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

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.

One Response to “What, Where, When and How of Backup – We skipped “Why””

  1. […] Zmanda is at an interesting place when it comes to the LAMP stack. We use the LAMP stack in our own products – the new Zmanda Management Console is developed on it, and we are focused on making it simple to protect the value of LAMP application data. Our open source projects extensively use wiki and forums for community collaboration and communication. Our products provide data protection for the entire LAMP stack. Amanda is the leading backup solution for a network of Linux filesystems. Our Zmanda Recover Manager for MySQL product is one of the most popular solutions to backup MySQL databases. […]