Backup Server: Planning

Category: Personal,Tech,Uncategorized
MTW @ 3:13 am on January 10, 2009

Why backup?

Hard drives fail.  All the time.  (Google says so.)

It’s happened to me before, and I’ve seen it happen enough to my friends to know it’ll happen again.  They just weren’t built to last.

Somehow, I’ve been lucky so far in that I haven’t had a major loss due to hard drive failure yet… I’ve always managed to replace them before they die.  I can’t count on that though.

One of these days I’ll turn on my computer and hear that all too familiar click… click…. click buzzz. Or worse, have some component on the bottom circuitboard burn to a crisp (they’re called Quantum Fireballs for a reason…).  And I’ll have lost my games, videos, music, operating system, and/or (perhaps the worst) my pictures.

My needs?

So instead of waiting for that day to come and for me to be left with nothing, I decided I need to start backing up at least my more important data on a regular basis.  This includes my photos, personal documents, video/audio recordings and projects, and whatever else I feel like.  At this point I’d like to come up with a decent backup solution, not just an extra drive in my desktop (besides, I don’t have any bays left!).

I’d like to leave open the possibility to serve other clients off the same box, not just the one I happen to be working on.  It needs to be accessible by multiple clients at once.

I’d like for it also to be network ready/accessible, in case I want to lug it somewhere else to work (home/dorm?).  i.e. I have my main desktop to do work on at my dorm, but on the weekends I usually come home, so I should be able to grab it and hook it up at home for a weekend full of video-editing-goodness or whatever else I’m working on.

It needs to have fast network transport, 1000Mbps is required.

My options?

Online backup – There are a bunch of online services (Mozy, Carbonite, iDrive, to name a few) which can do scheduled or manual backups from your computer to offsite servers over the internet.  They offer some ammount of data storage, usually for a monthly rate, and you can do restores over the web or have them send you DVDs (usually for an extra fee) of your data in the case of failure.

That’s all pretty cool, but for now it’s too expensive, and the storage is too limited for my purposes (my photos from just 2008 total about 100GB!).  Plus, 2/3 of the year I’m at a location with a HORRIBLE internet connection *cough*tcnj*cough*.  I’d probably take all semester to sync my photos up to their servers.

Offsite (manual, ext. HD or DVD) – I could also manually copy all the files onto an external hard drive and take it home every week or something and swap it out, that way I always have a weekly backup off-site in case something happens at my dorm.  That’d be nice, but it’s not a complete solution… maybe as part of a bigger backup strategy.

I could do the same thing with DVD.  Burn all my photos to DVDs as I take them and keep a copy on-site and a copy off-site.  I might so some of this, but with DVDs only holding 4.7, that becomes a heck of alot of DVDs to burn and keep track of.

Drobo – I’ve had my eye on the Drobo for awhile, and it seems to be a pretty good solution for backup that you don’t have to worry about.  A drive fails?  A light turns red until you replace it, and your data is always accessible.  No commands to run to rebuild, no worrying about matching drive sizes like you need to in most RAIDs, the Drobo makes all of that invisible to the user, and the system.  Drobo just uses whatever you give it and it makes your data safe/redundant and it appears as just another hard drive to the system.

Dream come true?  Maybe.  I’ve heard these things aren’t foolproof either though, as they’ve been known to fail.  If they do, it’s not just as simple as taking the hard drives out and throwing them in another Drobo.

Also, just the unit by itself costs $500, and it doesn’t have any network capability.  DroboShare is an add-on that connects the drobo to the network, but that’s another $200.  That’s $700 for a box with no hard drives.

In the end, the Drobo seems a bit too proprietary/creepy for me.  I like to know I have control over my data and can recover it

NAS box – A NAS box of some sort would be more configurable than the Drobo, and for a lower price.  I was considering the QNAP TS-409 for awhile.  It’s still $600 though (empty) and I’d still like a bit more flexibility in what I’m working with.

Home built server – This would give me the ultimate flexibility in hardware and software, but it also costs a fair deal.  Even using the cheapest parts, I priced an empty server at about $500 incl. shipping.  Then add the drives to that and… yeah, might as well grab a Drobo.

The plan…

ZFS / OpenSolaris

While doing research for this project, I discovered ZFS, and I’m hooked.  Basically it’s a new filesystem from Sun which can do native snapshots, volume management, continuous integrity checking and automatic repair, RAID-Z, storage pools, and best of all, it’s open-source!  Read more about it here.  Anyway, it hasn’t made its way into mainstream Linux (due to some lisencing issues), but OpenSolaris (which is F/OSS) includes it!  Score!

Inspiried by other people who had set up similar servers with ZFS and cheap hardware, I decided this was probably the way to go.

The hardware

By luck I stumbled upon a Dual Opteron 2.0GHz, 4GB RAM, 120GB, with 3 free SATA ports 1U rackmount server which I should be able to score for ~$125.  I can then grab 3 x 1TB SATA drives for ~$100 each, install OpenSolaris in a RAIDZ configuration, and that’ll be 2TB of redundant, networked storage for about $425.  Not bad…

Eventually I’d like to do the exact same thing with something like a Rackable System S3012 ( (4x1TB RAIDZ) x 3 for 9TB total redundant storage!?!? ) , but I think I’ll have to wait until I can afford something like that / I can pick a cheap one up second-hand.

Once I get it up and running, I’d like to connect to it as an iSCSI target from my desktop (Vista), and also test how OpenSolaris’s built-in CIFS/SMB server runs.  If I this works well ( / if my parents fund it) I could set one of these up in the basement, hooked into the home Win2k3 domain controller for Active Directory authentication, which would be really cool!

Anyway, it’s going to take me a few days to get my hands on one of these things, so I’ll post back when I actually have it and let you know how it goes!

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