Backing up Linux

As Linux continues to gain momentum in the application server arena, so

does the need for robust utilities such as backup programs.

Most Linux distributions come with some form of backup utility, but

those applications generally don't deliver the kind of features that most

government information technology managers have come to depend on in other

operating system environments.

Minimum requirements for most organizations include scheduled backups,

volume management and auto-changer support.

For this review, we looked at two Linux backup products: PerfectBackup+

from Merlin Software Technologies Inc. and BRU from Enhanced Software Technologies

Inc. Both products provide a command-line interface as well as a graphical

user interface (GUI), along with a host of options to ease the backup chore.

Unfortunately, we were not able to get either package up and running

without help from technical support staff. Of the two packages, however,

the PerfectBackup+ installation was definitely easier. Once we got the install

package working, it loaded the software and automatically detected our 4mm

digital audiotape drive right off the bat.

The BRU product required additional manual tweaking of a special setup

file that the user is directed to create.

Approaches

With a few caveats, both products make it easy to perform backups with

little or no user intervention and make it similarly easy to restore files

when necessary. The two products do, however, approach their work a little

differently.

PerfectBackup+ guides the user in creating backup "packages" of selected

files. These packages can then be scheduled for backup at different intervals

based on a user-defined timetable. PerfectBackup+ also supports full and

incremental backups of either entire volumes or selected files.

BRU allows the user to create a backup definition file similar in functionality

to the package concept from PerfectBackup+. Once you configure the specific

BRU options desired for the backup, you simply choose Save from the file

menu to save the definition file for future use.

To reuse the same definition file at a later date, you then load it

from the file menu. You can also schedule a backup based on one of the definition

files.

PerfectBackup+ uses wizards to guide you through the backup and restore

process. The backup menu offers options to include or exclude files from

the backup operation based on a working directory and a file-name pattern.

BRU provides the same kind of file selection capability but adds the

ability to use Unix-style regular expressions to choose specific files.

Both products enable you to restore files into directories that are

different from the ones from which they were originally backed up.

They also provide configuration settings for determining what to do

when files that you are attempting to restore already exist on the disk.

You can set the program to always or never overwrite or to restore only

older files.

PerfectBackup+ also provides the option to back up and restore remote

files on Sun Microsystems Inc.'s Network File System or Novell Inc.'s NetWare.

One nice feature of PerfectBackup+ is the ability to duplicate or convert

backup media.

With this utility, you can make a duplicate copy of a backup tape for

off-site storage or a copy from one media type to another for use on another

system. There's also a device configuration utility that provides a way

to test your backup device to determine its capacity.

User Manuals

We much prefer the PerfectBackup+ documentation to that for BRU. The

spiral-bound PerfectBackup+ manual includes a good mix of screen shots and

verbiage that explain in detail all the different options available. There's

also a section called Planning Your Backups that walks you through different

backup and restore scenarios and how to address each one.

The primary BRU manual focuses on the command-line version of BRU.

Although it doesn't contain any screen shots, it does provide a lot of technical

detail about how to use some of the more powerful features of BRU.

One area that the BRU manual covers that we didn't find in the PerfectBackup+

manual is the procedure to follow should you have a system disk failure.

The BRU GUI manual is short and contains the bare essentials of using the

program.

Backup is a mission-critical capability for most government IT shops.

Without it, you have no way to recover from a disk failure or to restore

those inadvertently deleted user files. Making the administrator's job easier

is the goal of both of these programs, and both are up to the task.

PerfectBackup+ is easier to use than BRU, though BRU does offer a few

more options via its command-line interface, such as setting block size

and buffers to increase performance.

Whether you end up choosing PerfectBackup+ or BRU, you can't really

go wrong unless you simply fail to put it to work.

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