Comparison of Backup Products

Backup of data is probably the most neglected aspect of system administration in small businesses and home offices.
Quick Restore

Far and away the high-end product here is Quick Restore, from Workstation Solutions, Inc.

Most Linux users are accustomed to downloading what they want from the Net and trying out the package then and there. Workstation Solution's evaluation process is quite different. Evaluation copies are available on CD only. When you request a CD, the company schedules an appointment to make the installation. At installation time, a technician walks you through the installation. The request process involves some e-mailing back and forth. During my efforts to get an evaluation copy, someone (probably me) dropped the ball, and it took me a while to get the CD and make an appointment. Intentional or not, this process has the effect of filtering out casual inquiries and casual users.

The actual installation process is straightforward. With most installation software, there is either no help, or the help doesn't answer the questions you want to ask. With a human being on the other end of the phone, you can ask any question at any point in the process, and get an answer. So this process represents a much more user-friendly process.

The main window (see Figure 11) is a simple six-button toolbar. Each button triggers a suitable separate window, in classic X programming style. One result is that you can quickly end up with a plethora of windows on your desktop. Another is that you can move from window to window easily, unlike the typical Windows application that only lets you use one window at a time.

Figure 12. Selecting Files for Restoration

Restoration is GUI-driven (see Figure 12). As with Arkeia, the database of backed-up files is organized in a tree that reflects the same structure as the backed-up file systems. Click on one or more files to select them, then select the volume from which to restore, insert the appropriate tape (unless you have a tape changer) and away you go.

Figure 13. Editing a Dataset in Quick Restore

Unlike Arkeia, backups are defined with a scripting language (see Figure 13). Quick Restore has a built-in editor for the scripts. The bad news is that the editor is a brain-dead CUA interface editor, rather reminiscent of MS-DOS' EDIT.COM. The good news is that the files are plain vanilla ASCII text files you can edit with any editor. Alas, if there is a mechanism for selecting an external editor such as vi or emacs, I missed it in the documentation. The scripting language is clear and well documented. I was able to create data sets in quick order using emacs. The built-in editor has a validator, which you should use often as you edit.

Once you have defined a data set, it is necessary to schedule a backup with it. You can schedule backups daily, weekly, monthly or annually. There is no interactive backup facility; instead, you schedule one for a minute from now and wait. At the time I installed Quick Restore, the technician walked me through this process (except for editing with an external editor) with a small data set and a test backup.

Quick Restore also has a steep learning curve, but I think not as steep as Arkeia's. Again, that's the price you pay for flexibility. You can start using Quick Restore immediately by carefully substituting qtar for tar in your existing scripts.

Quick Restore also provides a number of command-line tools. One is qtar, which will read and write tar format, and supports its command-line options. These can be combined into shell scripts and sample scripts are provided. Indeed, the GUI is a front end for the command-line tools. It would be nice if the GUI could export command lines for use in scripts. Another tool will tell you a lot about your tape drive, including (if the drive supports it) whether it is time to clean the drive.

Quick Restore is clearly intended for large shops, server farms, data farms and similar high-data installations. It does not even support the Travan tape drive. It does support my DDS 3 tape drive, but the DDS 3 is in the low end of the tape drives it supports. The difference, apparently, is that the DAT drive is capable of a true random seek into the tape, where the Travan must be read sequentially to get to a target block.

I found both the on-line documentation and the printed documentation to be excellent. They are not duplicates, and each serves their place well. You should read the printed documentation before you install the software. I did not, and we got through the installation fine, but there is information in the manuals that might have helped. Indeed, the printed manual is a good introduction to backups in general.

Quick Restore, like Arkeia, runs a background process on each machine it backs up. At the moment, Quick Restore supports Linux, a number of Unixes and Windows NT. It will back up Windows 95/98 boxes but only over SMB mounts. This has the disadvantage of backing up the registry only as a standard file, which means the backup administrator has to remember to add it to backups. You should always back up the registry, as this is the only work-around for an incredibly bad operating system design bungle in Windows.

Of the four vendors whose products are reviewed here, only Workstation Solutions uses the Network Data Management Protocol (NDMP) to communicate between clients and servers. This emerging Internet standard should eventually (as more vendors sign up) allow interoperability between vendor products, and that should help greatly in heterogeneous environments.

Quick Restore is not cheap. Workstation Solutions quoted me $7,250.00 for a backup server, with an additional $1,595.00 (US) for an annual service contract. Linux and FreeBSD clients are no charge. NT clients cost $2,250.00, with an annual service contract at $495.00. There is no “home use” option like that for Arkeia. For that kind of money, customer support had better be excellent! Other than the installation walk-through, I have had no contact with Workstation Solutions' customer support, so I cannot tell you how good it really is.