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I'm at a small company and we (the IT department of two) manage <100 client computers and a handful of servers. Currently we're using a company's appliance to handle backup; it does a small backup every night and a full backup every weekend, and a guy comes on Wednesday to take an offsite backup drive (and gives back last week's drive to swap with it). The backup is done only on the servers' hard drives, because our client computers and employees make sure not to store anything worthwhile on their own computers. So it's a pretty simple situation.

Lately this system, mainly the appliance, has been having problems, so we are looking for an alternative. I'm researching other companies but also looking into what we might expect from trying to do this ourselves. There will undoubtedly be a large learning curve, but hey, that's what serverfault is for, right? :)

So anyway I was looking at Bacula. Feature list sounds great, documentation is plentiful, but it's only software. So my question is, what is the ideal backup server to run the Bacula server software on? And not only the server but other related appliances.

Our current backup appliance uses only hard drives, not tape drives. It has several plugged into it at one time, in hotswap bays on the front of the machine. I couldn't help but notice though, it's hardly more than Windows XP with hard drive bays, a PCI eSATA card (which connects to another appliance extension piece with 2 more bays), and their software. Since the company will take back their appliance if/when we cancel with them, where can I go to configure a server with these kinds of things? And should I consider switching to tape drives? What other concerns should I be thinking about when I pick out hardware for a backup server?

Maybe I'm being naive, I'm sure Dell (and any other computer company) sells them in the small business section of their website, but I wanted to make sure that there's not some other more recommended place that other companies are getting their hardware from, and that I don't need anything special for Bacula.

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up vote 3 down vote accepted

Any server will do, so long as it has a decent NIC for network backups (I'd recommend putting your servers on a GbE switch for this purpose if you haven't already done so). If you do decide to go with an LTO tape drive at some point, make sure you can get a SCSI card that supports it, but again, if you're going with a reputable server vendor (what I would recommend), this will be a simple addition.

Another option may be to use one of your existing servers: you have a couple, perhaps put Bacula on the server that has the most data/needs to be backed regularly and save yourself the network bottleneck. This is Standard Operating Procedure for Small Business Server + Backup Exec solutions and assuming you have a "normal" amount of data (20-100GB) for that size of a business, the job shouldn't take long at all.

I don't agree with Holocryptic's views on tape though: sure it's old, but it's lasted the test of time, has no moving parts, is standardized, and is highly portable (which is great for taking off-site). For larger ops, we generally configure a disk-to-disk-to-tape backup configuration, but there's nothing wrong with tape.

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Heh, I'll agree to disagree with you there :) –  Holocryptic Apr 14 '10 at 19:45
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While there are no major requirements for a Bacula server hardware wise you must think about the basics such as:

--How many systems and the size of each full backup times how long you want to keep them for.

--How often your files change (if they are within the backup paths)

--What will you backup?

--Size of storage space and drive redundancy plus speed/cache size of drives

--How many concurrent client sessions you want to run at one time? too many large jobs filling up your concurrency queue will be problematic, limit and prioritize is the key.

--Server optimization plus client optimization inside or outside of Bacula

Next to memory and cpu you want to have a enterprise level nic that is well supported in linux.

Currently i manage back ups using 3 versions of Bacula Server (v2, v3 and v5) for over 300 critical system servers (reason for each diff version is due to age of OS kernel, installed software and library dependency hell)

Some clients back up to multiple Bacula servers (local bandwidth cost nothing compared to upstream)

A well supported and cheap server (for linux) would be an IBM xseries such as the 346:

Enterprise gig nic, multiple 10k Ultra320 SCSI drives with hardware raid controller, rsa for remote console over network (just in case), can monitor the system via ipmi/dsa utilities or snmp to the RSA controller.

If you are lucky you can get one for less than $500

There are other IBM servers which have Sata but i cannot remember right now which ones they are without looking around, if you become limited to your data storage you may have to find other options. It is hard to make a data storage recommendation without knowing if you have a hardware appliance already (like a netapp closet, not your old backup solution), data storage is a very lengthy subject.

Hope this helps you out (at least a little), there is a ton of stuff to read on Bacula before you start using it on your clients (servers) - so many options you can add (but probably should not), before using any options do read on pro's and con's (every option has them!), in the last 2-3 years of Bacula administration there was definitely lots to learn!

In the near future i plan on offering Bacula consulting/support services and hope this was at least a bit informative/helpful.

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Dell has good servers for decent prices, and great support contracts. I've used them for a good deal of my environments and don't really have anything bad to say about them.

That being said, I would stay away from implementing tape. It's a ~50+ year old technology that is slow and expensive. For a small enterprise looking to implement a new backup strategy there is absolutely no reason why you can't use disk-to-disk backups. Like Gravyface has said, GigE core switching is great, especially if you can dedicate a NIC specifically for backup traffic.

Edit: I've looked at the website, and hardware requirements are definitely non-existent/hard to find. In my experience with backup products, backup jobs can get pretty I/O intensive. You want hardware that will be able to support the disk and CPU throughput that will be incurred. Separate physical volumes for your OS and data volumes, a good RAID controller and enough memory and CPU to handle the job. I know this is generic, but I'm not comfortable giving specific hardware recommendations when I'm not the one administering your environment.

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There's a simple reason why tape has persisted as long as it has. It lasts. I have tape backups from 1992 that I'm restoring at this very moment. Although disk-to-disk backups are fast I would never recommend not having a full tape backup to be stored offsite. I hope you store that HDD in an overly padded box for transport. –  JohnyD Jun 10 '10 at 10:58
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