Linux solution to automatically back up and restore hard drives
Q A friend of mine has a small law firm (six users using Windows XP Pro, one Linux proxy/mail server). They often do 'bad things' to their machines, and he calls me to fix them. Usually this means a Windows re-installation after backing up every document they saved here and there. Thus, I am trying to find and set up a totally automated Linux-based disaster-recovery solution that will back up the whole disk once I install everything (such as Ghost or G4L) and every night automatically back up every workstation - so, in case the 'bad thing' happens all they should do is boot from another computer on the network or boot from a CD and have their system recovered by getting the image files from a local backup server.
A There are two separate issues here. The first is a complete backup that can be restored from a CD or over the network for a complete reinstall in the case of a total disaster. The second is regular backups of data. For the first task, you can't really go wrong with Partition Image - www.partimage.org. This is a Linux program that has a client-server option. You could run the server on your Linux box and use a Live CD to create images of each of the Windows computers' hard disks for recover.
You would need a Live CD distro, which could be used to restore the disk from an image file on the server. RIP (Recovery Is Possible) is good for this (www.tux.org/pub/people/kent-robotti/looplinux/rip). The documentation gives detailed instructions on modifying the CD image to suit your needs, so you could add a short shell script and call it from /etc/rc.d/rc.local to automate a full system restore when booting from the CD. For the nightly incremental backups, BackupPC (http://backuppc.sourceforge.net) is a good option. This will run on the Linux server, and requires no special software installed on the Windows PCs, as it accesses them via Samba.
All you need to do on the PCs is set up shares, so BackupPC can get at the files. All the work is done from the Linux box, so a simple Cron task will run the nightly backups. BackupPC has a web interface, so users don't need to learn any arcane commands to recover files from the backups. This program is particularly good when backing up a number of similar PCs, because it stores single copies of files that exist on multiple computers. Combined with compression, this significantly reduces the space needed to back up a network.
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