Backups

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I setup a home automation system in my house and it runs from the cloud. Yup, you read that correctly. I do understand a lot of “home automation” now runs from the cloud but my definition of home automation isn’t Hue, Smarthome, Nest, or one of the other half-baked systems.¬†Mine is full-blown _everything_.

I think it’s very important to make this distinction because if the internet/cloud is down, literally the house is like a car without premium features. Just imagine getting into a car from the 1920s. No keyless entry, thermostat, airbags, or maybe even the starter. It may function, but it’s a shock when you’re used to something else.

That being said, my setup actually works very well.

A little background on my system — many home automation systems are hardware devices with custom firmware (HAI, Omni, etc). Since I’m in IT, I prefer the software ones such has OpenHAB, CQC, Misterhouse. I decided to go with a CQC. Also, even though the primary brain of my system runs from the cloud, don’t forget that sensors, etc have to be installed and powered in the house.

Here are a list of the pros and cons I came up with and I thought were relevant to the cloud decisions.

Pros:

  • Server stability – rock solid. Servers in the cloud run at data centers where the power and internet connections are more stable than your average business or home. This is actually really nice because I don’t have to worry about doing work on my house and dealing with servers powering up/down.
  • Hardware maintenance – None. No dealing with motherboards, hard drives, and other computer problems.
  • Noise – no computer fans or extra noise.
  • Heat – no added heat to rooms

Cons:

  • Internet must be up. I just checked and my residential internet connection has been down about 5 times in the past 6 months during the middle of the night for about 10 minutes. I never noticed.¬†Even though this hasn’t been an issue for me, it’s possible that my ISP could go down for a week, the CLEC (or someone else) could introduce noise into the line, etc. causing a problem.
  • Everything must run over Ethernet. This can be good or bad depending on how you view it. I like Ethernet and prefer it over serial, USB, etc. At the same time, some home automation devices require serial ports and USB. Implementing anything that doesn’t come as Ethernet takes careful consideration and planning. Solutions has to be planned to work with this requirement.
  • Local hardware still required. Even though I run as much as possible in the cloud, not everything can run there. Audio jacks, alarm sensors, etc have to be installed in the house and powered locally. The nice thing though is that these don’t require maintenance or much electricity.

Although this solution is rare and I’m currently the only person I’ve heard of doing it, I’ve been very happy with it and will try adding more cloud-ish home automation features to it in the future.

-Brendon

A project I was recently involved with was basically revamping a failing Backup system due to the environment outgrowing Symantec Backup Exec. The environment was mostly UNIX. Backups were inconsistent and a lot of administration and babysitting had to occur for a good set of tapes to get ready for the off-site vault.

Again, the recommended solution wasn’t approved. This time, it was clear NetBackup was needed for the ailments at hand. The hardware on-hand was great, but the Backup Exec software couldn’t compete. The $30k-$40k for the NetBackup software was no where to be found.

The final solution may have actually turned out better. That is, cheap storage + ZFS + rsync scripts.

The project was completed with 15 TBs of Linux servers backed up to one Solaris server with about 60 days of daily snapshots. Backup Exec manages the tape rotation from the backups on the Solaris/ZFS box and doesn’t touch any other hosts.

Users are happy because they can recover what they delete, management is happy because the price is right, and IT is happy because its reliable.

Mission accomplished!

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.