Arkeia Network Backup

Arkeia Network Backup can backup almost any machine on your network — fast.

Ask any experienced system administrator about his or her infrastructure and you’ll likely hear proud tales of big RAID arrays, redundant networks, failover this, and hot swap that– all sorts of things that make a good geek smile. But ask specifically about backups and your conversation will die faster than rm-rf / trashes a system. Because despite all of the advances in hardware and software over the years, backups remain a sore spot for many sites– unreliable, tricky to set up, difficult to manage, and painful to restore from in the event of data loss. Worse, many of the big commercial backup vendors treat Linux like a rented stepchild, with poor (if any) server and client tools.

However, at least one company has been providing Linux-friendly backup software for many years: Arkeia (http://www.arkeia.com). In addition to their flagship product, Arkeia Network Backup (ANB), the company offers other solutions for Linux, such as Server Backup (for a single server), Arkeia Light (limited to one server and two clients), and Disaster Recovery and Hot Backup modules for various services.

But how well does Arkeia’s ANB software work? And even if it supports Linux, it’s quite common to find Solaris, Windows, and Mac OS X on the network, too; how well does Arkeia support heterogenous networks? Let’s take a test drive and find out.

Backup to the Future

To test ANB, I created a test network of several disparate machines. The backup server was a 500 MHz Pentium III with 256 MB RAM and an 80 GB hard drive, running SuSE Professional 9.2. To capture backups, the server was connected to an Adaptec 29160 SCSI card, which was cabled to a SpectraLogic T120 tape library, with two LTO-2 Ultrium drives. The client machines were an IBM Thinkpad T20 running Mandrake Linux 10.1, an Apple Powerbook running Mac OS X 10.3, and a late-model Dell Windows XP box. All were connected via a switched, 100 MB network.

I started by downloading the ANB RPM file for the backup server. Arkeia’s ANB download page lists nearly fifty different platforms, including AIX, HP-UX, Solaris, all BSD variants, Debian, and various flavors of Red Hat, Mandrake, and 32- and 64-bit SuSE. But despite the plethora of options, the list wasn’t terribly current: the latest RPM for SuSE was for 9.0, which is nearly eighteen months old. (Several other distros were similarly outdated.) However, the RPM for SuSE 9.0 installed just fine on my backup server. The install deposited software in /opt/, two binaries in /usr/bin/, and a handful of entries in /etc/init.d/ to start the daemon. The RPM also ran the init script to kick-off the daemon.

Since reading documentation would irrepairably damage my geek credibility, I jumped right in by logging into the backup server and running xarkeia. The GUI tool started right up and presented me with a login screen with entries for hostname, user, and password. ANB uses its own set of user definitions, which can be a bit confusing. For example, ANB’s root is not the system’ root.

Getting Started

At the login screen, type root for the user name and click enter (the default password for ANB’s root account is null). The first screen is ANB’s main menu (shown in Figure One).

FIGURE ONE: The main menu of Arkeia’s Network Backup software

The first thing to do is change ANB’s root password. You should also enter any licenses that you’ve purchased. Each piece of Arkeia software (like the Disaster Recovery and Hot Backup modules) require a license to function.

Navigating Arkeia’s interface is elegantly simple: every menu and sub-menu is shown in a linear bar along the top of the window. You can either hit the Back button to retrace your steps, or click directly on a previous menu item to go directly there. Within minutes, I found myself able to navigate anywhere in the interface with just a few rapid clicks– no menus to drag down, no combo boxes to select, just big fat icons. And while the look of the GUI is decidely old-school (think Motif or GTK1), it’s also snappy and responsive.

Having used several other backup applications in the past, I decided that configuring hardware was the logical next step. The detection utility immediately recognized the two LTO drives and the library’s robotic hardware. Double-clicking on each item brought up a configuration window with all of the necessary information already filled in, so all I had to do was click OK. The library required some additional configuration like adding drives and adding tapes to slots (see Figure Two). It was here that I started to get a bit confused by things, so I headed back to Arkeia’s web site to download both the Quickstart Guide and User Manual.

FIGURE TWO: Adding tapes to slots

Unfortunately, the Quickstart Guide was dated Jan 13, 2004. My brief perusal found pictures and explanations that were clearly not in synch with the current release of the software. Many of the step-by-step procedures were unusable without some creative interpretation. The User’s Manual was dated Jan 17, 2005, but wasn’t much better. Pictures of the GUI were also out of date, and much of the text didn’t match the software I’d just installed. I expected much more from a commercial product.

Still, with some prior backup software experience under my belt and a couple of lucky guesses, I managed to get the library more or less configured. One thing I never got working to my satisfaction was setting up tapes. The library I was using held upwards of eighty tapes, yet Arkeia seemed to offer no way of defining tapes except manually, one by one. After creating four tape definitions and assigning them to slots, I gave up.

Putting the Network in Network Backup

Running a backup is relatively simple once setup has been completed. The most important object definition is the savepack, where you select what you want to backup. Arkeia offers a graphical method for selecting backup targets: you can select an entire host, individual files and/or directories, specific mount points, and so on. Once the savepack is defined, a monitoring screen indicates backup speed and total. ANB communicated flawlessly with the tape library, loading tapes quickly and efficiently. When the job was completed, the tape was unloaded from the drive and placed back into its slot.

Next, I put the “network” in Arkeia Network Backup to work. Going back to the download page I grabbed the RPM for Mandrake 10 and installed it on my T20 laptop. As before, the RPM installed without difficulty.

To add the T20 to the drivepack, Arkeia’s notion for a collection of drives, I edited the file /opt/arkeia/arkeiad/admin.cfg on the T20 and specified the the hostname of the backup server. After adding several large directories from the T20, I ran another backup. This time two tapes were loaded, and data from each host was streamed simultaneously to the individual drive, making full use of the hardware automatically. Very slick indeed.

Preparing and configuring the Mac OS X and Windows clients was quick to perform (albeit with unique quirks on each platform). Adding the two new machines to the savepack required nothing more than a few clicks of the mouse.

Naturally, no backup software is useful unless it can be scheduled to run automatically. Arkeia lets you create multiple jobs with different levels of backup. I was impressed with the simplicity with which scheduled jobs could be set up. And all the backups in the world are useless unless they can be restored. Arkeia’s restore feature is effective, although not particularly intuitive. Since I was testing with working systems, I elected to “restore” backups to an alternate location to avoid overwriting existing data. It took a couple of interations via trial-and-error before I was 100% successful, but overall, the restores were quick and effective.

Bottom Line: Buy

All in all, there’s a lot to like about Arkeia. The client and server software run on just about anything, making it ideal for heterogeneous environments. Performance was very good. If you don’t like the look of the Arkeia interface or prefer the shell, there are command-line tools for nearly every function.

Arkeia isn’t prefect: a couple of client installation bugs marred an otherwise easy deployment. And because the accompanying documentation is inaccurate, the learning curve is a little steep. The company needs to update its manuals immediately.

Overall, Arkeia is a solid performer that treats Linux like the champion it is, rather than a second rate operating system supported only as an afterthought. Now that’s something to smile about.

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