Archive for February, 2007

What, Where, When and How of Backup - We skipped “Why”

Wednesday, February 28th, 2007

Today we launched our Amanda Enterprise Edition 2.6. This comes with Zmanda Management Console - a totally cool way to install, configure and manage backup environments. This was result of an amazing effort done by our developers in past few months. This is how the navigation bar of the Zmanda Management Console (ZMC) looks like:

Zmanda Management Console

One of our most important goals while designing a graphical interface for Amanda was to simplify the life of a backup administrator. We found existing backup products in the market to be unnecessarily complex to setup and manage. I (and rest of Zmanda team) believe that managing your backups should be simple. In order to get backup going, all we need to know is:

What do you want to backup? (e.g. what hosts, filesystems and applications)
Where do you want to store your backup data? (e.g. on tapes or disks or optical media)
When do you want your backup processes to run? (e.g. every night, or every Sunday at noon)
How do you want your backup done? (e.g. encrypted and compressed)

So, we started architecting a user interface around these questions. It took me a while to realize that our GUI team was actually going to use these terms (what, where, when and how) for navigation bar of our GUI. I am absolutely thrilled with the outcome. We have really made setting up of backup and restoring files as simple as web browsing. Restoration is as simple as browsing the contents of the archive, finding the file(s) to restore, and pointing the location to restore.
ZMC design and development was a potent combination of modern tools and seasoned expertise in developing a GUI for systems and storage management. We used Web 2.0 tools - AJAX, Yahoo Javascript libraries (YUI), PHP5, MySQL, built-in RSS Reader etc - resulting in what I believe to be the best GUI any backup software has on the market. The developer DNA comprised of experience in architecting really user friendly interfaces (our GUI architect, Louis Arquie, is ex-Apple) and deep knowledge of day-to-day tasks of a backup administrator. A browser based console also steers us clear of performance and security issues of a Java based GUI.
The management console has links to knowledge objects available on our website, Amanda wiki or even other sources like Wikipedia. This helps us to create a user help environment which is far richer than any one organization can ever create on the backs of its document writing team. There is lots of good information on various aspects of backup and storage available on the internet. ZMC’s architecture and implementation allows us to continuously improve the user experience by harnessing this information.
I am a command line junkie. I wrote most of this blog in vi editor and usually start my presentations by typing the ooffice command in a shell. But when it comes to managing a backup environment, I am in the GUI camp! I believe the simplicity of a GUI interface (as slick as the one from our engineers) is vital to a backup environment. A backup environment comprises of dozens (sometime hundreds) of heterogeneous systems spread on a network. Abstraction provided by a GUI is a great help in such an environment.
BTW, we had lot of fun with whether we should have a “Why” button in the GUI. We decided that someone who has purchased Amanda Enterprise Edition has hopefully already answered why they should be doing backups.

Backup Software and The Long Tail of Open Source

Monday, February 12th, 2007

An addition to The Long Tail of “The Long Tail” related blogs :)

The Long Tail effect of open source has been discussed in several contexts. Some of the interpretations are likely very different from what Chris Anderson intended, but more and more niche needs of a relatively small set of people (which don’t have economies to justify product development by proprietary software companies) are being met by open source software. Witness more than 140,000 projects registered on SourceForge.

Whenever I install Red Hat Linux I am amused by some of the choices available for the language of the operating system - what is different when running a Red Hat box with English(Singapore) vs. English(India)!? It is also heartening to see support for regional languages making computers accessible to even remote villages (which don’t provide economic motivation to proprietary OS providers).

The long tail effect of open source has some interesting implications when it comes to backup software. Some of it was clearly visible in the recently completed survey of users of the open source backup software Amanda. The results are published on the Amanda wiki.

Let’s say your organization is using an operating system which is popular today but becomes out-of-favor in a few years’ time. It is very possible, actually very probable, that a proprietary backup vendor will withdraw support for this “unprofitable” operating system. This will force you to make a choice between either using some ad-hoc mechanism to backup that system or to replace the system with a different OS - both costly choices. Open source communities are known to provide support for older (and sometimes obscure) platforms. Furthermore, you have the source available to compile the software for your particular operating system. The Amanda survey found Amanda users using it to backup several operating systems which were either never supported by most proprietary backup software vendors, or whose support was dropped several years ago - e.g. DG UX.

In his article introducing the MySQL Storage Engine Architecture Arjen Lentz lays out the advantages of this architecture which enables a particular environment to choose how and where a database table is stored based on what is best suited for their particular situation. New storage and database innovations created to solve specific problems, require backup software to keep up. The long tail effect of open source software comes to the rescue here. For example, Zmanda Recovery Manager(ZRM) for MySQL enables a developer or a user of a storage engine to easily plug-in the best method for backing up their engine with ZRM.

Upcoming implementation of the Application API in Amanda will enable all application developers to integrate their applications seamlessly in a network backup environment. Truly open nature of this API (both from specification and licensing standpoint), enables its widespread use. In the past this integration between applications and network backup software has only been done by the vendors of backup software and hence been done only for widely used applications - ignoring The Long Tail of applications.

Similarly, the Device API of Amanda enables integration with new and innovative (or old and obscure) storage devices. We will be announcing one such very exciting integration in a few weeks. Stay tuned!!

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Chander Kant

Talking at Scale 5X - Southern California Linux expo

Friday, February 9th, 2007

I will be talking about backup and recovery of Web applications at SCALE 5x. Characteristics of Web applications create unique requirements for backup and recovery. The talk will discuss open source backup and recovery tools for file systems, MySQL and PostgreSQL databases. Conference guru blog provides more information on my session.

I would be happy to meet folks who are interested in Amanda, ZRM for MySQL and open source backups in general before or after the session.

Amanda community version 2.5.1p3 released

Thursday, February 8th, 2007

Amanda community release 2.5.1p3 contains minor features and fixes for more than 50 bugs. We at Zmanda did extensive testing and made code contributions to the release. We provide Amanda packages for various Linux distributions and Windows in our downloads page.

We have made changes to Amanda client for Windows to support localized versions of Windows. With help of Amanda community, we tested Windows client on German and Polish versions of Windows XP. Thanks to all users who helped us in this effort.

If you are not using Amanda, try 2.5.1p3. Documentation is available in Amanda wiki and feel free to ask questions in the forums.