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Backup programs that offer automatic/scheduled restores?

Last response: in Antivirus / Security / Privacy
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June 27, 2012 1:55:45 AM

Hi all,

What I would like to create is a clone system offsite. In other words, if my main system goes down for whatever reason (crash, fire, etc.), I've got a mirror system offsite that can quickly be placed into action.

I see things like crashplan that allow easy backups of files between computers, even offsite, but I need something that will also automatically restore those backups on a daily basis so the machine would be ready to go in the event it is needed.

I guess I am thinking of something like dropbox, but for the entire drive.
June 27, 2012 2:38:55 AM

Perhaps something like Norton Ghost?

However, things to consider doing a full disc image everyday:

1) Downtime to do the image (1-2 hours)
2) Storage costs associated with archiving your images (you can't just dump these on a webserver- they have to be properly archived. Unless you don't care about people finding your data and installing your system)
3) Upload time & potential bandwidth charges
4) Download time & potential bandwidth charges
5) How you will download and deploy a retrieved image if your main machine fails

A more practical solution might be:

1) RAID 1
2) Weekly disc images taken and burned to DVD/archived off-site just in case the RAID suffers some catastrophic issue that makes all drives unusable


Speaking from personal experience:

When we started the studio we could NOT afford server downtime- not even 30 minutes! I also couldn't afford any software, archival services- nothing. We needed something foolproof, rugged, no downtime and with a cost of $0.

1) Set up RAID 1 for the boot drive- one master, one slave.
2) Placed all data on their own physical drives
3) Used external drives to backup the active data drives. Ran an rsync out of cron at midnight each day.

We never suffered data loss. But we did have the master drive fail one morning with no warning at all. Instead of hours of downtime I told everyone to grab a coffee while I restarted everything with the slave drive in command (about 5 minutes) Flawless victory.
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June 27, 2012 1:37:06 PM

Thanks Wombat.

If I understand you correctly, things like Norton Ghost do complete image backups each time, which obviously are large files and would take to long to backup, upload, download, and restore. You are right, this would not be practical.

Are there backup services that do incremental backups and restores to offsite machines? Or, it wouldn't even have to be a backup. Something that knows what files have been changed and syncs them to another machine, like dropbox.

I don't care how it is done, I just want an offsite clone server that is updated automatically every night so that if the next morning the main server is down I can run home and grab the backup server, plug it in, and never miss a beat.

I could always run file backups separately in case of an accidental lost file or error. That is a separate need that I think I can see my way through.
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June 27, 2012 4:18:36 PM

So if I'm understanding your situation correctly, you need to keep a server running (not your desktop PC). I'm also guessing you're in a small homegrown server type environment and not a mess of racks and blades.

For the purposes of conversation let's keep data and the operating system (boot drive) separate. They should be separate.

Let's talk data first, since data is irreplaceable and valuable. Operating systems just represent downtime.

Data backups are easy and many options exist. They all work pretty much the same way: something like rsync runs, opens an SSH tunnel and pushes the changelist to the offsite server. Most on the market are intended for desktop users but there are products for servers, and you can even make your own using rsync and SSH (it's not rocket surgery)

Security of your data should be your primary consideration when choosing a solution. It's fairly straightforward to put your backups in an .htaccess protected directory on a common webserver, but this will only foil the most casual of snoopers. You need to think (and think hard) about "how bad" things would be if your data got loose in the wild. So think about where you are actually going to put all this data and how they will handle it.

Even if you say "I am going to store it at a server in my house" that's fine. Just think about what happens if someone breaks into your house and steals the server. How is the data on it protected? How will you harden the server to external prying eyes? Just by turning it on each night long enough to get the backup from the main machine? (There are all kinds of ways to duct-tape solutions together! :p  )


As for your OS and avoiding downtime:

Do not mix data and the OS. Place the OS on its own drive. This means if your OS fails and your drive needs to be reformatted your data is totally unaffected. Never mix data and the OS.

RAID 1 is easy, immediate, automatic and has a 1-time cost.

Going to managed hosting somewhere that offers a SLA and max resolution time is also a good option. It does not address if a datacenter pipe goes down and you can't get to your data or there is some other external issue. Hosting your own server does avoid this. (However, hosting your own server brings with it huge security burdens, unless it's a purely intranet machine with no 'net exposure)

Use something like clonezilla or Ghost to make backups every few days or so of your boot drive. Not including the data in these backups will greatly decrease time to make them.
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June 27, 2012 7:07:14 PM

Wombat, consider my mind blown. My eyes are now open and I think I see what you are saying. I had been separating the issues into two groups, but I had been separating them differently than you point out. I was thinking that current data and OS were one issue and historical backup of data as a different issue. Since I am still very green on this, let me get some more clarification, below.

wombat_tg said:
So if I'm understanding your situation correctly, you need to keep a server running (not your desktop PC). I'm also guessing you're in a small homegrown server type environment and not a mess of racks and blades. .

You are correct. We are a simple insurance office with a single location, one server with 8 workstations. It is a simple tower server custom built by a son-in-law of one of our employees, but it very similar to a Dell PowerEdge. Nothing fancy, no racks or blades.

Quote:
Let's talk data first, since data is irreplaceable and valuable. Operating systems just represent downtime.

Data backups are easy and many options exist. They all work pretty much the same way: something like rsync runs, opens an SSH tunnel and pushes the changelist to the offsite server. Most on the market are intended for desktop users but there are products for servers, and you can even make your own using rsync and SSH (it's not rocket surgery)

Security of your data should be your primary consideration when choosing a solution. It's fairly straightforward to put your backups in an .htaccess protected directory on a common webserver, but this will only foil the most casual of snoopers. You need to think (and think hard) about "how bad" things would be if your data got loose in the wild. So think about where you are actually going to put all this data and how they will handle it.

Even if you say "I am going to store it at a server in my house" that's fine. Just think about what happens if someone breaks into your house and steals the server. How is the data on it protected? How will you harden the server to external prying eyes? Just by turning it on each night long enough to get the backup from the main machine? (There are all kinds of ways to duct-tape solutions together! :p  ) .


Yes, security of the data is a large consideration. We have access to sensitive client information that can not be available to the public. We would want encrypted backups so that in the event someone steals the backup server or hacks in from out in cyberspace, they still can't access the data.


Quote:
As for your OS and avoiding downtime:

Do not mix data and the OS. Place the OS on its own drive. This means if your OS fails and your drive needs to be reformatted your data is totally unaffected. Never mix data and the OS.

RAID 1 is easy, immediate, automatic and has a 1-time cost.

Going to managed hosting somewhere that offers a SLA and max resolution time is also a good option. It does not address if a datacenter pipe goes down and you can't get to your data or there is some other external issue. Hosting your own server does avoid this. (However, hosting your own server brings with it huge security burdens, unless it's a purely intranet machine with no 'net exposure)

Use something like clonezilla or Ghost to make backups every few days or so of your boot drive. Not including the data in these backups will greatly decrease time to make them.


Our current server has RAID 1, and that has already saved us a time or two when we've had a HD crash.

SO...

Let me see if I understand you correctly. I was thinking it was important to have the two servers synced in real time to keep the OS and various programs and drivers and updates in harmony. So that when disaster strikes, all I'd have to do is replace the main server with the backup server and things would continue as if nothing happened. However, what you are saying is that I just need to do periodic syncs every few days or once a week to make sure these updates take place?

And then, the more important of the two issues is data backup and management. This needs to be done daily (nightly to prevent disruption), encrypted to prevent prying eyes, and stored offsite.

Does that pretty well sum it up? Both backups plans could be stored on an offsite server which would become the backup server if disaster strikes. IF so, that brings me to a new set of questions...

How closely does the backup server's hardware need to be to the main server's hardware? Does it need to be the exact same hardware, or can it be, say, an older generation of technology?

Do you have any recommendations for backup software? I use Crashplan for my personal computer backups, and I see they have an "Enterprise" version which claims to do pretty much the same thing only for servers. I like that Crashplan will backup to other computers, and the Enterprise version says it will backup one server to another server. That sounds exactly what I am looking for? Looks like a single license is $25 / yr. That sounds too good to be true.

Thanks for ALL your help!
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June 27, 2012 7:50:10 PM

Ah, insurance information. Yes, that is very sensitive. Are you required to be HIPPA compliant? Anything your state/governing agency requires? Because that might narrow down your options and offer you guidance on where to look and for what.

Regarding OS (brain) failure- really, once the brain is up and running you don't need to do too much. You can make an image of the brain every few weeks or whatever just for your own peace of mind. The brain SHOULD trundle along quite nicely on its own. Honestly burning a DVD image every couple of weeks is probably overkill.


Things to ask yourself:

1) How do you ensure your employees back their data up to the server each night?
2) What compliance mandates do you need to meet?
3) How much data is there in total?
4) Do I need versioning and audit trails?
5) How do my employees share and transfer data between themselves?
6) What other services does the server provide my employees?

I am going to guess that your in-house server does everything: file server, email server, possibly even web server. I am going to guess you do not run any applications on the server (eg JIRA, Confluence, Zimbra) or use it as a seat server for volume licensed software.

My suggestion would be to explore off-loading all of these things- your role would become nothing more than the overseer to make sure things are as they need to be.

To replace your file server/file sharing needs you could consider a product like Egnyte, Box Enterprise or JungleDisk. This is more than just a backup but acts as a fileserver as well. Two birds, one stone. These also offer versioning, audit trails and un-deleting (far better than digging into massive backups looking for something) You could also compliment these products with something like CrashPlan or Spideroak Blue if you really like your tin foil hat. :lol: 

To replace your email/web server simply grab a hosting package from a good host. There are many to choose from. If all you need your server to do is deliver emails and host a website, you can get into this for pretty much nothing.

You could also investigate taking your office "into the cloud" with a product like Zoho, GoogleApps, QuickOffice or whatever it is... so on and so forth.

Of course your current solution is pretty much free, but maintaining it and sleeping at night are considerations, and that offloading the services onto a provider are well worth it.

I do sympathize. Businesses can quickly outgrow homegrown solutions, but can't possibly justify massive infrastructure costs & the staff to maintain it, but very much need enterprise-level tools and security. Fortunately these days you can outsource a lot of this. I think it is only at the bottom end of the scale and the very tip-top that having it "in house" is the most economical choice of action.
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June 28, 2012 12:46:52 PM

Wombat, thanks again for all the knowledge. More wonderful things to think about!

Our in-house server just serves as our file server. We use GoDaddy for email and webhosting and push that to GoogleApps for better ease of use.

The only application we run from the server is our all-important management system. The majority of the rest of our applications are internet-based which are run from the individual workstations.

Your suggestion to place our file server online is interesting. I'm not sure we're ready to do that for our in-house server (worried about our ISP quality/speed, offsite troubles, etc.), but maybe doing that instead of our offsite clone server sitting in my basement.

So, instead of having a spare, physical server sitting at the ready, we could use something like JungleDisk? Could the same type of mirroring be done between our in-house server and the online server? Or are we again mixing the two issues?

What would happen in the case of a major disaster where internet is down for weeks at a time? I would assume we would still need a physical machine somewhere that would be ready to go at the drop of a hat, correct?

If so, what is the best option for that? Grab a reliable external hard drive and image the in-house server from time to time and also keep nightly backup stored in a safe place? Or, just grab one of our old, decommissioned desktops (we never throw away anything) and image the server onto that drive and let that be a cheap server substitute until a new server can be built?
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June 28, 2012 4:06:36 PM

The more I think about this, the more I like this idea (if it would work) ...

Get a reliable external hard drive and image the server drive onto it. Take that external hard drive offsite to a safe location and connect it to a internet-connected machine (for example, my home desktop). Create a nightly backup plan from the server from a service like Crashplan Pro E and use the external hard drive as the backup destination. In the event of a disaster, an external hard drive would be more agile to transfer to a temporary workplace. At this temporary workplace, I could plug the external hard drive into a machine, tell the machine to boot to that drive, and be in business? That would buy us enough time to build a new server when time allows, but doesn't have the upfront cost of building a server now that may never be put to use. As you point out, online file sharing may be in our future so a new server may not be the route we'd want to go anyway.

Would this work?

Would the imaged OS on the hard drive update and "keep up with" the main server (excluding any software changes we make on the server)? If so, would it have to be the boot drive for the machine it is connected to (in the example above, my home desktop)?
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July 10, 2012 9:21:44 AM

Best answer selected by whitenack.
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July 11, 2012 11:43:17 AM

This topic has been closed by Nikorr
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