Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Off continent backups

Over at the day job I'm responsible for the IT side of things (inter alia), and one of the things I care about greatly are backups. Lots of them.

At previous startups where I've worked backups have been a total pain. It used to be the case that I'd end up with some DAT tape machine and a service company to rotate the tapes and getting at backed up information was difficult and slow. I wanted these backups taken off site so that in the case where the building was destroyed by fire, we'd still have a copy of our code.

No longer. Now I have my backups off continent.

I'm using two separate services for backup: JungleDisk and tarsnap. Both back up to Amazon S3 so my backups made in London end up in the US somewhere encrypted using keys that I've chosen.

I'm using JungleDisk for desktop backups. Not everyone does these, but some people, like the CEO, generate a lot of documents and presentations that are in their My Documents folders on their laptops. It's essentially that these roaming machines get backed up as that material isn't stored on our servers.

For the really heavy lifting I use tarsnap. Since the engineers are committing their code to a central repository we backup all our servers into a single tarsnap account from a simple cron job. For server backup tarsnap is ideal. It's a typical UNIX command line application that transmits and stores information both efficiently and securely.

I've recovered files from the JungleDisk backup when a laptop got damaged, and done a test recovery from tarsnap. Both are good at what they do. I can't recommend JungleDisk for servers, its UNIX configuration is a nightmare; I can't recommend tarsnap for the average desktop because it's too UNIXy. But the combination meets all our needs.

And in the worst case where the UK is destroyed, we'll move to the US and recover our backups from there.

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If you enjoyed this blog post, you might enjoy my travel book for people interested in science and technology: The Geek Atlas. Signed copies of The Geek Atlas are available.

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