Feature

Backup book packed with quips and tips

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If you drive around with the vanity license plate MRBAKUP, you better know a thing or two about backing up (and restoring) data, and be highly skilled at squeezing into a tight parking space on a busy boulevard. I can't vouch for the latter, but W. Curtis Preston's new book solidifies his growing reputation as one of the most knowledgeable people writing about backup today--a rapidly changing discipline that's difficult to explain clearly. Here's why his tome belongs on the desk of every storage administrator and storage architect.

Backup & Recovery: Inexpensive Backup Solutions for Open Systems is easy to read and understand, even though it contains a lot of highly technical material about open-systems backup in the form of tips, techniques and esoteric scripts. Further, Preston invited some 200 backup professionals to write examples of how they screwed up a backup assignment. Here's the start of Preston's confession about his first major backup mishap: "'You mean to tell me that we have absolutely no backups of paris whatsoever?' I will never forget those words...our purchasing database resided on paris. Isn't it amazing [after all these years] I haven't forgotten that server's name?"

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Backup & Recovery: Inexpensive Backup Solutions for Open Systems By W. Curtis Preston (O'Reilly, 729 pages, $49.99)
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Backup & Recovery is an updated version of a book Preston wrote seven years ago called Unix Backup and Recovery. At least 75% of the material is new. "A lot has changed since then," writes Preston. "The biggest change has been the proliferation of Windows, Mac OS, Exchange and SQL Server in the data center." He adds that the biggest change for him has been what's happened beyond the "traditional" backup and recovery applications. Hence the book's emphasis on tips, tricks and neat hacks he's collected over the years from his consulting work, Internet postings and user-group blogs; they're shortcuts that make backup jobs easier and less hands-on.

Yet Preston readily acknowledges the obvious: Commercial backup products contain ways to solve problems "unsolvable with open-source tools." Though he doesn't review or compare commercial backup products (that's the next book he's working on), he discusses what to look for in a commercial product and lists questions to help readers determine whether a particular product is a good fit for their storage environment.

Preston's backup philosophy has changed since his earlier book: "It's all about disk--especially for smaller shops," he writes. While he doesn't proclaim tape dead, he does play up the advantages of alternative disk technologies, such as virtual tape libraries, virtual tape cartridges and clustered file systems.

But in spite of Preston's recent love affair with disk, he only devotes about three-quarters of a page in one section and half a page in another section of his 729-page book to one of the most promising new technologies for dramatically reducing the amount of data stored on disk: deduplication. It's almost as if Preston overlooked the topic in his original manuscript and hastily added short mentions of it just before going to press. And the sections on snapshots and continuous data protection systems just scratch the surface of these increasingly popular backup technologies.

Quibbles aside, backup and recovery are big subjects that are growing bigger every day. Preston and his hired contributors--about 250 pages were written by experts of some of the operating systems and database platforms covered in this book--have done an outstanding job. There's also material on archiving, disaster recovery and storage security because backups are certainly not the end-all of data protection. And, believe it or not, there's even some bad backup poetry.

--Rich Friedman

This was first published in April 2007

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