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Automate data backup with open-source tools

Here's a look at some of the major open-source tools for data backup.

Tar. Cpio. Dump. Restore. If the thought of using these utilities, writing shell scripts and executing cron jobs causes you to wince, there are several open-source data backup packages available.

Dominant among open-source data protection software are Amanda (short for Advanced Maryland Automatic Network Disk Archiver) and Bacula, which are two software packages designed for backing up Windows, Solaris, Linux and Mac OS X client servers, laptops and desktops.

Amanda has been used by businesses since 1991, when it was developed at the University of Maryland. Listed as a project on in 1999, Amanda consists of two parts: a backup client that runs on the server attached to the tape- or disk-based backup system and backup servers that run on machines that need to be backed up. The client software connects to the servers and requests data to be backed up, then stores the data on tape or disk drives attached to the backup machine.

After a few hours of hair pulling and several angry phone calls, I suggested I might have a way of recovering the lost files.
Jon LaBadie
PresidentJG Computing
While Amanda is focused on Web-based applications deployed on the LAMP stack, it's often used to back up other network resources.

Jon LaBadie, president of JG Computing in Reston, VA, says, "I got started with Amanda around 1998 contracting to a Federal site," says LaBadie. "The site was using EMC's Legato NetWorker for backing up their Solaris servers. " Since the site experienced problems with NetWorker, LaBadie downloaded and demoed Amanda, and when the site upgraded to a new Legato license, he continued doing daily backups in stealth mode with Amanda.

"About two months later, a critical set of files were lost," says LaBadie. "The NetWorker backups for some reason were insufficient to recover them, and on the new Solaris server, they weren't backed up. After a few hours of hair pulling and several angry phone calls, I suggested I might have a way of recovering the lost files -- with Amanda. I spent about five minutes recovering the files. As you can imagine, Amanda found favor at that site. It was run in parallel with Legato for about a year and as of three years ago was still in use in that department."

Amanda can do full and incremental backups, as well as partial full backups. It supports encryption both in flight and at rest and integrates the native dump and tar utilities, so jobs executed on one system can be recovered on another. In addition, Amanda includes a scheduler that administrators can use to queue up backup jobs.

In 2005, a company called Zmanda was founded by Chander Kant. Zmanda takes the open-source Amanda and commercializes its distribution and offers support subscriptions for it. The company has also expanded its support for Amanda with Zmanda Recovery Manager for MySQL, which provides online backup for MySQL database environments. Like Amanda, Zmanda offers tape, disk and cloud computing backup support through Amazon's S3 service.

Peter Eisch, director of managed services for VisionShare Inc. in Minneapolis has used Amanda previously, but now relies on Bacula for backing up 44 systems to disk each night.

"Of the people in our company, we'd all used several different systems in previous jobs," says Eisch. "Even with this experience, none of us wanted to be the champion of any of those systems -- we had no warm fuzzies with Veritas, Legato, NTBackup and so forth. With that in mind, we liked having the source code for the client-side software. Some systems we back up aren't supported by the common vendors -- different flavors of NetBSD on different platforms. Bacula compiles and runs just fine on all of these."

Bacula was originally written in 2000 and first released in 2002. Like Amanda, it backs up Windows, Linux, Unix and Mac OS X servers, desktops and laptops. In addition, it also supports MySQL, PostgreSQL and SQLite open-source databases.

There are other open-source backup packages available. Some like BackupPC, which can be downloaded from, and DeltaCopy focus on backing up Windows, Linux and Mac OS X laptops and desktops. Others such as the rsync utility, which is included in Linux distributions, focus on synchronizing data from one disk to another or one location to another.

Deni Connor is principal analyst with Storage Strategies NOW in Austin, TX.

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