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Backup and Recovery

W Curtis Preston
Published by O'Reilly Media
729 pages
£ 35.50
Published: 16th January 2007
reviewed by Mike Smith
   in the March 2007 issue (pdf), (html)

Performing backups has come a long way -- these days it's not just about those nightly incrementals, GFS (Grandfather, Father, Son) schemes and tape rotation.

It's all about meeting RTOs (Recovery Time Objectives); RPOs (Recovery Point Objectives) and addressing the wide range of problem scenarios like file deletion, data corruption, object recovery (emails for instance, or database tables), hardware failures ... all the way to total disaster recovery.

Backups now have to be performed whilst services are online; they have to be compatible with a wide range of applications; data recovery has to be rapid. So I think there's a lot more to it now. In fact the latest backup technologies now boast ``continuous data protection'' (CDP) -- securing data literally all of the time, doing this without any application downtime, and enabling recovery to ANY point in time. So on the one hand (and certainly in the past) backups have been quite mundane and boring, but it's also turned into quite a complex and dare I say, exciting, area.

I was interested in reviewing this book precisely because this complexity. Has this latest O'Reilly title (December 2006) got to grips with all of these issues?

Reading the introduction, it turns out that this is a rewrite of an earlier book that had a different title -- ``Unix Backup and Recovery''. The picture on the front is the same though, some sort of crocodile thing called an Indian Gavial. Slightly confusingly, in a move from the original Unix theme, the subtitle in this edition now says ``Inexpensive Backup Solutions for Open Systems''... but SQL Server gets a chapter, as does MS Exchange and there are other bits and bobs on what I wouldn't call Open Systems. So I'm not sure my vision of modern backup techniques is going to be covered. Nevertheless, there are certainly still some topics that are of interest to me today -- namely VMware.

Right at the beginning, on page 3, the author states that he is in the process of writing another book, and that gives me the answer I'm looking for. This book (the one I am reviewing) is about small budget backup schemes. The one he is working on is more focussed on the enterprise environment -- the sorts of things I had in my introduction, plus de-duplication, replication and similar concepts. It will also cover the commercial backup products. There is a chapter on commercial tools in this book, but it's more about concepts and techniques used by commercial products; not the products themselves. In fact I didn't spot a single product name in there.

The first technical chapter covers some historic tools (that no doubt are still in use all over the place today!) - things like tar, cpio, dump, dd etc. Three chapters are dedicated to open source backup solutions: Amanda, BackupPC and Bacula. There's also one on performing CDP like functions and snapshots with rsync and other tools. There's a part (the book is divided into six parts) on Bare-Metal recovery on various platforms (Solaris, Linux, Windows, HP-UX, AIX and OS/X); and a part on database backups (Oracle, Sybase, SQL Server, Exchange, PostgreSQL and MySQL).

The final part has a chapter on performing backups in a VMware environment. Although this is useful, providing information on a few different options, it doesn't mention VMware's Consolidated Backup product. This comes as standard with VMware's Infrastructure Enterprise edition, centralising and decoupling backups from the virtual machines and I think it would have been worthwhile mentioning (unless he's saving that for his other book).

The book is filled with anecdotes and wisdom -- they are good learning points. In my case I could tell you about the time a silent tape drive write error was causing data corruption on the cpio backups of an SAP system. Of course I saved the day ;-) ... but learnt a lesson the hard way (it was an all-nighter). I won't mention deleting all files on a system that were over 28 days old because in a script I didn't check the return code of a cd statement before the usual find -exec rm business. Ooops, too late. Hope you don't make the same mistake.

Overall I quite like this book. It talks about issues around the whole backup and recovery subject, not just the mechanics. The three chapters on the backup software (Amanda, BackupPC and Bacula) are brief but give you enough to familiarise yourself with what they're about and how to set them up. In a similar way the database chapters give you an overview of what issues you should consider with each type of database. I haven't mentioned that its also about 700 pages long - altogether there's a lot of material.

So for anyone charged with ensuring data protection in a standard environment with various different types of servers and products and the usual challenges this brings with it, you could do worse than buy this book. Once this next one comes out it'll be interesting to see if it's a good companion volume.

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