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Using open-source data backup software

Learn about popular open-source data backup software like Amanda, BackupPC and Bacula and the pros and cons of each.

Many people who use open-source data backup software become quite attached to a program, whether it's Amanda, BackupPC or Bacula. Administrators responsible for protecting data at SMBs or at the departmental level typically gravitate to these free programs because they're comfortable writing custom scripts and working with Unix and Linux. Also, they can use open-source backup tools such as rsync, which synchronizes files and directories between different locations, and tar, an archiving program.

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BackupPC is a disk-based data backup and recovery system that was designed to work with desktops, servers and laptops. According to a report on open-source backup programs by Eric Burgener, former senior analyst and consultant at the Hopkinton, Mass.-based Taneja Group, BackupPC is "weak in the areas of media management and security, but excels in its ease of use, and offers a unique feature in the world of open-source data protection: integrated data deduplication." He added that because "BackupPC uses hard links to store identical files, the entire backup repository must be on a single file system, limiting the scalability of BackupPC configurations."


Bacula, an open-source backup program, supports heterogeneous clients and can encrypt data in transit. Its backup catalog resides on a MySQL database, and it supports snapshots via Windows VSS. Data backed up by Bacula must be recovered by Bacula.

Out of BackupPC, Bacula, and Amanda, Burgener wrote that Bacula is the "least mature" and "user postings online indicate that it can be quite complex to set up."


Amanda can back up Linux, Unix, Mac and Windows clients to tape, disk and storage grids, such as Amazon Simple Storage Service (S3). Last year, Amanda distributor Zmanda Inc. began offering Amanda Enterprise, a beefed-up commercial version of Amanda. This version came with added features such as a web-based GUI management console, a one-click restore and reporting and application agents (priced additionally) for Microsoft Exchange, SQL Server and SharePoint, and Oracle that allows hot backups of Oracle databases on Windows, Solaris and popular Linux distributions.

Amanda Enterprise costs about one-third the licensing fee of widely used commercial backup programs. Besides adding new features to Amanda, Zmanda offers 24/7 customer support and an "orderly new feature release schedule," said Ann Ruckstuhl, VP of sales and marketing at Zmanda.

Chris Hoogendyk, system administrator for the biology and geology departments at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, chose Amanda over Bacula in 2005 for three main reasons: "The maturity of the Amanda user community; it wasn't extremely dependent on a single programmer; and for the software design's simplicity, elegance and insight in breaking away from standard approaches to do something unique," he said.

More specifically, Hoogendyk said that some departments around campus were using Symantec Corp. Veritas NetBackup, but his department co-workers felt it "didn't provide that much more benefit for the cost, and it took significant expertise to configure and manage."

Also helping to sway Hoogendyk's decision to adopt Amanda is its use of native tools, such as ufsdump for his Solaris servers, which meant Hoogendyk could leverage his Solaris experience and, if needed, read the backup tapes without Amanda.

Hoogendyk said he's "pretty happy with Amanda," but would like to see a more mature tape catalog that can scan a barcode on a tape to determine "not just what Amanda has done with that tape and when, but where the tape is stored."

Hoogendyk said tracking tapes could be done manually with a handheld barcode scanner, but that "requires work that sys admins are typically lousy at. It requires discipline."

This article was previously published by Storage magazine.

About this author: Rich Friedman was formerly senior editor at "Storage" magazine. He's currently riding his bicycle from St. Augustine, Fla., to San Diego.

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