Linux Backup Software
UNIX users should know the first three rules of system administration: backup, backup, and backup. System backups are a key (and often over-looked) part of any system management strategy. While backups are considerably more important in a production environment where even a few hours of downtime and a day’s lost files are disastrous, they should not be overlooked for small office or home systems, either. The amount of time spent reloading operating system and application software, drivers, user files, and other data is much more than the time it takes to perform restore cycles from a backup tape. Even more important, user files cannot be recovered after a crash, making backups the only way to protect your valuable data.
Linux systems range from small, shared-partitioned systems in your home to those controlling whole offices and Web sites. As Linux has become a fully accepted operating system, the utilities and applications available for Linux have grown to mirror those available for larger UNIX systems. The same is true of the backup software we review in this article, which mirrors the abilities of the same software’s UNIX versions completely. While you could rely on cpio and tar to perform backups, third-party application software packages like those we review here offer far more convenience, automation, and recovery options than either cpio and tar can provide. For many users, these extra features make the price of the backup software application well worth the investment. If the recovery process is ever needed after a disk crash or damage to a filesystem, the investment often seems trivial for the peace of mind it provides.
Do you really need backups? The answer is moot if you answer yes to a simple question: do you need your data files? If you can’t afford to be without the files on your hard drives, you should be performing backups. The frequency with which you perform backups, and the manner in which you perform them, is up to you. But almost everyone will experience a disk problem at one time or another, and almost every time you’ll find you don’t have a recent enough backup. Backup often!
To test backup software for Linux, we chose a number of commercial products that have been well received in the past, most of which will be familiar to readers as UNIX products as well. We tested the software on a network driven by two Linux servers, one running SuSe and the other running RedHat versions of Linux. Both machines were single CPU systems with 700MHz AMD Athlon CPUs with 128MB RAM. One was equipped with SCSI hard drive, CD-ROM, and three SCSI backup devices (Iomega Jaz drive, HP Surestore 5000i DAT tape drive, and Sony SDC300 AIT tape drive), the other with IDE hard drive and CD-ROM and an ATAPI Travan tape drive. To ensure the reviews were fair, we swapped the operating systems after the first round of testing so each package was tested with SCSI and Travan devices. Not all the software tested supported both SuSe and RedHat, so only the supported platforms were tested completely.
Our test cycle was fairly simple: the hard drives were loaded with a variety of applications, software development tools, and a bunch of data files ranging from large databases to small document files. To provide incremental changes, we performed sorts and indexes on database and spreadsheet files daily, although no data was added or removed. We used each backup software package to backup only the application data files in their dedicated directories (3.1GB total) as well as the entire hard drive’s partition (8.3GB total). Where multiple tapes or Jaz platters were necessary, we performed the media switch without counting the down-time. We performed our standard backup cycles for two weeks, completing a full backup on Sunday and Wednesday, and incremental backups (changed files only) every other day. We timed the backup processes for each software package on each day.
To test restoration processes, we deleted one file a day (alternating between big and small) and timed how long it took the backup software to locate and restore the missing file. We tried using each package in the restoration process two ways, one where we supplied the filename to be restored, and one where we wanted the software to figure out what was missing and restore those files. Finally, we tested full system restoration by reformatting the Linux partitions, reloading a bare-bones OS and the backup software, and seeing how well we could recover the entire partition from backup media. Again, we timed that process, too.
Throughout the backup and restore cycles, we evaluated the ease of use of each software package, the time it took to initiate, conduct, and summarize backups and restores, the features each package had that were extraordinarily useful or unique, and any problems or hitches we encountered. Some reviews could not be conducted over the full two week testing period because software either arrived late or was in final beta format but the summaries would have been the same anyway.
Enhanced Software Technologies’ BRU
EST’s BRU (Backup and Restore Utility) is one of the grandfathers of the backup utility world, having been around for many years. Over those years the software has matured and aged gracefully. BRU for Linux is available in two flavors, “standard” BRU which has all the network-enabled code, and BRU-PE (or “Personal Edition”). BRU-PE is a non-commercial, non-networked version of the full BRU package intended for home use. The only real differences between BRU-PE and the full version is support for networked devices and NFS mounts, backup of raw partitions, a feature to rename files during restoration, and double-buffered I/O (which affects speed). To compensate, though, BRU-PE is significantly less expensive than the full package. We did our main testing with the currently shipping version (BRU 15.1) and also tested a pre-production version of BRU 16.0 (which should be shipping by the time you read this).
BRU comes on three diskettes and installs easily enough using tar and an install script. BRU offers a command line interface as well as an X interface but curiously they have to be installed as two different products. The process takes only a few minutes following the instructions in the Getting Started guide. After installing the software, the backup devices must be configured properly requiring device names and other information about each device (such as capacity and buffer sizes). The process is a little hit and miss for someone who’s not a veteran system administrator and may end up with less-than-optimum settings. The EST Web site has a page devoted to sample configurations that should help those unfamiliar with the terminology of tape devices. The documentation that accompanies the BRU package is well written.
We used BRU on both our SuSe and Linux systems and BRU supports TurboLinux and Caldera OpenLinux as well. Tcl/Tk must be loaded on the system for BRU to function properly (a pointer to a Tcl/Tk download Web site in the manual is good but useless for those who do not have a functioning Internet connection).
The X interface makes using BRU easy: click your way through the process and leave the rest up to BRU. If you default to the command interface, be prepared to deal with a multitude of options and flags. The documentation provides a good summary of command line structure, but most users will find a few tries are necessary to get a proper syntax laid down.
BRU includes a utility called CRU (Crash Recovery Utility) that provides a boot-from-diskette full system recovery capability. The CRU system worked well from SCSI devices on our SuSe system, but not so well with RedHat which apparently doesn’t load some utilities CRU needs to function properly (the mkisofs utility in particular seems to be guilty). We worked around this by loading the utility on a diskette for manual reload. We also ran into problems with the ATAPI recovery diskette system (more on that in a moment).
We ran into a few problems with the ATAPI Travan tape drive where the device would sometimes seemingly disappear from the system and BRU would get hung up. We tried using SCSI emulation (/dev/nstX) and that seemed to solve some of the problems, but we still had the occasional hangup with the Travan drive. The SCSI tape devices all performed perfectly.
Other than the reported hitches with ATAPI devices and CRU (which may be fixed by now), BRU performed well. We liked the X interface but found the configuration process a bit of a pain. Fortunately, it has to be done only once (usually). The shipping version of BRU 16.0 should also have a Web based interface, but it was not available when we did our testing. The full BRU package is a talented backup and restore utility, as we’ve remarked in previous reviews. The release of BRU-PE does offer a low-priced way for home users with no need for network support to get a powerful backup and restore tool, but the lack of raw partition access may bother some users. Using BRU is fast and easy, and will appeal especially to those who consider backups a chore instead of a task to be taken seriously.
Cactus International Lone-Tar
If there’s one name that most SCO users will recognize (if only from their advertisements) it’s Cactus International and Lone Start Software’s Lone-Tar. Lone-Tar and Air-Bag products have been a staple on many SCO systems for over a decade, so it’s not surprising to see the switch to Linux. We tested Lone-Tar for Linux release 1.1.4 along with Air-Bag. The product arrived a little late in the testing cycle so we compressed the test period to a single week.
For those who do not know, Lone-Tar is a command line and menu-driven front end backup and restore utility. Air-Bag is a bootable diskette recovery utility. The software installs easily enough on our RedHat system but would not run under SuSe. Cactus doesn’t support Lone-Tar under any other Linux version but RedHat at the moment, but we have seen postings on Usenet indicating it works well under some variants like Mandrake. There no automatic detection of hardware: all devices have to be configured manually (at least in the release we tested). We’ve got lots of experience with Lone-Tar and Air-Bag, and it was nice to see that the Linux version behaves the same way as the SCO version.
Lone-Tar is not the flashiest backup product on the market. However, it does all the backup and restore cycles with a minimum of fuss and user prompting. Lone-Tar supports backups of raw partitions. We managed to use Lone-Tar with our standard SCSI tape devices without problem, but the Iomega Jaz drive was sporadic and the ATAPI Travan tape drive failed from the start even in SCSI emulation mode. The latter may have been due to some weird configuration requirement, but we couldn’t figure it out in the time available. Cactus’ Air-Bag utility allows you to create a bootable diskette that loads the drives for the SCSI tape device, and reload the entire system with only a few user prompts. The full system recovery worked well, if a little slowly.
Apart from the device problems, this version of Lone-Tar worked well. Perhaps we’ve been using the software too long, but the menu interface is being to look a little dated especially in comparison to some of the other products tested. For those of us who use Lone-Tar on SCO systems, it’s nice to see a familiar friend in the Linux arena. The pricing of Lone-Tar for Linux certainly makes it attractive.
Knox Software’s Arkeia
Know Software is a relatively new name in the UNIX backup world, but Arkeia is going to make waves for Linux users. If there’s one aspect of this package that stands out immediately it is the attractive (and busy) user interface. On the downside, there’s no documentation to speak of included with the system, only help files and other material on the CD-ROM. The Arkeia software consists of three components: a backup server, a client, and a GUI.
Arkeia supports RedHat and SuSe Linux, as well as Mandrake Linux. There are also versions of Arkeia for many UNIX platforms, but not for SCO (except UnixWare 2.0). The software components must be installed in the correct order for the system to work. For a standalone system you need to install all three packages separately, one after the other (curiously installing the client before the server). RPM can be used for installation on RedHat and SuSe. The 10-page installation guide steps you through using RPM and gives you the order in which you must configure the software, but leaves the details up to you to figure out. The end of the “installation guide” concludes with a URL to the Installation Guide on the Arkeia web site, hardly a useful and user-friendly approach! On the whole, the configuration process was the most annoying of the packages we tested. A serial number and checksum are necessary to activate the software.
Almost making up for the documentation and configuration let-downs is your first view of the main Arkeia interface under X. Simply put, it’s overwhelming to look at compared to every other simple interface we tested. The top of the screen is dominated by a set of VU-like meters that show backup speed and disk and tape conditions. The bottom of the screen has continually updated information about files being backed up and restored. Controlling the software is through a dialog that lets you click-and-choose files, directories, and entire disks to back up or restore. The process is just like using Windows applications. There is a command line interface (although finding instructions for it was a pain), but why use the command line with such an entertaining GUI to work with? After staring at the Arkeia GUI for a while, you realize it’s really silly to watch the meters show backup rates and all the other bells and whistles that are offered, and it probably will get old very quickly if you use Arkeia on a daily basis, but the interface sure is fun to watch the first few times!
The Arkeia backup system is actually quite powerful beneath the flashy front end. You can perform network-wide backups from many different platforms, partitions, and operating systems with ease. You can cram multiple backups from different systems on the same tape. You do have to go to the trouble of setting up backup pools, libraries, and so on (much like Windows packages like Seagate Backup Exec and ArcServeIT), but this is usually handled only once. Like the Windows packages just mentioned, Arkeia forces you to use the proper tapes at the right times: simply plopping in any tape for a quick backup won’t do. You might get the impression from this that Arkeia is a large corporation’s solution only, but there is a stripped down single server version ideal for home or small office use.
Arkeia relies on generic SCSI devices for tape device control. Our SCSI DAT and AIT drives worked perfectly, but the SCSI Iomega Jaz and IDE ATAPI Travan tape drive caused problems and could not be used with Arkeia (even using SCSI emulation modes). Once you get in the habit of using the right tapes in the right place (and carefully labeling everything to prevent problems), Arkeia proves quite easy and friendly to use through the X interface. The command line mode can be used but we found it frustrating.
Our overwhelming opinion of Arkeia is that it is out of place on a single machine or a small network. The software seems ideal for larger systems with network storage devices scattered about. The Linux single server version is worth looking at if only for the X interface, but as mentioned earlier there is a solid backup and restore engine behind it. If Knox Software can put a decent set of manuals and some single-button backup or restore capabilities into Arkeia, this would be an excellent contender. The price for a single-server setup is competitive.
BackupEDGE is a well-known UNIX backup and restore utility that has received good reviews in our pages and those of other UNIX magazines. The version was tested (01.01.08) is an incremental release over the one we tested a few months ago. The software was in final build for release when we tested it and should be the same as the commercial version. The BackupEDGE package includes two components, BackupEDGE for backups and RecoverEDGE for emergency crash recovery. Documentation with BackupEDGE is very good.
The CD-ROM that accompanies the BackupEDGE package includes binaries for SCO OpenServer 5, UnixWare 7.1, and UNIX 3.2v4.2 as well as Linux 2.x versions. BackupEDGE ran on both our SuSe and RedHat test systems, and has been tested on Corel Linux, Caldera OpenLinux, and TurboLinux Workstation as well. The BackupEDGE software installs easily enough from CD-ROM . The release we tested adds a new installation wizard to BackupEDGE that automatically detects tape devices on your system, eliminating the need to use device names and numbers. The wizard successfully detected all our SCSI devices although it didn’t get the Travan IDE tape drive (which is a known problem with this late beta build, as we’ll discuss in a moment).
BackupEDGE uses a character-based menu (no X interface is available) for all tasks and the menu is quickly learned and fast to use. You can also use a command line interface for scripting or simply typing commands, but keeping track of options and arguments can be difficult at times. BackupEDGE can handle raw partitions, even for operating systems that are not natively recognized by the operating system performing the backup. This allows complete partition image backups and restores for entire disks that may contain multiple operating systems.
The RecoverEDGE software that is bundled with BackupEDGE is going to be a key part of the package for most users. RecoverEDGE uses a set of crash recovery diskettes to load a minikernel and device driver for the tape drives, and then allows a complete system restore from the booted diskette. The software makes recovery from crashed partitions and hard drives almost trivial.
BackupEDGE has several features that we’ve noted in previous reviews as being useful and noteworthy. The most important is probably Fast File restore which allows for restoration from anywhere on the backup media very quickly, thanks to indexing of files in a tape database. There’s also an algorithm that helps position the tape quickly to the approximate location of the file, and then conduct the search for the file at normal search speeds. Also noteworthy is support for tape autochangers. While we did not use any autochangers in this particular review, we have used DAT autochangers with BackupEDGE before and loved the convenience of having a full week’s worth of tapes automatically loaded and ejected.
The only problem we encountered with BackupEDGE had to do with our ATAPI Travan tape device, which BackupEDGE couldn’t access properly every time and the installation wizard couldn’t pick the ATAPI device up cleanly. Microlite is aware of the problem and it should be fixed in the final release of the software. All the SCSI devices were accessed perfectly. Other than this minor teething problem, BackupEDGE performed flawlessly and remained one of our favorite packages for restoring files thanks to the Fast File Find feature.
Merlin Software Technologies Perfect Backup+
Merlin Software Technologies is an unknown to many SCO users because they concentrate on Linux backup software (although there is a SCO version of Perfect Backup+ available now). Perfect Backup+ is their primary product. While the backup software market is a tough nut to crack with established companies like EST, Cactus, and Microlite well know, Merlin appears to be making decent inroads.
Perfect Backup+ worked on both our RedHat and SuSe systems, and support Corel, TurboLinux, Mandrake and Caldera Linux as well. Because the software was designed for the Linux market, it takes advantage of that operating system’s features in most aspects of the system. Installation is by package manager as an RPM package, for example, or through the more traditional use of install scripts after mounting the CD-ROM. The installation and configuration process take a few minutes. Especially helpful is a detection wizard that snoops out backup devices and takes care of the configuration of these units for you. You can manually configure devices, too, which is necessary for many network tape drives. Documentation is a spiral-bound manual that is good, but the organization and detail level could be a little better.
The interface to Perfect Backup+ is through an X dialog, although there is a fairly simple command line mode available for routine tasks and a character-driven menu for X terms as well. A set of one-click buttons lets you launch backup and restore cycles with a bare minimum of effort. If you need to override defaults, menu items allow you to do that, too. A set of “predefined backup packages” target specific applications and their file storage locations and makes backing up these applications a snap (although the set is limited to common application suites like WordPefect for Linux and Applix).
Perfect Backup+ detected all our devices without a hitch, including the ATAPI Travan tape drive that caused most of the other packages problems. Autochangers are also detected (at least the HP DAT autochangers we tried). A nice feature of Perfect Backup+ is that any tapes created using the tool can be used by any UNIX cpio utility, allowing recovery of tape data on systems that do not have Perfect Backup+ installed. Backups of raw partitions are supported as well.
We failed to find any weak-spots with Perfect Backup+. It handled all our tests without a hitch as well as used all our media properly. The only possible complaint we would have is the speed of restore operations, which wasn’t up to those of Microlite’s BackupEDGE, for example. But then, we’re nitpicking. It’s easy to see why Perfect Backup+ is becoming a popular backup utility because it seems to cover all the bases. Maybe this is one of those diamonds in the rough you occasionally come across. The price is certainly fair for the network-capable tool you receive.
There’s a wide variety of tools and capabilities in the packages we tested. It’s nice to see old familiar products from SCO in the Linux arena, as well as the newcomers like Arkeia. The most expensive package in the tests, Microlite’s BackupEDGE won all the speed tests, and along with Perfect Backup+ had the best configuration wizards of all the products. The most stunning interface (by a long shot) belongs to Arkeia, although it’s ultimate utility remains to be seen with long user testing. Merlin’s Perfect Backup+ is notable for it’s Linux-centric approach and inclusion of all three interface types.
Which of the products gets our Top of the World? Lone-Tar seems to be a little dated and slow compared to the others. The remaining tools all have high points, but the bottom line comes down to Microlite’s BackupEDGE for its speed and flexibility, although for the budget minded where speed is a secondary consideration, either Arkeia or Perfect Backup+ will do just as well.
509 E Ridgeville Blvd
Summary: The classic Lone-Tar and Air-Bag package finally available for RedHat (only). Device support and limitation of Linux distribution support mars the product at this point, but it’s bound to get better.
4014 E Broadway
Summary: Sporting a low price and an X interface, BRU-PE is attractive for home users. Configuration can be touchy, as is the new crash recovery utility.
2315 Mill Street
Aliquippa PA 15001-2228
(724) 375-6908 Fax
Summary: Between BackupEDGE’s features like Fast Find File and RecoverEDGE’s ability to restore your entire system painlessly, this is a winner of a package.
1901 Camino Vida Roble
Carlsbad, CA 92008
(760) 602 - 8590
(760) 602 - 8599 (fax)
Summary: Fancy GUI hides a corporate-strength backup engine. Highly capable, but lack of documentation caused us conniptions.
Merlin Software Technologies
405 Douglas Avenue
Suite 1305 Altamonte Springs
(604) 320-7277 Fax
Summary: A sleeper of a product. Excellent interface options, great configuration wizard and competitive pricing.