BRU-Pro 2.0: A Product Review
I still am a kid at heart when it comes to gadgets and software. Whenever I get a new one I'm always incredibly eager to fire it up. But that was not the case when I received BRU-Pro 2.0. I was expecting to have to install it, spend a while recompiling my kernel with some arcane options, spend some time figuring out why it wasn't finding my tape drive and then spend more time debugging something else. At least, that's how things have worked for me with other backup solutions. Why would this one be any different? I grabbed my bottle of Advil and hunkered down for what I expected to be a long and tedious afternoon.
Ten minutes later, I was backing up and throwing the Advil back into the drawer. Jokes aside, BRU-Pro's installation was the simplest installation of any backup product I've ever seen. Quite literally, I mounted the cd-rom, ran ./install.sh, said “yes” to install, and after a few more simple prompts, I was done. The manual (and it should be noted that I received a rough-draft manual prior to it going to the printer) covered every possible problem you might have during the installation problem, from noexec flags to a missing package dependency. Not only did the installation program install everything flawlessly, it even configured (quite transparently) my drive into the system and installed the first client onto the server. My only complaint about the installation process was that it was probably more verbose than it had to be at times, but it seems like a very small price to pay for the world's easiest install.
The administrative interface is intuitive and easy to use. A simple logon screen prompts you for a password and then sends you to a clean and easy to understand UI. With only six simple tabs—Backup, Restore, Verify, Configure, Refresh and Exit, it doesn't take long to learn the interface.
My first task was to back up something. I picked some files from my system and hit Backup. The tape drive spun up and BRU backed up my home directory to tape while displaying a simple progress bar in a window. Restores were just as simple and offered me a variety of options, such as restoring to a different machine or directory, prompting in case of an overwrite and offering to send a confirmation e-mail upon completion. It may seem like BRU-Pro's interface is so simple that it lacks true backup capabilities; this is not the case.
With BRU-Pro 2.0 you can push clients into various groups. You could have, for example, a group for Windows clients or UNIX clients. When setting up your backup schedule, you can select to backup every disk of every machine or you can “drill down” into each group and make specific selections, down to a specific file on a specific machine. You also are not limited to one schedule per group. You can mix and match schedules across groups and have multiple schedules in each group. For example, say you had several mail servers in a group called Mail. You could schedule BRU to backup /var/mail every hour but / every night. You could even “batch” schedules together so that one job's completion triggers another schedule.
As with most backup systems, you can choose between different backup levels. In BRU's case, you can choose from a full, Level 1 and Level 2 backup. Level 1 backs up all files that have changed since the last full backup. Level 2 backs up all files that have changed since the last Level 1 backup. It will auto promote backups as well, so that if you attempt to do a Level 1 or Level 2 backup the backup is promoted to a full one. In the simple to use configuration screen, you can configure a variety of options such as groups, schedules, devices and licenses. So, what does all this cost?
BRU-Pro 2.0 Server with three client licenses (the base package) for Linux x86, IA64 or PPC is $999. None of the three licenses are consumed on the backup machine itself. After that, additional licenses are volume priced. A single additional license is $99, with $10 price breaks at the 10-24 mark and at the 25-50 mark. Unlike other solutions, BRU-Pro provides native SCSI support of all tape devices in its base price, so there are no additional costs to support specific tape devices like autoloaders or libraries. Technical support is $499 for the initial product and provides unlimited access to phone, e-mail and fax service. It also does not limit support to any single individual within an organization, which is a good thing. Support for additional clients is volume priced and starts at under $25. It is hard to shake a stick at prices like these.
BRU's biggest selling point, besides price, is down in the dirt of how it does backups. The philosophy BRU's creators took was that your backups are only as good as the data on them. It is easy to assume that since you backed something up, your data is safe; unfortunately, that is not always the case. Therefore, the creators designed BRU to provide accountability for every bit of data of every buffer block, local or remote. BRU applies a 32-bit CRC at the buffer level and writes it to the header before it goes to tape. The result is that every single little piece of data is verifiable. The 32-bit CRC means that BRU uses 8-12% more tape than other backup solutions, but you get a very robust backup solution. It may not sound so fancy or special, but it is a cool feature.
On top of that, if BRU does run into a bad chunk of data during a recover, it will attempt to re-read it several times. If it still cannot read the bad data, it will continue with the next piece of data rather than bombing out. This means that a large text file with some bad data in it would not be completely lost—BRU would at least recover what it could. Trivial feature? Maybe, but I could see it coming in very handy in some cases.
BRU-Pro can also write multiple simultaneous data streams to multiple tape drives. Therefore, the data from any one client is written contiguously on tape and is not “interleaved” across many tapes or multiplexed across a single tape. Again, a feature like that sounds obvious, but not all backup solutions do it. BRU also writes its catalogs to tape and to disk for extra peace of mind. If you think about all these little features built into BRU, you can see that it is a meticulously built product.
So, what about the other side of the coin? BRU-Pro 2.0 does not support Novell Netware clients (though you can mount a Netware client and back it up that way), so if you need that feature be warned. I also had some problems with the Windows client on 2000 and XP. Sometimes the client would crash, and occasionally backup speeds would slow to a crawl for no apparent reason. BRU knows that the 2000/XP Windows client has a few issues here and there, and they are working to fix them. I also had a graphical error once or twice, but they never caused my backups to fail, just put a glitch on my screen. I suspect the problem was with my goofy window manager rather than with BRU. I also would have liked a little more information for reporting purposes. In addition, some of the more arcane options (like being able to backup Netware mounts) lay hidden in configuration files. It would be nice to be able to change them in the graphical format.
A good rule of thumb, I think, for any new product, is to wait a little while before adopting it. It gives the developers time to discover new bugs or issues and send out patches. Considering the copy I received was virtually the first boxed version and performed as well as it did, I am convinced that by the time this article posts, or soon after, BRU-Pro will be a stellar product. In truth, it already is.
Price is very reasonable compared to other solutions.
A very robust and meticulous approach for data reliability.
Ease of installation.
Ease of use.
Excellent product for small- to mid-sized networks.
No Netware support (workarounds exist).
Windows 2000 and XP clients somewhat unstable or unpredictable.
Occasional graphical errors but nothing serious.
Lacks some of the enterprise level features other products like Veritas have.
Cosimo Leipold works for DiamondCluster International, a consulting firm based out of Chicago. Comments and thoughts are welcomed.