Thursday, January 04, 2007


I first experienced Linux when I was in university (probably some time in 1999).  Back then, I was using Mandrake (at first) and then Red Hat.

The operating system clearly had potential and I used it exclusively during my Diploma in Computer Science year.

However, my interest waned when I started working as I had no ongoing need for it and it was far from being a productive desktop operating system at the time. Things changed last week.

When I was away in Ludlow, my brother called me to tell me his computer would no longer boot up. I suspect his hard disk is dead. He'd obviously been listening to me as he had backed up a lot of his work prior to the failure - but not all. In any case, restoring everything to a new disk (if that is, indeed, the problem) will be a pain for him.

It reminded me that I really do need to get smarter about backups for myself. My work laptop is configured to backup its data to TSM but, for convenience, I keep personal stuff on there, too, and I explicitly ensure that data is not backed up to the central server (it may be acceptable to keep legally acquired music on the laptop, for example, but it wouldn't be reasonable to expect the company to pay for storage to back it up!)

So, during my week off, I have been investigating options.  I considered true network-attached storage devices (e.g. see this PCPro review). I also considered a cheap and cheerful solution from Maplin. Unfortunately, the Maplin device doesn't seem to take modern SATA drives, which is all I seem to be able to find in local shops and the devices in PCPro are very expensive.

I then remembered there is an old desktop PC sitting in the cupboard.

A ha!

A few hours later, Ubuntu Linux is installed, I've installed and configured Samba and all the laptops in the flat now have a Z: drive mapped to a user account on the Linux box.  We can now just use Windows XP's backup software to do what we need.  Result!

(Not quite... SMB is flaky and a single 15Gb backup was never going to work... so I had to break the initial images into smaller chunks). That done, however, the incrementals should be relatively painless.

Who'd have thought it... I do have room for Linux in my life.


Andrew Ferrier said...

You might want to a take a look into rsync, too: makes backups a lot more efficient. You can get a good rsync package for the Windows side (it being pretty much standard on Linux):

I'm in the process of buying a NAS myself - the geek favourite - a Linksys NSLU2. I've yet to decide whether to flash it with full-blown Linux yet though or just to use it as-is.

Richard Brown said...

Haha! That's the second time somebody has mentioned rsync to me. It's ironic since, for my diploma project at university, I wrote a tool called xsync, which was designed to improve on rsync by analysing individual files and only sending the differences, rather than whole files.

I wish I'd taken the time to make it more robust and more widely usable now!

andyp said...

Well done Richard. I knew you had it in you to learn to love the cuddly operating system...

When you said you've mapped Z drives, is that just a case of having setup password and user mappings in Samba, and giving access to home directories? I've never done anything more sophisticated than that, so I was curious whether you've done something clever like setting up the domain controller features in Samba.

Envious of Andrew's NSLU2. I know Adrian has one too. It has been sitting on my Amazon wish list for a long time.

Richard Brown said...

Well done Richard. I knew you had it in you to learn to love the cuddly operating system...

I think "tolerate" is a better choice of word than "love" :-)

When you said you've mapped Z drives, is that just a case of having setup password and user mappings in Samba, and giving access to home directories?

Indeed. I looked at the domain controller stuff but couldn't see the value for this setup.

Indeed, the biggest problem I have is that when my wireless router reboots (Belkin 7633), it forgets the DHCP settings so all the devices get randomly assigned new IP addresses (based on which ones win the race to re-register).

I was hoping the magical NetBIOS stuff would make it "just work" but it doesn't appear to be doing so just yet...

LeeChee said...

Hmmm, I too have been looking at a NAS solution for all my stuff, both work and personal data.

Maybe I'm being a bit extreme here, but for me, having just a backup is not enough. I will use my NAS to store the sole copy of a lot of my 'data', so I need some kind of RAID implementation.

I was looking at the Buffalo TeraStation, but after reading a number of dodgy reviews, Infrant's ReadyNAS NV is currently at the top of my list.

It'll allow me to plug in 4 SATA drives and give me 75% of the total capacity in a RAID-5 configuration.

Is a grand too much to pay for just a NAS solution? Probably.

Richard Brown said...

Good grief, Lee!

I thought *I* was paranoid with TSM, Periodic whole-disk imagings and my new backup server.

Kuhinje po meri said...

Thanks for a good read. I like your way of explaining thins. Thanks!