Backups: What You’d Rather Not Know

Some time ago, Elizabeth Zwicky wrote an article for LISA V (1991) titled Torture-testing Backup and Archive Programs (PDF) – and followed it up in LISA 2003 with Further Torture: More Testing of Backup and Archive Programs. The articles describe the tests of backup clients and archive programs extensively, and finds that all come short in some way or another – though the programs improved significantly over time.

These articles are real eye-opener; they show why a restore test is a critical part of any backup solution. Without testing a restore, there is no guarantee that an actual restore will be successful.

There are lots of stories about otherwise brilliant backup solutions that failed when a restore was necessary. My favorite was of a fellow who took the magnetic tape backups home as an offsite measure – except that he kept a massive magnet in the passenger seat of his car. The offsite backups were great – except he erased them (unknowingly) every time he took them home… Guess what happened when the offsite backups were needed during a critical restore?

To create a successful backup strategy, you must first choose how to make the backups:

  • Gauge how critical the resource is. Do the backups need to be restored in minutes? Or is a restore in hours suitable?
  • What kinds of backups will be taken? Full backups nightly? Incremental?
  • Gauge the time and space available to take backups. Will the backup put a strain on the network? Is there enough space?
  • Choose a program or programs to fulfill your needs and install.

After the infrastructure is in place, a successful backup strategy must:

  • Perform a test backup, and measure the time and space taken.
  • Perform a test restore (of a portion of the backup). How easy is it? Is it easy to use under pressure? Was it an accurate restore?
  • Do a bare metal restore. How long did it take? Is it accurate?
  • Perform a restore test from time to time to make sure that backups are good: once is not enough.

Only through diligent testing of both backup and restore can you be sure that everything is working properly, and your data safe.

Mac Mini… Server?

I don’t know how I missed this, but it is quite intriguing. Apple introduced a Mac Mini Server in October – running Mac OS X Snow Leopard Server.

This is fascinating – and makes it just that much more affordable to run Mac OS X Server.

ComputerWorld discussed the Mac Mini Server at the time, but also had an article just this week about how the Mac Mini Server is an excellent choice for the home office.

There is also, which has provided Mac OS X Server on Mac Minis for a long time. The really nice thing about is that you can purchase the system over time and they keep it on the net for you. I still want to sign up with them… some day… sigh.


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