October 2008

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Box Backup specs:

  • Server: UNIX (probably Linux), with a lot of hard disk space
  • Clients: UNIX or windows. Clients can be configured as lazy (CDP) or snapshot mode

What it does well:

  • File level backups from UNIX or Windows hosts

What it doesn’t do:

  • Application level backups such as MS Exchange, Active Directory, MySQL, etc. Although it doesn’t do this, it may be worth paying the developers to add Windows VSS support and popular application intelligence. You can also script around it and add this functionality (rudimentary) yourself.

I’m always looking for better way to back up my and others’ data. I must have tried it all by now. Other than the big names, I’ve used a mix of:

DLO, rsync v2, rsync v3, ssh, tar, gzip, ZFS, snapshots, S3, and more…

to backup data. Like everything else, they all do something better or worse. There is always a goal or target backup application in mind with backup tools/software. Some of those might be:

  • offsite recovery
  • continuous data protection
  • tape archival
  • desktop users
  • laptop/remote users

I would summarize Box Backup as continuous data proction for remote systems. You can obviously use it for non-remote backups, but its design makes it powerful for remote backups.

Box Backup’s design is simple and elegant. A server daemon is setup where remote agents initiate connections to and store their data.

There are not a lot of options to configure for retention, upload speeds, etc. Most of this is handled by the intelligence of the agent. You basically configure a few options and let it run.

Also, there doesn’t seem to be much community and activity in the project. There is a long history of steady activity, but I’m very surprised at level of disinterest. It seems like a dynamte piece of software! Maybe nobody knows about it?

So far I have setup two UNIX agents and one Windows agent. I’ve been impressed by the results and depending on how the next week goes, I may deploy it further or recommend others to use it.

About a year ago, a client needed a NetApp (NFS server), but the IPO wasn’t there yet, and the startup’s balance sheet was still in the Red. Needless to say after a few trials, we ended up with Open-E DSS because of budget constraints.

Oh what a roller-coaster it has been…

Open-E is NOT a viable NFS solution as they claim. Based on our initial performance tests and configurations, everything went well, but the more we tried to use the system as a production NFS server, the more bugs we found and the more frustrated we became. After my experiences, I think Open-E may have a life as an iSCSI or basic Samba server, but if you’re looking for reliable, production level NFS storage, you’d be better off installing something like CentOS/Solaris and rolling your own. Open-E has it’s market, but their target market is obviously much too broad.

Some of the serious issues with Open-E as of about 2 months ago:

  • Support – Their US support staff doesn’t know much about UNIX or NFS
  • UPS connection – If configured with apcupsd, a UPS self-test causes the system to shutdown
  • NFS locking – After going through two releases claiming to have NFS locking patched, it wasn’t and required a separate patch from Germany. I reported it to Open-E Jan 08 and one year later, people are still complaining its not fixed (because its not).
  • Backup – If you want to backup this unit, you’re best bet is NFS mounting it and not using the included agents
  • NFS root squash options – They don’t work with certain path configurations
  • YP/NIS – No useful support. Forget it
  • Quotas – It supports quotas, but they have to be modified by using the web UI
  • Web UI – For a few production software releases, the web UI was unusable
  • Monitoring – No SNMP or monitoring is possible
  • Active Directory Integration – Partial integration. Does not work with services for UNIX

Based on the above, I don’t think anything needs to be said other than: Do you think their users are the QA team?

The current status of the Open-E box is “don’t touch”. We’re looking to dump the Open-E software as soon a feasible. Its an unfortunate lesson, but luckily Sun has a solution. Since the Open-E debacle, ZFS has been given a similar run through and has passed with mostly ooo’s and aww’s. Migrating 5 TB server to a new filesystem and operating system is not a quick-and-dirty project.

Sometime in the near future you’ll see an Open-E DSS module on ebay. $1 is all I ask 🙂

I’m constantly online reading, writing, and more reading. When I have a problem I’m trying to solve, I start googling. I start skimming the search results, weeding out the bogus entries in my head. We all know that a URL says a lot about the quality of the search result. Ahhh, but then there are the blog search results. These can be a mixed blessing. I’ll tell you now that I will generally click on the blog search results if the title and keywords all check out.

But how many times have you read a blog about something you’re looking for information about, to only actually find out later the blogger was an idiot?

Wow! It just happened to me again! …about 10 minutes ago. I read something on a blog where the person sounded like he knew what he was talking about, but it was actually bad advice! I decided right then, on this beautiful Sunday, I’m going to finally setup a blog.

I know I’m not an expert at everything, but I believe I’m well informed enough to know what I should write about and to not try and sound authoritative on a topic I indeed know nothing or very little about. Also, don’t think that is the only reason I setup a blog. I’m constantly using products and doing things where I know my knowledge will be useful to someone. The information I post is here to use as you like. If you don’t like it, well, I guess thats too bad, Google can take you to many other places, be gone!