Norton Ghost, meet Backup Exec. Backup Exec, meet Ghost. That’s right: Symantec Corp.‘s (NASDAQ: SYMC) Backup Exec System Recovery 2010 Desktop Version ($70, as of Nov. 23, 2009; BESR for short) is an imaging product based on Norton Ghost. But it’s also a substantially improved version that offers a compelling new feature as well finally addressing my longstanding and deal-killing complaint about Symantec imaging products: their inability to back up using the boot disc.
The compelling new feature of which I speak is the ability to convert BESR 2010 backup images to the VMware .vmdk, Microsoft .vhd, and VMWare ESX server formats. If your system hardware goes belly up, you can mount these in a virtual machine on another PC and continue working. This is probably handiest for servers, but the server edition of BESR that also allows per-user restore of Exchange and Active Directory data is $800, too expensive for many small businesses.
Now to that boot disc. Say your friend brings you a PC that’s still hardware-functional but won’t boot into Windows. Prudence suggests you should create a backup image backup before you try to fix or reinstall the operating system. Previously, Ghost and Save & Restore boot discs lacked that ability – you could only restore an image, or copy files off individually using a file browser, leaving a chance that you might overlook something. Finally, Symantec has seen the light (or the drop in sales), and Backup Exec System Recovery allows you to image from the boot disc, albeit after entering your serial number each time.
Because it now allows imaging backup, BESR’s boot disc is up there with the best in the business. It’s based on Windows PE 2 (Pre Install–what you see when you boot a Vista install disc), so it will boot on virtually any PC. It also contains a ton of drivers and lets you load those it doesn’t immediately have available. In addition, it will restore images made on one PC to another PC whose hardware isn’t the same. Windows has become increasingly more tolerant of hardware changes, but this is still a nice feature to have. The one fly in the ointment is the requirement for a whopping 1GB of memory to do restore operations.
Anyone who’s used Norton Save & Restore or Ghost will recognize the imaging engine and interface of BESR 2010. It’s easy to use, but exposes relevant options better than Save & Restore. It’s a much better product than its Ghost predecessor thanks to the improved boot/recovery disc and its virtual hard-drive conversion. But the 1GB memory requirement for restoring from the boot disc limits its usefulness with older PCs.