Friday, November 19, 2010

Giving Up on Amanda

For the last few months we've been trying to implement Amanda for backups in our office.

The two main choices for open source backups seem to be Amanda and Bacula. Amanda was supposed to be easier to set up than Bacula so that's what we chose. (There are also commercial options but they tend to be expensive and even less flexible.)

Unfortunately, it hasn't gone smoothly. Every time we think we have it working it starts failing semi-randomly. Certain workstations will fail some nights with cryptic errors, then work other nights without us changing anything.

We've had some support from the Amanda community. At one point they suggested running a new beta version which appeared to solve some problems, but not all of them.

To add to the problems, when we upgraded Linux, Amanda broke. That's certainly not unique to Amanda, but it's yet another hassle.

I'm sure Amanda works well for a lot of people. Presumably there's something different in our server or network or workstations that leads to the problems. But that doesn't help us. We have a medium size network of about 60 machines - not small, but not especially big either. We're not Linux experts, but we're not totally newbies either.

I'm sure we could solve the current problems eventually, but I've lost confidence. It just seems like we'd have to expect more problems in the future. And it's complex enough that if the person that set it up wasn't here, we'd be lost.

For some things this might be acceptable, but for backups I want something that "just works", that I can count on to be reliable and trouble free. For us, Amanda just doesn't appear to be the answer.

For the last ten years or so we've been using a home-brew backup system. It's simple, but that's a good property. It has reliably done the job. And when we needed to adjust it we could. And it was simple enough that even unfamiliar people could dive in and grasp what it was doing and figure out how to change it or fix it.

The reason we tried to move to Amanda is that we wanted to improve our system. Currently we rely on the server "pulling" backups via open shares. But for security we want to get rid of the open shares which means the workstations have to "push" backups. At the same time, we wanted to start encrypting backups on the workstations. In theory Amanda will do what we want.

I finally decided to pull the plug on trying to use Amanda. And as crazy as it might sound, we're going to try building a new home-brew system. I don't think it'll take us any more time than what we spent on trying to use Amanda.

You might think backups are too critical to trust to a home-brew system. But I'm more willing to trust a simple transparent solution that I understand, rather than someone else's complex black box. (Technically Amanda's not a black box since it's open source, but practically speaking we're not likely to spend the time to figure out how it works.)

And of course, we'll use Suneido to implement it. Suneido actually fits the requirements quite well - we can use it for a central server database, and run a client on the workstations. It's small and easy to deploy, and of course, we're very familiar with it. We'll see how it goes.

1 comment:

Larry Reid said...

Too bad Amanda didn't work out. I'm still struggling with Bacula. I'm currently dealing with a mysterious problem that only happens when the backup runs automatically and I'm not there, which makes it rather hard to debug.

I totally share your frustration. Backup more than anything else should "just work." I agree with your analysis that you can probably roll your own. Good luck.