Users go for cheap, automated workstation backup

A startup from Canada has been making inroads at U.S. companies with its ability to automate snapshot rollback on Windows PCs for about $60 per license.

Users from two U.S. companies, Gateway Inc. and Snap-on Business Solutions, say a workstation backup tool from a Canadian startup called Horizon DataSys Inc. has begun to edge out similar products from Symantec Corp. in their environments, and they're hoping to see the product begin to support servers, as well as PCs.

The product, called RollBack Rx Pro, takes snapshots of the hard drive on Windows PCs and stores up to 60,000 snapshots in a small portion of the hard disk as recoverable system configurations. The snapshots are performed automatically at a predetermined time -- every second, every minute or every day. If the system crashes, users can automatically roll back to a predetermined system state. If the OS is corrupted or the system won't boot, users can press the "Home" key on their keyboard and gain access to the Rollback utility, which installs below Windows.

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The product has been around in various versions since 2005, according to Lyle Patel, president of Horizon Datasys. The company began as a systems integrator and moved into workstation software when it drew up an antivirus utility for its customers several years ago. However, according to Patel, the company found that users whose workstations had been corrupted by viruses needed a way to restore the system, giving rise to Rollback Rx in late 2005. The software is now on version 8.0, announced this week, which adds bare-metal restore, as well as restoring settings and data. The Pro version costs $59.95 per license. The Enterprise version, which allows centralized administration through a Web GUI, is available at $79.95 per license.

The product does not have many OEMs or much penetration in the market, but those companies who are familiar with the product say it has been an improvement for managing workstation data protection over products like Symantec's Norton Ghost.

"We still use Ghost to create the system images," said Mike Trover, marketing manager, trade show inventory and events for Gateway. Until this most recent version, the company was still using Ghost because Rollback Rx did not have the ability to create bootable copies.

However, using Rollback has saved hours of management time for workstations coming in from trade show floors, many of which have had system settings completely rearranged, or worse, by hundreds of hands at a show floor kiosk. Previously, Trover said, each system would have to be re-imaged using Ghost. With Rollback, the trade show team at Gateway presses "Home" after rebooting the machine, rolls back to the snapshot it has set as the default system configuration and sends the machine back out again.

"Last year we were still creating new Ghost images, and it would take about seven or eight minutes per machine, and we have about 6,000 systems," he said. "Now it takes about 20 seconds at reboot to restore the PCs." Also appealing is the ability to restore both Vista and XP virtual machines in different partitions within one PC at the same time.

Now that the Rollback Rx software can create bootable copies, Trover said he would be looking at going to Rollback Rx over Ghost. The only issue is that Ghost also supports servers, which Rollback Rx does not.

Echoing the request for server support is Tim Leon, director, logistics and fulfillment operations for Snap-on Business Solutions, famed for its NASCAR team, as well as its electronic automotive parts catalogs.

The catalogs are sometimes sent to Snap-on's customers, auto dealerships and repair shops as part of a prepackaged hardware and software appliance, and when that appliance is a PC, Snap-on bundles in an instance of Rollback Rx. Users don't typically know Rx is on the machine unless they have a problem, and in most cases Snap-on service engineers access the systems remotely to perform the rollback for the customer.

Like Gateway, Snap-on is still using Norton Ghost for server support. Though server appliance packages are typically used in less harsh environments than the PCs, in computer rooms rather than in a garage, Leon said being able to put Rollback on them would help his service technicians breathe easier. "We can't afford to put an entire instance of Ghost on every appliance," Leon said. "We needed something lighter and more affordable."

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