We have a external HP LTO3 tape drive. It needs to backup 6 Windows 2003 machines every night. Servers are HP DL380 G3 and the tape drive is attached locally to one of them via SCSI.

On a budget of $0, and a goal of keeping-it-simple, what is going to be the best way to backup these machines? What software to use? NT Backup? Or does HP have something better for free? We don't need image backups - file system + system state will be adequate. Do we need to copy the files to be backed up onto the machine with the tape drive attached?

Edit: Let me ask a more focussed question: Would you use NT Backup or something else? No soap boxing please, we've after some quick advice from someone who's used a similar setup.

  • I actually ended up using HP DataProtector. We found we had a license that we were able to transfer to this server. – saille Mar 16 '10 at 1:14

I've successfully used Amanda in a similar environment. Total dollars spent: zero. And honestly, it's worked much better than either Veritas or ArcServe. Don't confuse "open source" software with "unsupported" software. Amanda is very popular and you're not likely to have problems finding someone who can help you on a pay-per-incident basis.

If you want something more powerful, check out Bacula. Also open source, it's a bit more difficult to get working, but is a pretty cool system.

If you want my real opinion though, get rid of the tape drive and use back-up-disk with BackupPC. I've been a sysadmin for 12 years now and there's nothing I hate more than tape. It's slow, unreliable, and major PIA. BackupPC is a pretty amazing piece of software that "just works." It also compresses/shadows your backup data in such a way that you'll be amazed at how many backups you can fit on disk.

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  • Thanks for the links, I'll check them out. We are stuck with tape as we have a requirement for off-site storage of backup media. – saille Feb 16 '10 at 3:48
  • +1 for ditch the tape. We use 500 GB external USB drives and small padded cases for off-site storage. This makes it much easier to encrypt our jobs (batch files running ntbackup, exmerge.exe, and osql/mysql dumps) using things like Truecrypt and GPG. Total cost for backup and encryption software: $0. If you must use tape, Amanda is the way to go. – nedm Feb 16 '10 at 8:12
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    In my experience, I've found tapes to be much more reliable than hard drives; especially after someone drops it accidentally. Also, don't confuse "not likely to have problems" with "guaranteed support". – Chris S Feb 16 '10 at 16:40
  • I like the convenience & speed of HDD's, but we already have tapes, so there's going to be a cost to going with drives. – saille Feb 16 '10 at 19:52

I highly recommend getting fully supported software. Say you get hit by a bus, and they need files restored in an emergency. There will be nobody to call. There might be a forum to post a question, but that will be little comfort as they're losing thousands per hour of downtime. I know this doesn't answer the question, but there's more to consider than cost.

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  • Do you have any recommendations on what software to use? – saille Feb 16 '10 at 3:09
  • Not to be too snarky but I doubt he would care about how supported the software is if he got hit by a bus :) – zippy Feb 16 '10 at 7:07
  • @Zippy, very true once he's been hit. However, if his boss is smart he'll care whether the system is supportable after he's been hit, which could impact his job before he's hit. @Saille, we use CA Arcserve and I'd recommend it. I've used Veritas/Symantec BackupExec and MS Data Protection Manager in the past and would not recommend either at all. Again, these options are not free, so they might not be of any help. – Chris S Feb 16 '10 at 16:45

Here are some questions you should be asking:

How important are the servers?

How important is the data?

What would happen to the business if you lost the servers and all of the data on them?

How much is the company willing to risk by spending 0$ on a proper backup solution?

Will you and your boss still have jobs at the company if the servers and all of the data is lost?

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  • All good stuff, but we have a very good understanding of all these things already, and we have contingencies in place. We're after some specific backup software recommendations. – saille Feb 16 '10 at 3:27

Given your requirements, NTBackup to staging disk space on the backup server, then backing up on that server directly to tape.

Since you're backing up remote machines, you'll need to get enough staging space on the backup server to host the backup files. Streaming directly from the remote servers to tape won't be feasible because data throughput won't be high enough to keep up with the tape speed.

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