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Linux backup tips with BackupPC

Backing up Linux machines can be challenging, especially for those who are used to working primarily with Windows. Here's are some tips on Linux backup with BackupPC.

Backing up Linux machines can be challenging, especially for storage/backup administrators who are used to working primarily with Windows. Part of the reason for this (aside from the obvious differences between Linux and Windows) is that there are so many different flavors of Linux such as Red Hat, Ubuntu, HP Linux, SUSE, etc. That means that a backup method that works well on one version or brand of Linux may not produce the same results on another type of Linux deployment.

One really interesting enterprise-class backup product that I have found for Linux is BackupPC. Like many Linux applications, BackupPC is open source and downloadable from the Internet, which is always a plus.

What makes BackupPC unique

There are a few different things about BackupPC that make it worth checking out. For starters, BackupPC is a disk-to-disk (D2D) backup solution. Like Microsoft's Data Protection Manager, it allows you to create backups of multiple machines, and save the data that you have backed up to a hard drive. But the similarities end there.

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If you have ever used Data Protection Manager, then you know that it creates a dedicated volume within your storage pool for each machine that is being protected. An agent component on the target machine ensures that the target is backed up on a periodic basis.

BackupPC doesn't require an agent (or any other software component) to be installed on the machines that are being backed up. More importantly, it makes much more efficient use of its storage pool than Data Protection Manager does. Suppose, for example, that you are using Data Protection Manager to back up five different Windows Servers. In such a case, you would have five dedicated volumes, each of which would likely contain copies of the exact same Windows system files.

Single-instance storage

BackupPC uses single-instance storage, but does so across multiple targets. For example, if you have five machines that all have the same version of a particular system file, then that file is only stored once within the storage pool. This has the potential to save a tremendous amount of hard disk space.

If you want to save even more disk space within the storage pool, there is a compression feature that you can enable. According to the product's documentation, the compression can reduce the size of the files that have been backed up by approximately 40%.

Over the years I have seen some backup products that use a compression feature slow a server down to a crawl, because the compression feature is CPU intensive. While BackupPC does use CPU resources during the compression process, the fact that BackupPC uses single-instance storage means that the load that the compression process places on the server isn't too bad, because only files that have never been backed up before are being backed up.

One more thing that I want to mention about BackupPC is that it is a Linux application, so you would expect it to be able to back up other machines that are running Linux. However, BackupPC can also back up computers that are running Windows and Macintosh OS X. When BackupPC makes a backup of a Windows machine, it uses Server Message Blocks (SMB) to access the data that is being backed up. When it comes to backing up machines that are running Linux or OS X, BackupPC can access the data using RSYNC or TAR over SSH, RSH or NFS. This isn't a rigid requirement, however. For instance, if you want to back up Windows machines without using SMB, you can install CYGWIN, and then back up the Windows machine using RSYNC. Alternatively, you could install SAMBA onto a Linux box, which would allow you to back up the machine up using Server Message Blocks.

As you can see, BackupPC is a very flexible backup application that seems to be well-suited for running enterprise-level backups in heterogeneous environments.

About the author: Brien M. Posey, MCSE, has previously received Microsoft's MVP award for Exchange Server, Windows Server and Internet Information Server (IIS). Brien has served as CIO for a nationwide chain of hospitals and was once responsible for the Department of Information Management at Fort Knox. You can visit Brien's personal website at

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