February 23, 2004

Linux backup for the rest of us

Author: Lee Schlesinger

Enterprise Linux shops have plenty of good options for client/server backup, including Storix, Arkeia, and Computer Associates' BrightStor ARCserve. But what's available for a small businessperson running a peer-to-peer network? I have yet to find the equivalent of my favorite Windows backup software, Stomp's BackUp MyPC. The closest I've come -- and it's not close at all -- is an application called Konserve. It's not fully baked yet, but it's better than nothing.As you might guess from the name, Konserve runs under KDE. The application has been in development for more than a year and a half, and the current version 0.10.1 was released just last month.

Konserve lacks a main window; it's designed to run in the system tray. To change its configuration, you click on the Konserve icon. That brings up a menu that includes a Wizard, which helps clueless users set up backup jobs, and Preferences, which lets you add, delete, configure, and activate jobs. Once you have jobs, their names show up at the top of the tray icon menu, and clicking on one activates it immediately.

Konserve's configuration options are simple. You specify a source URL, a destination URL, and a backup interval, which can be any number of seconds, minutes, hours, or days. When you're happy with what you have, you click a field to make the profile active and the Apply button to make the changes permanent.

Note that the source and destination are URLs, which means you can specify not only directories and files, but FTP sites as well. I had some trouble with that option, however. My remote FTP server, like any prudent server to which users can write files, requires you to specify a username and password. Konserve uses an anonymous FTP connection, so it failed to complete a job with an FTP destination. Even worse, it failed to tell me it failed. It was more communicative when I tried to create a backup in a local directory to which I had no write privileges; in that case, it reported its failure.

When activated, either manually or when its scheduled time comes, Konserve begins making your hard drive whir. When it stops, you'll find an archive file in the destination you specified.

The actual backup process worked well for me. I backed up my 477MB home directory, and the software compressed it down to a 342MB GZipped tar archive in just a few minutes.

So Konserve works, but it lacks any refinements that might make it more useful than a tar command in a crontab file. For instance, there's no option to choose full, incremental, or differential backups -- full is your only choice. You can't pick specific directories or files to include or exclude. Once in progress, you can't interrupt a backup job. Konserve provides no log file of what it has done. Restore options are non-existent; your only choice is to restore the entire archive, which is annoying when you only need a single file you deleted by accident. When restoring archives Konserve won't overwrite files in the restore location -- you have to remove or rename the original source location.

Still, Konserve works. I'm happy to have my home directory protected now, because I know I'm going to do something stupid someday. (Insert obvious comment here.)

Fun fact: "Konserve" means "can" in German, the native language of the program's lead developer, Florian Simnacher. Simnacher has adopted a modified Campbell's soup can as the product's logo.


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