for this backup and even password protecting/encrypting our backup so that other users can’t access it without knowledge of the password.
Now we configure the schedule for this backup job. There really is no right or wrong way on how you setup the schedule other than that it should work around your computer habits. If you work on your computer a lot, then it would make sense to run the backup on a daily basis or every other day. Remember, the first time you run this backup job, it will create a new image backup and this will serve as the *base* backup. Subsequent backup of this same backup job will create incremental backups only (if you have chosen that option earlier). Here, you get to specify when you would want to create a new *base* backup. The monthly option should suffice for most users. You can also specify here that BESR run the backup job based on triggers. For example, when any application is installed/uninstalled, when specific applications are launched, when someone logs on/off of the computer or when you add a specific sized file/data to the drive. Some of these options might seem a bit excessive for many casual home computer users but once again, you’ll need to find a solution that fits your needs.
Finally, Symantec will then present us with a overview of the backup job we will be creating. Verify all of the information and if you need to change something, hit the Back button. You can also edit the backup job at any later time as well. If you want to immediately run the backup, simply check the check box to do so.
Backing Up Specific Files/Folders
Creating a backup job to backup specific files and folders is very similar to backing up your entire computer but with fewer configuration options.
Next, you’ll specify a name and backup location. If you click on the Advanced button, you can also specify to encrypt your backup so that only users with the knowledge of the password can view it’s content. You can choose to save it to a network drive on another computer so if you do, be sure to type in the credentials in the appropriate fields.
Next, go ahead and create the backup schedule or specify the triggers for this backup job. Technically you don’t have to create a schedule. You can run the job manually at any time by visiting the Run or Manage Backup window.
BESR will now present with a overview of the backup job. If everything looks good and you want to run the backup immediately, then check the Run Backup Now check box and then hit the Finish button.
Running and Managing Your Backups
If you would like to manually run a backup job you have created previously, remove a backup job, change the schedule, revise/edit a backup job setting or just to see what your overall backup plan looks like on your computer, then you’ll need to visit the Run or Manage Backups window. Select Tasks > Run or Manage Backups.
Cloning Your Hard Drive
UPDATE: I have now fully tested the hard drive cloning feature in BESR and I have nothing bad to say about it! It works perfectly but most importantly, very easy to use and configure. Read about it here where I go over the entire process in detail.
BESR allows you to easily clone your existing hard drive so that when you do decide to buy that 2TB hard drive you’ve always been looking out for, the transfer process will be as hassle-free as possible.
What you’ll want to do is first install your brand new hard drive to your system. Do not remove your old one because we need to transfer all the data over. Make sure that your computer recognizes the new drive. Then fire up BESR and head over to the Advanced tab. From here, select the Copy Drive link on the left hand side and follow the instructions. You’ll need to obviously select which hard drive you’ll be cloning (old drive) and which hard drive to clone to (the new drive).
Recovering Your Files
What good is a backup product if recovering your files is difficult and a hassle? Well, BESR got this issue covered.
Recovering Individual Files/Folders from Image Backup
If you have created a total backup of your computer, than you would have to work with the Symantec image files to manually recover the individual folders/files. To do this, we need to mount the image on our computer so that it believes the Symantec image we created in BESR is actually physical hard drive connected to it.
First, browse to your image location. This could be either on an external hard drive, another internal hard drive, etc. You’re looking for files with a .v2i extension. If you can’t see the extension, head into Folder Options (type it in the Start menu), click on the View tab, and then un-check the option “Hide Extensions for Known File Types”. If you have imaged more than one hard drive/partition, you’ll have to mount the right one. The image file description should provide more than enough information about which is which. Once you have determined the right drive to mount, simply right click the image file, and select Mount from the context menu.
Mounting a *image point* to your computer will still require you to choose a letter for the drive because technically, the computer wouldn’t know the difference between a real connected drive from a virtual mounted one. Therefore, the next window you’ll be asked to pick a freely available drive letter. Also, don’t forget to read the important part about the mount point in the window!
Once the mount is successful, you will then be able to browse that mount point as if it was an actual hard drive connected to your system. If you head into Computer, you will see the mount point with the drive letter you specified earlier. You can now freely browse the hard drive and recover any data back onto your working machine. When you are finish with the mounted hard drive, simply right click the drive and select the Dismount Recovery Point from the context menu.
Technically, you can use the Recover My Files wizard detailed in the next section to also recovery your files from an image backup but manually mounting the mount point and browsing for your files in my opinion is much easier.
Recover Files from a Files/Folders Backup
If you have specified different folders and files as a backup, you can recover them in a similar way. However, in this recovery process, we do not have to mount anything. We do need to use the BESR program for the recovery process though.
First select Tasks > Recover My Files. On the left hand side, be sure the File and Folder option is highlighted under the Search In field. To perform an automatic search of your backed up files, simply hit the Search button.
However, if you have a lot of manually backed up files, the list being returned will be really huge and therefore isn’t really a good way to find that one or two missing file you are looking for. To narrow down the results, you’ll want to do an advance search. Select the Advanced Search link under the Search button to create your own filter list. I find it much easier to just directly browse for the folder containing my files in the Look In field and then recover my files that way. You could also specify the name of the file or filter by date. Each person works differently so experiment around and find a method that works for you.
Performing a Total Computer Recovery
You hope that you would never have to perform this type of recovery but truth be told, *stuff* happens. One day your computer could be performing fine and the next it might not even boot at all. If you have made a complete computer image backup, you have nothing to worry about, unless of course you have a hardware issue like a malfunctioning hard drive, motherboard, power supply, etc.
First off, if you can’t boot into your own computer, how will you restore it? The answer to that is the System Recovery Disc. This may have come packaged as a separate CD/DVD or as a separate .iso file download. If you downloaded the .iso file, burn it with your burning application of choice or simply use the default utility included in Windows 7. Hopefully, you’ll already have created this CD/DVD prior to your computer breaking down! If not, then you’ll have to do it from another working computer. Once done so, load it up and configure your computer to boot from the CD/DVD tray first in the BIOS menu. Once it is done loading files and whatnot, you’ll be presented with the EULA. Accept it to continue.
Unless you need network access, you can disable the networking services option in the next window.
You are now presented with the main menu where you can select the tasks that you can perform. Please refer to the user guide to learn about all the other options. To recover our computer, we simply select the Recover tab and then select Recover My Computer option. Browse for the recovery point and follow the instructions. It’s that simple. I believe you’ll be asked for the product key so be sure to have that handy as well.
Virtual Hard Drive Conversions
Symantec BESR also gives users the ability to turn any computer backup image they create into a virtual hard drive. This virtual hard drive image can then be used in a virtual machine. The advantages of working in one of these virtual machines is that things you do inside it will not affect your host operating system. Therefore, virtual machines make a great and cheap way to test out software before deploying them into your production machine. I wrote more about virtual machines here in this article.
Select Tasks > One Time Virtual Conversion. If you want to save the conversion job, then select Tasks > Run or Manage Virtual Conversions and then define the new job. In the first screen, you get to select which virtual format you want to convert to. You don’t have a lot of choices and basically it drills down to whether you’ll be using VMware products of Microsoft’s Virtual PC. I’ll be using the latter so I’ll pick the .VHD method.
Next, we specify which recovery point we want to convert.
Next, we specify a location to place the .VHD file. Remember, the location you store the VHD file must have enough hard drive space for it. If your image file is about 30GB in size, then the virtual hard disk file will be similar in size as well.
The next option asks whether you want to run Windows Mini-Setup mode during the conversion. Doing so can provide for a smoother operation when you use it in a virtual machine.
You’ll then be presented with an overview of the options you have selected. If you need to make any changes, hit the Back button. Otherwise proceed to begin the conversion! You can sit back and relax or do some shopping because it usually takes a while, especially if your image file is huge……
Alright, so once the conversion process is completed, it’s time to run it. In my scenario, I’ll need to download and install Microsoft Virtual PC, found here. You can also elect to download Virtual PC 2007. Once you have created the virtual machine and chosen to use the VHD file you have just created in BESR, simply fire it up and wait for everything to load. Once again, this will take a while. Grab a beer or do some other productive task.
As you can see here, I have a screen shot of the image I have just converted with BESR into .VHD format running inside Virtual PC 2007 alongside my actual host operating system:
Installation = 5/5
What else can I say? Installation was a breeze considering that this is a full-fledged backup product. It didn’t pester us with product advertisements nor did it try to sneak it some unwanted product that a normal user would most likely install by automatically the OK button throughout the install window prompts. The install was fast and everything was working in full effect after one computer reboot.
Features = 5/5
When looking at this product from a consumer point of view, Symantec’s BESR 2010 pretty much has everything that you would want from a back up program. Create a full computer image backup? Check. Back up only certain files and folders along with specifying different file types? Check. Want to clone your existing hard drive to a bigger one? Check. Want to back up to a network location or FTP server? Check. Want to restore to a computer with different hardware? Check. Incremental back up points? Check. Define your own backup schedule for each backup job? Check. Encrypt your backups for security purposes? Check. Compression? Check. Convert to a virtual hard drive format? Check. Want to throttle performance and network speed? Check. Yeah, you get the point.
Interface = 4.5/5
For the most part, I never got lost while navigating through BESR’s main interface. Everything was just a simple click away. I do find it weird that the Copy Drive option was not found in the Tasks drop down menu but only when you click on the Advanced section. Is it because Symantec thinks that this feature is hardly used on a daily basis and so they chose to hide the option elsewhere? In that case, I feel that the option to perform a virtual hard drive conversion should also be located in the same Advanced section. Also, the View menu comprises of links that takes you to some of the same locations located throughout the main interface.
Ease of Use = 5/5
This is a really important area for any program/software, especially when it’s for consumers. Luckily, Symantec got this locked down. You define many, if not all, of the jobs and tasks in BESR via wizards. Some power users may dislike wizards but I find it very intuitive and easy to use. I never once got confused about what BESR was asking of me. You may initially get confused at some of the terminology BESR throws at you, like independent recovery point and recovery point set, but the wizard makes sure that you don’t have to memorize them by providing definitions right in the wizard themselves. You can access pretty much everything you would need to do via the Tasks drop down menu and the wizard will guide you through the process of defining the backup job. You can also easily view and manage all of your backup jobs with a single click of a button. Recovering files from your backup is as simple as it can be as well once you have gone through the process at least once.
Overall Score (not an average) = 5/5
I rarely use a full-fledged backup product but I would definitely recommend Symantec’s BESR 2010 Desktop edition for consumers looking for one. I don’t have to stress how important it is for all users to create a backup plan for their computers. It could be that since I’m not exposed to many backup products before, it may lead some to believe that the overall score I’m giving to BESR is unjustified. While that could be true, I really don’t know what else could someone want from a backup product. It’s meant to help you *backup* your computer and important files in case something goes wrong. BESR does just that, and then some.
My Final Thoughts
Although I gave this product a perfect score of 5/5, I never said that this product is truly a necessity. What I mean is that Microsoft already includes a pretty handy backup and restore feature in Windows Vista and Windows 7. Although obviously lacking the amount of features when compared to Symantec’s BESR, it does provide two of the most basic tasks: being able to create a complete system image and choosing what files/folders to backup. For many home users, these two backup tasks is all that they will ever need to perform for their home computers. The rest is just a bonus. Starting with Windows 7 Home Premium (the edition most home users are using), Microsoft allowed the users to be also able to create a complete PC backup. Unlike with Vista, only the Business edition and higher were able to. Did you wanted to create a virtual hard drive image of your hard drive right now but don’t have BESR? No problem. With Sysinternal’s Disk2vhd utility, you can easily and freely create a virtual hard disk of your physical hard drives in no time.
At the end of the day, Symantec’s BESR program is a great piece of backup software for users who want a one-stop shop for all their backup needs. If you are willing to try different alternatives, you’ll find out that many tools exist out there that are freely available. They achieve the same goal with BESR in that they help to backup your data in case one day you accidentally deleted something or your system crashes. However, is BESR worth the admission price of about $56 should you actually purchase the product? Definitely yes.