This article describes some major problems I have encountered with NTI’s backup program, NTI Shadow 3 for Windows.
I have never written to a computer magazine before, or created a blog, but I feel the need to do so now, in hopes of making the users of a certain popular program aware of some problems that could adversely affect their important data. I apologize in advance because I fear this letter will be a lengthy one, but I want to be sure that I include all the facts in hopes you will take me seriously, and I hope you will bear with me.
The program is NTI Shadow 3 for Windows, a wildly popular program that guarantees to provide secure hands-free backup of their important data. The first problem – when using the program to back up photos from one location to another (in my case from one hard drive to another), the program takes MUCH longer to accomplish the backup than the makers of the program would have you believe. I’m not talking about the initial backup, done when you first create the backup job with Shadow, that seems to work ok (well, not really, it seems to arbitrarily not copy some photos when backing up a fair number of them (in my case about 125,000, for the most part ordinary JPG, with a few BITMAP and PNG), but that is the second problem I will discuss). The problem comes into play when you make changes to the source file, such as adding photos. While Windows does this at it’s usual fantastic speed, Shadow takes about 1 second per photo to do this (an eternity in computer time, and it’s been my experience that it does slow things down while it’s doing this). As an example I just added 471 jpg photos to the source folder, which of course took virtually no time at all. Shadow, however, took over 8 minutes to copy these same photos to the backup folder. As a more extreme example, several days ago I added approximately 13,000 photos to the source file, which took the normal amount of time for such a task. Shadow, however, took nearly 4 hours to complete it’s backup of the new photos. While Shadow does eventually accomplish it’s backup duties, the problem is this – unless the user is aware that the backup is laboriously taking place in the background, there are any number of things he could do while this was going on that could adversely affect the process, not the least of which is turning off the computer, defragmenting the drive, whatever. The only way he would know the process is taking so long is if he happens to check the option box during the setup of the backup job that allows you to actually see the progress of the backup in a small window. This is a rather obscure option, and even if he does choose it, if he happens to have another window open on his desktop (and who doesn’t?) the progress window is completely hidden, without the option to keep it on top or to shrink it to a progress indicator in the task bar. The only other way he would know this was going on is if he happened to notice that his hard drive activity light was faintly flashing, and even then he might not associate this with the backup job being accomplished because spurious hard drive activity is a pretty much a given on most systems
If all it was doing was duplicating the changes onto the backup drive, it should (in my humble opinion) take only as long as the initial changes, very little time indeed. The only reason I can think of for it to take so long is because of the process it needs to go through to confirm that a change has indeed been made before it does it’s thing.
The other problem, and this is a major one for a program of this nature, is that when I did the initial backup of my data (again, consisting mainly of a fair number of photos), it routinely failed to backup some of them, usually somewhere between one and two hundred of them. And never the same ones, as I tested this a number of times. The photos in question (which took a lot of work to track down), were ordinary JPG photos, which I had no problem copying manually. A couple of hundred photos out of nearly 125,000 may not seem like a lot, unless you consider that Murphy’s Law dictates that a least some of those photos are irreplaceable, one-of-a-kind the-opportunity-will-never-present-itself-again photos. And unless you constantly check the backup numbers against the source file numbers (which should not be necessary if the program can be trusted to do it’s job as advertised), you will never know that some of your photos (or songs, or videos, whatever) are not going to be restored if (or more accurately when) the occasion does arise that you need to recover from a disaster. And, of course, even if you do check the numbers, discovering which items are missing can be a daunting, frustrating task, so time-consuming that I’ve discovered that it is actually easier to do the backups on my own.
Admittedly those that choose to setup the program to do their backups at a certain time of the day (or more likely at night) might not mind the unreasonable times involved, but I for one chose the program because of it’s unique ability to provide real-time on-the-fly backups.
Now, just so you can judge whether or not something on my end could be the cause of this problem, let me explain a few things —
My system is fairly typical, nothing exotic or unusual – Windows XP Pro with all the updates, 2.6 Pentium 4 processor, 2 gigs ram running in dual mode, three 320GB hard drives, the first for the operating system and programs, the second (drive D) for all of my photos, music, videos, etc (but mainly for photos), and the third (drive E) for backup. Drives D and E are SATA, non-raid. Like any security-conscious user nowdays, I use several anti-virus and anti-spyware programs (all mainline programs, nothing unusual), and go to great pains to make sure my system is up to date and in top shape. Please know that even though I have been building and using computers since I retired from the Air Force about ten years ago, I make no claims to being any kind of computer expert.
As far as the possibility that the problem might lie in my particular installation of their program, I uninstalled and reinstalled it several times, and last week I reformatted my OS hard drive (using a three-pass random generator wipe, not for the purpose of testing Shadow, it’s just something I routinely do about three times a year to clean out the misc program bits and pieces and start from a clean slate), and, before installing any other program (to avoid any possibility that some other program might be interfering with their program), I reinstalled NTI Shadow and did more tests, with the same results. To further verify the problem, I also installed it on a second computer, same results, and then had two friends install Shadow and run similar tests, with exactly the same results.
I attempted to make NTI aware of these problems, using both their “technical support” and their forums. Their forum is a bit of a joke, they either delete the posts that don’t suit their purposes or leave them “unmoderated”, so that only I can see them. I was attempting to at least get them to issue a warning to users of the program of a potential problem so that they could take appropriate steps to ensure their important data is indeed being safeguarded. Of course they ignored that because that would be an admission that their “miracle” program might be flawed in some way. At no point would they admit the existence of a problem, saying only that they “are working on it”. At the same time, and more importantly, they never once denied that the problems do exist. Now they no longer respond to my queries regarding the progress of their testing at all, possibly hoping that I will just go away.
At one point they actually suggested that I shut down any programs that might be running in the background, which I thought was rather ridiculous for a program that is supposed to run automatically and unobtrusively in the background anytime you turn on and use your computer, and nowdays who doesn’t have programs running in the background, antivirus and antispyware programs at a minimum.
In a time when it is accepted that the necessity for preparing for the inevitable disaster has made regular backups of important and irreplaceable data an all-important part of computer user’s daily life, this program has become a very popular one, and lately it seems that more and more hardware manufacturers are including Shadow as part of their products (Toshiba, NEC and FreeCom to name a few).
I was very excited when I heard about Shadow, it seemed like exactly the program I had been searching for. I read a lot of glowing reviews before deciding on it, and after my experience I can only assume that it was not tested extensively, using the large numbers of files I have attempted to use it for, apparently by only making relatively small changes, additions or deletions to data, small enough that the time involved was not noticeable, and small enough that the failure to completely back up the data did not come into play.
I sincerely hope NTI can fix these problems. At the very least I hope they will have the integrity to issue a warning to the many users of their program.