Data Centers

How to get started with open source backup software

There are many choices for corporate backup software, and it's easy to overlook the open source options. Amanda Enterprise and Bacula Enterprise are the backup solutions best suited for major tasks.

System administrators have many choices for data backup software, ranging from standalone applications to storage vendors' own systems to all manner of cloud storage and data appliances—but what about the open source options?

For some people, using the standard UNIX/Linux rsync data movement tool and zlib compression program may be enough. Others may want a more fleshed-out application such as the community editions of Amanda, Bacula, or BackupPC. But in a larger organization, you're going to want Amanda Enterprise or Bacula Enterprise.

As with many open source versions of business applications, you'll need Linux-friendly employees who are comfortable in a command line. Microsoft PowerShell aside, most corporate backup systems remain Windows-centric. And if you choose a community version, that also means community-level support—you won't have anyone to call in an emergency.

SEE: End user data backup policy (Tech Pro Research)

Betsol, a company in Broomfield, CO, acquired Amanda Enterprise (widely known as Zmanda) from Carbonite in May 2018. Carbonite bought it from the original Zmanda Inc. in 2012. Betsol support guru Denis Iler weighed in with his thoughts about what customers should know before trying an open-source backup application.

Zmanda is controlled by a server application connected to agent software on client devices. "All it does is really provide an SSH pipe from the client computer to the backup server," with backup processes initiated by the server rather than by the client, Iler explained.

Iler said that when restoring data or switching to a different backup application, administrators may find the learning curve smoother than most products because Zmanda uses common .tar files instead of proprietary types. It also supports Amazon, Google, and OpenStack cloud systems, he noted.

One thing users should know is that Zmanda lacks a deduplication feature—that's a common function in commercial systems. Iler said his opinion is that the low price of conventional storage capacity makes deduplication less important than most backup vendors claim. Users also won't find any trendy claims about data-at-rest or artificial intelligence, just straightforward data backup—"I don't think we've thought about that very much," Iler said.

Like all other enterprise software companies, Betsol and Bacula Systems provide online technical resources such as white papers. Betsol's topics include cloud integration, database backups, hardware acceleration, security, and virtual tape. Bacula has a best practices guide with helpful sections about actions to avoid and testing/monitoring.

Bacula's avoidance document is something that users probably wish more software companies of all stripes would do. Its advice is useful for many kinds of backup products: Do not rename resources after you start production or tests; check permissions when you start daemon processes; and test tape block sizes before production.

SEE: Data backup request form (Tech Pro Research)

Proceed with caution

Enterprise Strategy Group analyst Christophe Bertrand, who recently briefed TechRepublic readers about selecting a commercial backup application, advised open source advocates inside enterprise environments to proceed with caution.

"Although we do not have specific data based on research, our guess is that Amanda and BackupPC are the most downloaded and that Rsync has the biggest installed base," Bertrand noted. "This being said, there are a couple of points to bear in mind: When you get to the enterprise, you need automation, repeatability, reliability, and a good support organization." And also, "Even industries that have embraced open source comput[ing] still want enterprise data protection. No one wants to not be able to recover mission critical data when they really need it."

However the open source applications are indeed working for some name-brand organizations—Bacula cites NASA along with European entertainment giant Sky PLC.

Also see

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Image: boygovideo, Getty Images/iStockphoto

About Evan Koblentz

Evan became a technology reporter during the dot-com boom of the late 1990s. He published a book, "Abacus to smartphone: The evolution of mobile and portable computers" in 2015 and is executive director of Vintage Computer Federation, a 501(c)3 non-p...

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