Acronis Report

This page was mainly written to provide some warnings related to Acronis. This was written by TOOGAM, the creator and founder of ][CyberPillar][.

I had worked for an organization that provided IT support. This organization determined that a prior backup solution was deemed unavailable for future use because of some changes that were made between the prior version of Windows Server and the newer version of Windows Server. So, a new solution was needed.

Acronis Review

The organization selected Acronis TrueImage as a backup system. The software appeared impressive, before it was used. However, upon deployment there were some substantial issues with the software and the operations of the company behind the software.

Even more concerning: the Acronis company was not suitably helpful. Clearly their public forum posts must have been closely monitored by staff members who cleaned away any negative commentary. Although they did have paid technical support staff members who were available, the full names of multiple support representatives demonstrated the support came from third worlders. They could take multiple minutes to offer a response, and ultimately there were no successful solutions provided after months of reguarly working on the problem, including the creation of multiple support trouble tickets.

The issue that got me involved was that the software would fail to perform a backup over a network when another copy of the software was also performing a backup over the network to the same destination computer. The process of copying data from multiple sources to a single destination is something that can easily be done using standard SMB (Server Message Block/CIFS/“Windows file sharing”), but somehow Acronis couldn't pull this off. The stability became far less commonplace after making a fairly advanced schedule that made sure that no two machines were backing up to the same location at the same time.

Error reporting was completely unsuitable for administrators. Windows Event Logs may provide some sort of number or other reference that an Acronis software developer could use to figure out what is happening, but the reference is useless to anybody that does not have access to Acronis's internal resources. This means that professional computer experts could not use the logged errors to provide useful technical support. Less terribly, an automated reporting system would generate a trouble ticket for staff to review. That's not exactly Acronis's fault, but what is Acronis's fault is that there was no way to automatically ignore non-issues because the logs for such non-issues had no unique characteristics that were different from the logged entries of actual problems. The key problem causing that issue was blank descriptions of problems. As I recall, constantly changing Event ID numbers were also a contributing factor. These are problems that just did not exist with any other software encountered over a period of years in providing customer support for dozens of different organizations.

I was also able to reproduce a situation where the program would show an absolutely useless error message, and when the user pressed the “OK” button to acknowledge the error then the graphical administrator program would crash. This error message only communited that an error occurred, and provided absolutely no details about the status of the error. This has, in fact, become an example used in college classes on an example of how not to make a program.

Upon checking for new versions, I found that there were several updates that listed some fixes to serious problems, such as memory leaks (which is a problem that can often lead to program instability). The fact that these types of errors existed at all indicated that the creators of the software were quite incapable or sloppy, or both. Another problem that was fixed was the ability to restore data in certain circumstances, such as when a certain operating system version was used. This means that, until the fix was available, the software could report that data was backed up, but that ends up being pretty useless when the backed up data is not able to be restored. Of course, such terrible problems need to be fixed, and it is good that Acronis was straightforward about them. However, the really concerning part is that such problems were discussed with the release notes of multiple versions of the software, which indicated that these were recurring problems. Unfortunately, I did not save a copy of some of those release notes, and was later unable to find them: I suspect that Acronis took them down as part of efforts to try to stop the spread of information that could be viewed negatively.

The user interface was beyond terrible. For instance, to change an option, an administrator may need to go through several screens of options, in order, to get to a screen with the option that is desired. I believe the left frame would show the list of screens, but the user could not just click on the later option. Now, the need to click “Next” several times wasn't the worst part. The worst part was that one about the third screen, the user needed to perform a slow process in order to proceed without the program crashing. The process involved waiting for a remote computer where data was supposed to be getting stored. I believe that a tree of folders may have needed to be drawn, and the user then needed to click on the folder that was selected. There was a need, then, to correctly enter the credentials that were required to be able to access that folder. Entering those credentials is a sensible requirement when creating a new backup job. However, this was required every single time that the user needed to change some of the backup options, like what batch file would be run. Pressing the button labelled “Next” without going through that process would cause the program to crash.

One quite severe limitation was an inability for Acronis TrueImage to rotate old backup files. This was a standard practice supported by competing backup programs, and so the lack of such a feature was quite surprising considering some of the advanced functionality that Acronis supported, such as mounting backup archives like folders. To be fair, Acronis TrueImage did support running batch files, and that was eventually used to develop a solution. KB 1742 provided some references to simplistic batch files provided by Acronis. (However, the referenced back files may no longer be available where they had previously been located.) The fact that Acronis's solution was to download a batch file was the clear proof that this simple functionality was not included in the main program. The provided samples were extremely simplistic, and so I ended up creating a better solution from scratch very quickly. (I believe it took me about 45 minutes to create, and test, a superior batch file.) I certainly have not been the only person seeking such a batch file, as evidenced by multiple forum posts. (At the risk of the hyperlinked references becoming unavailable: forum post with 187 replies as of Aug 23, 2013, third party forum post.) The fact that Acronis did not include this simple functionality simply showed that Acronis was far more interested in supporting slick-sounding features that seem impressive when they are used by their marketing department, and less interested in how businesses have typically handled data. Of course, an inability to rotate old images is the type of thing that many people would not notice during a short term trial of the software.

Considerations of the review

Although the complaints mentioned are based on experiences that are now years old, these details have been reported because Acronis seemed to be a very dangerous company. In summary, the company's motto of “Compute With Confidence” was just not doable when relying on their software. Their primary product was related to data backup, which is recognized to be a role of critical importance. However, the product had severe shortcomings, the product appeared to be quite poorly designed, and support was dismal. The most impressive display of capabilities from the company were in marketing, and managing the superior image of what proved to be an inferior product. This was absolutely not the type of software to trust with critical roles such as data reliability, although the limitations would not be quite so easily apparent to people who hadn't yet started to try trusting the product. For this reason, responsibility required writing up this much detail about the problems.

The reason why Acronis was tried was because of changes made to backup-related functionality built into Windows Server 2003 and Windows Server 2008. The ordeal described happened sometime from 2008 through 2012, and much of it probably occurred around 2011. It is recognized that changes can occur. It is also recognized that sometimes the management that runs organizations may continue to have the same attitudes over a period of years. Whether such problems have continued, or have not continued, is not a detail that was the reporter found to be reasonably verifiable.

I know that a lot of this may sound a bit lacking in specific verifiable details. There are some reasons for that. One is that Acronis has removed some of the material that was previously publicly available, and which could demonstrate some of the referenced problems. Another factor is that I was working for a company which provided IT support. At the time that I was working on this, the ][CyberPillar][ website had not yet been made public, and so it was being treated as a personal project. There were efforts to keep a separation between experiences working for the IT company, and personal efforts that may be made public later. Finally, and quite importantly, certain details would not be appropriate to share due to confidentiality requirements. The descriptions provided now are simply some broad summaries of what has been remembered from an ongoing ordeal.

People experiencing this report are welcome to view other content from ][CyberPillar][ to realize that the author has written quite a lot of technical help, generally focused on positive, constructive, and useful details that lead to solutions. Strongly negative reports have been made quite sparingly. The very intentional rarity of this type of review may help to highlight how unusually concerned the reporter has been with this product. Perhaps those details may help provide some reason for confidence, despite the fact that some of these details are unverifiable, due to requirements for confidentiality.

Since data backups can be so extremely important to a business, the company's behavior seemed to be nothing short of dangerous. Therefore, a responsibility was felt to communicate appropriate warning about Acronis's solutions.