Mstation Book Reviews
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Sat, 02 Jun 2007

Backup and Recovery (yes you!)

Backup & Recovery, W. Curtis Preston, O'Reilly

About a month ago, my apartment was burgled. Anything electronic that was worth more than 100 euro was taken, including my Mac mini and the two external hard disks which had been plugged into it. The two disks were to ensure that my iTunes and iPhoto libraries would survive a single disk failure. My imagination went as far as head crashes and MTTF and not to burly men in striped jumpers with bags marked "SWAG" bursting through my front door and loading up on all my gear to flog down the flea market.

I had spent a minimum amount of time on my backup strategy - I read the man page for rsync and I was done. Backup & Recovery by W. Curtis Preston goes into (as you might expect from a 720-odd page volume) a bit more detail than that, and covers the main operating systems (Linux, Unix, OS X and Windows). Though as is to be expected, for a book dealing with inexpensive solutions, the Unix flavours get the most attention.

The first couple of chapters deal mainly with the broader view of backups - how much to back up and when, what type of backup, testing your backups and keeping track of what you've backed up. The sort of thing I should have thought about as I smugly connected a second 500GB disk to my Mac mini.

Chapter 3 covers backing up and restoring using the basic utilities and is a nice introduction to utilities like cpio, dd and tar, dump and restore for commercial Unix systems, and Windows System Restore.

Also covered are the popular Open Source backup and recovery tools like Amanda, Bacula and BackupPC. There's a section on commercial solutions, another on database backups and one on bare-metal recovery.

Backup and recovery is not a sexy subject, but Preston manages to inject some (geek) humour here and there with anecdotes about backups that went awry, restores that didn't work and incorrect procedures that were followed to the letter for years.

Whatever type of system you administer and if you have that slightly uneasy "I have no backups" feeling (it's alright, you're not alone), this is a useful and comprehensive book to help you with a strategy. Even if you think your backup solution is bomb-proof, this book might make you reconsider.

As Preston points out, a lot of this book has been based on painful lessons that others have learned. So remember to disguise at least one hard disk as a flowerpot or something. (Ciaron Linstead)

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