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TMC Labs
January 2002


eSupport Essentials Version 4.0 

High Bluff Drive, Suite 400
San Diego, CA 92130
Ph: 877-977-3846; Fx: 858-794-4579
Web site:

Price: A company requiring backup of less than 100 PCs can purchase Support Appliance (includes hardware and software) for $9,995. Software licensing for 100 to 499 PCs can be purchased for $11.95 per license, per month. Licensing for 500 to 999 PCs can be purchased for $10.16 per license, per month. Promotional pricing may also be available. Contact Previo for further details.

RATINGS (0-'5)
Installation: 4
Documentation: 4.5
Features: 4.5
GUI: 4.75
Overall: B+

At some point, it's happened to everyone who relies on a computer ' files are unexpectedly lost. Whether they are accidentally deleted by a user, permanently tainted by a virus or crippled by fatal system errors, important files and entire operating systems can be rendered useless. In the workplace, this can create myriad time-consuming, frustrating problems, which brings productivity to a halt, and as a consequence, costs the company money.

If you've lost information at home or have had your personal PC tainted by a virus, chances are it's gone for good. Most businesses today, however, realize the value of electronic data and have provisioned to both protect it and record it. The market is inundated with products to perform these duties, many of which involve the users to manually back up their own files by saving them to specific drives and folders on the network. Retrieval of lost data often requires coordination with understaffed IT departments, which can make timely restoration of files from tape backups a very frustrating and arduous detail.

Previously known as STAC software (the recovery company for Windows enterprise networks), Previo makes a product that is designed to address the most critical component of restoring a company's data: time. Called eSupport Essentials, it is intended to reduce and streamline the time it takes to perform routine backups, and in the event of damaged or lost data, the quick restoration of a system. Previo has utilized STAC software technologies and features from products such as ReachOut, Replica and Stacker in eSupport Essentials. Another facet to this solution is the provisioning for an Agent interface that allows users with the correct permissions to retrieve a corrupt file or document from the repository themselves.

Very simply put, the eSupport Essentials application can be set to take automatic 'snapshots' of a PC's hard drive. Using patented compression algorithms, it is able to reduce a computer's snapshot footprint utilizing a 15:1 compression ratio, which is then saved to a central repository housed within a SQL database, for example. Since it's possible to take a snapshot of the entire hard drive, in addition to restoring data files, all of a user's settings and programs can be restored as well.

Installation Requirements
Since the requirements for installation are rather lengthy, we will discuss only the basics to give you a better sense of the type of equipment necessary to support Previo. As mentioned in Pricing, Previo has an out-of-box solution called Support Appliance for interested parties with a hundred PCs or less.

As this product is also a data repository, some fairly healthy RAM and storage requirements are necessary for it to operate efficiently. Companies that have between 100 and 199 employees will need a processor with a minimum of a Pentium II at 350 MHz. Suggested RAM is at least 128 MB, a 100 BaseT network card and 50GB of free disk space running on a Windows 2000 Server, Advanced Server or NT 4.0 Server with a recent SP. Hardware-based RAID 5 storage systems are recommended by Previo to improve system performance in addition to the accommodation of future storage growth. SQL 7.0 is required and, if you'd like to deploy the Agent software via IP, IIS is required to run on the server as well.

Administration Console
Running the Administration Console requires considerably less horsepower, however, Previo recommends installing it on the server for maintenance purposes. They also recommend installing it on another machine, in addition to the server. The Console will run on any of the repository-required operating systems, in addition to Windows 2000 and NT 4.0 Workstation (SP5 and up) ' 133 MHz and 64 MB of RAM for a 2000 installation and 90 MHz accompanied by 32 MB of RAM for NT installations.

Agent Software
Previo's eSupport Essentials Agent must be installed on each protected computer. To meet a wider variety of users' machines, Agent can be installed on 2000, NT 4.0, Millennium, 98 and some versions of 95. FAT 16, FAT 32 and NTFS file systems are supported. Web-based installation requires I.E. 4.0 and up, or Netscape 4.0 or later.

The Test Drive began with the installation of the server software. We opted to use one of our Lab's industrial PCs with plenty of RAM and adequate processing speed. We installed Windows 2000 Server, SQL 7.0 and by default IIS, too. The installation wizard is pretty lengthy, including the definition of administrators and other groups that are allowed to perform some level of maintenance through a Previo interface. We chose the 'Typical' installation setting on the wizard, as most probably would. Given that we already had the correct hardware in place, our installation took us several hours to complete, including installing Windows 2000 Server, which took up a large chunk of that time.

Deploying The Agent Software is the second half of Previo's installation equation, and Previo offers administration several different avenues to pursue. In an effort to avoid the installation of the Agent software on each PC via a CD and CD ROM, Previo provisioned for rapid deployment in three ways: an interactive Web-based setup wizard that allows users to load the software from the server via IP; an interactive installation package that can be distributed to users; and finally, an automatic silent installation option. Since the interactive Web setup is created automatically during installation of the repository, and because we installed IIS when MSQL was installed, we chose this option with an assigned user name and password. Administrators can then allow specific or all users to load and install the Agent software themselves by either surfing to the IP server's address or typing the computer name into the URL field if the user is on the same domain.

Administration: PC Clients Say 'Cheese'
Administrators govern the 'Snapshot' or backup process by configuring which computers are protected, assigning users to groups, schedules and to what extent a user can manage the Agent interface. We set up several protected computers on our system to have their snapshot taken each morning at around 7 a.m. The initial backup is compressed utilizing Previo's patented three-tiered compression process, resulting in data compression of up to a 15:1 ratio. In addition to increasing the transmission speed of the snaphot, and reducing its footprint, this process also allows mobile workers to utilize Previo over slower connections. Further reducing the size of a computer's snapshot is the administrator's ability to exclude superfluous files such as Cache and Temporary Internet files, or only include them as necessary.

Generally speaking, the demand for restoration of data files and even single documents should be much more prevalent than the re-establishment of an entire PC's hard drive, however, if a PC or its data become so corrupt that it will not boot (although we did not test this feature), an administrator can create Full System Recovery disks to boot a PC and restore data. This being the exception rather than the rule, it seems correct to say that until users become familiar with the Agent GUI, the collaboration between agents and IT personnel will probably be the most popular scenario among new users. The heart and soul of Previo's eSupport Essentials seems to be its call center within a call center attributes, such as Chat and Remote Control features. Users will still call the help desk via PSTN, however, using the Remote Control and Chat (if need be) features, an IT person could take control of an agent's computer and teach them how to restore a single document, folder or whatever else may be within their user rights.

We initiated several experiments using the Remote Control and Chat features, and they performed as they should. Additionally, a simple test was performed to see if the file restoration process would overwrite newer files saved after a snapshot was taken.

After manually backing up several folders, we opened a few files and deliberately manipulated and re-saved them. We then restored the folders to see if eSupport Essentials would overwrite the newer files'it did not. The eSupport Essentials also features Redundant File Elimination (RFE), Redundant Block Elimination (RBE) and HLZS technologies. Additionally, its FastforwarDNA feature provides automated PC migrations, whether they involve upgrading PCs with newer applications, hardware or operating systems such as Windows 2000, or transferring data, settings and applications from one PC to another.

Agent Interface
Agent software must be installed on each PC for it to be backed up by eSupport Essentials. As mentioned in the installation section, Previo offers several ways to handle mass deployment in large call center environments. Once installed, the GUI is very simple and quite intuitive, delivering the basics to its users within a Windows-style box. Depending upon the rights given to a user, or specific user groups, agents may be able to choose from several Restore options and also set their own snapshot schedules. We opted to grant most permissions, enabling an agent to manually take a snapshot or the ability to restore certain non-system files. eSupport Essentials launches a Windows Explorer replica, allowing a user to search for a certain file or files in the repository using a familiar medium.

Anyone who's noticed that the title of the Computer Support department has changed a few times over the years (MIS, IT, Technology Dept., Support) has been around long enough to realize that their responsibilities have changed too. No longer a matter of forcing the teen-aged summer intern to manage the help desk's phone bank, internal computer support is finally being recognized as the call center within the call center.

Previo delivers a unique and easy-to-use product for all levels of support personnel. The power to 'roll back' an entire computer to a state previous to being infected by a virus or a fatal system crash ' as fast as one can navigate to correct settings ' is very compelling. Although we would have liked to see the Administration Console function from a Web browser as opposed to having loaded the software onto a machine, the ability to restore desktop, network and application settings unique to every user from a remote computer is a big step in the right direction. Further, the capability to allow end users to recover data themselves may also alleviate the burden of already-beleaguered support personnel. The built-in collaboration features, i.e., Remote Control and Chat, are essential tools in the provisioning of next-generation help, because they effectively allow support personnel to work with end users to solve problems as opposed to making the fixes themselves. Taken a step further, some type of VoIP functionality could be added in the event that Chat won't suffice; if a user is off-site and tying up the only phone line via modem, for example. In our opinion, Previo's eSupport Essentials seems quite suitable for the call center environment provisioning, for the quick deployment of its software and quick recovery of data, in a setting where agent downtime could render a permanent scar on a company's reputation.

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