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Archive for June 21st, 2007

Back up early and often…

June 21st, 2007 Comments off

That is the old adage from the times of text based Adventure gaming, yet something that you always ignore until your hard drive craps out.  Or in our case, a laptop gets yanked to the ground embedding the read heads into the platter of the spinning hard drive and in 10 seconds the whole she-bang goes up in smoke.  Getting and new HD and reinstalling the OS, no problem.  Salvaging years of data and photos. Not so much.

So after that I started thinking about how to keep our tenuous laptops backed up in an easy manner.

For about two years I’ve been using a Linksys NSLU2 as a mini home server.  I had a 200GB USB drive hooked up to it, and had installed an alternate firmware that enabled it to run as a mini Debian based Linux server, hosting shares for the home network.  It worked, but I never really fully integrated the sharing or backups on Angie’s computer, because, okay well I was lazy.  But it was also a complicated multi-step process, and sometimes
trying to yank the computer out of SweetBippy’s hand is like pulling a porter house steak out of a rottweiller’s mouth.  So I never fully implemented it.  I had copied over her pictures here and there, and so I was able to restore some data to her new machine, but it wasn’t everything, and it certainly wasn’t current.

Post crash, I taught her a bit more how to back things up to the network shares on the SLUG, but again, not something even I do automatically.  Backing things up is a chore, and a hassle.  Setting up automated backups is something that everyone should do.  It is sorta like going to the Dentist.

Then I read a few posts and articles about Microsoft’s new Windows Home Server (WHS), supposed to automate backs up, yadda yadda.  All well and good, but c’mon this is Microsoft… easy?  fast?  Certainly its just another money grab from Uncle Bill.  But then I read that they’d opened the Release Candidate to anyone that signed up.  Well… my geek creds needed some polishing, and the kids computer needed to be upgraded, hard drives redone, etc…  So why not.

I backed up their stuff to DVDs, including another old copy of Angie’s pictures (ugh, there’s gotta be like a frillion of these attempts scattered to the winds in my dusty network!)  Then plopped in the Home Server RC1 DVD that I had burned from my laptop.  It didn’t want to install.  Oh yeah, I have the hard drives attached to some funky sooper speedy blah blah card, that really wasn’t faster than the motherboard’s IDE slots.  Open the case to change the hard drive cables.  Two hours of dusting later, I uncovered the cables and moved them (o.m.g. more dust!) to the other slots, and re-try.  huzzah! success! (beware, this install will want to totally wipe any attached hard drives, so use caution when installing, hard drives with stuff you want can’t be added back in post install to more quickly copy stuff… more later)
Booting.

Hmm… Windows Server 2003 based, coolness, since I’ve spent the last two months muddling with SBS Server at church, maybe this is a solid platform.  Booted.  Login screen.  Windows Home Server Console.  Okay, lets install this connector disk thingy to my laptop and see what that does.

Plop in another burned disk (another fyi, the connector software is also present on a network share on the server, if you ever lose the CD…) and the lappy finds the server and I have a neat little icon in my toolbar, that when I click I can log into the Home Server Console.  I set up the backup parameters, have it skip my 20GB of movies and music, and let run.  The first backup failed (chkdsk on the lappy fixerated it) then a manual backup took.

Also the Server has a set of Shares (Music, Video, Pictures) that it installed automatically to the lappy.  Cool.

Install the connector thingy on Angie’s laptop, and same thing.  handy.  Do the automatic backups really work?  Yes.  Wonderfully.  The WHS is an intelligent backup, and smart for home use (well any use really) and saves a ton of space from a file-based backup or even an image based backup.  For all the computers in the house it stores a file only once.  So if you have a house full of Windows XP computers, the OS and applications will reside in one backup, saving a TON of space.  Also for things stored on the network shares, if you have more than one hard disk installed, WHS will balance that and make sure that each file will be stored completely on separate hard drives.

For the non-techies, this is uberneat.  For techies, it isn’t a RAID array, or as complicated to set-up as a RAID array.  If you want to add another disk, connect it via USB, or internally, and then add it to the pool via the console, and that space gets added to the store of disks.

Simply for just the back up qualities WHS fits the bill.  There are some other things that it can do as well, but those are for other posts.  Seriously, this install change my perspective.  I’ll be pushing this to anyone with more than one PC, especially laptops.

Since I’ve installed it, I’ve copied my NSLU shares to the WHS (over a wireless connection, it took a while) then moved that hard drive to the new WHS.   So the NSLU is looking at me like a puppy that lost its bone.  But I’ve still got a job for it to do, just won’t be with big hard drives.

More on WHS coming, there is just too many goodies to  fit into one post.