One of the most critical steps that many board owners fail to take is designing and implementing an effective backup strategy. In my opinion, backups cannot be a manual process. They have to be automatic. If they’re not automatic, then they don’t get done… and a backup that isn’t done is worse than no backup at all. At least if you know you’re not doing backups you don’t have anything to complain about.
I lease a dedicated server from a hosting company so I have root access. I do several layers of backups, including an automatic download to a secondary server located in my home office… and storage on a RAID (mirror) device. This all runs during the wee hours of the morning. But what if you don’t have the same choices as me… does that mean you can’t have the same advantages?
The other day I noticed an ad being displayed on the bottom of one of my boards via the Google Adsense program. I can’t click on the ad (it’s a violation of Google’s Terms of Service to do so) but they provide a tool that lets me determine what the target URL is. It was for a service called Zmanda Open Source Backup. The “open source” part caught my eye, so I went to their site. In a nutshell, they provide a backup program. That, in and of itself, probably isn’t that interesting. But what is interesting is that one of their target devices can be Amazon.com’s S3 service. Amazon.com offers a data center service where you pay for the space that you use. It’s fully redundant / fault tolerant and comes with a 99.9% uptime guarantee. I would rather see five 9’s instead of three, but that’s not bad.
As a brief aside, for those who are not familiar with the term “five 9’s” as I have used it here. The phrase “five 9’s” refers to 99.999% uptime. To put that into perspective, three 9’s implies up to nearly 9 hours of downtime in the course of a year. Five 9’s implies only about six minutes of downtime during an entire year. Big difference? Only if you need your data at some point during those nine hours.
When I reviewed their service description I saw that instead of selecting a tape or disk device as the destination for my backup, I would be able to select the Amazon S3 data center. My own backup process includes keeping a rolling archive of files for each database on my server, including clients that I host. The most recent backup file is kept on the server itself, on a secondary hard disk. I keep generations of backup files on my home network going back quite a while.
With Zmanda’s backup system it seems that I could do the same thing with the advantage that I could run a restore from anywhere with Internet access. Today if I need to restore I have to be at home.
There is a cost, of course. The S3 service from Amazon has a charge associated with it. But I paid over $1,000 for the RAID device that I currently use for my backup destination. I also have to maintain a linux box that runs the cron jobs required to download the files after they appear on my production server. I haven’t investigated the cost of the S3 service but I bet it would be cheaper than that.
For now I’ve already made the investment, so I will continue to use my existing process.
I have a few other posts related to making board backups coming out over the next few months (as I get time to complete them). I wanted to start with this one because I thought it was an interesting service. In my next post I plan to detail why backups are important, and how to go about determining a backup strategy that works for your board.