SOHO Backup Solution

by Ivan Hamilton 7/30/2008 1:36:00 PM

I need a backup solution for the several machines at home. The standard idea is tape, but this need re-examining:

  • Tape (AIT-5): $100/400GB + $4000 Drive
  • Disk (SATA-300) : $100/750GB

Yikes! Disks are cheaper than tape, that's even before you spend thousands on the tape drive.

But let's take a step back a bit. Why back up?

  • Disaster - Your current data (hardware failure/loss, data corruption)
  • Archival - Your old data (unnoticed accidental loss, compliance)

What do you need for a backup? Simply, to be able to recreate the original data. Backups can be compressed, incremental, or otherwise encoded. They're often not considered a online system, and recovery can take a bit of effort (tape systems can often take feeding tapes from several backups thru). Why can't I just fill a drive with copies of all my files? Better, only copies of what's changed (like Apple's Time Machine)? Even better, only unique files... or file parts?

I've tried Acronis True Image, and its incremental backup option. For my notebook, this creates an initial 40GB file, and then ~1GB incrementals every day after that. After a month, when I'm not interested in retaining the old files, I move the original large image and all its associated incrementals to another directory. Towards the end of a month, I've got both last month's and this month's initial & increment images. To hold 30 days of state, it consumes 2x(40GB+30x1GB)=140GB.

Duplicates? Windows File Protection (WFP) only gives me over 200MB of duplicate files on each XP machine. With multiple machines... why do I need to keep seven backup copies of "notepad.exe"?

Out of interest, I analysed my notebook & desktop. These are very different XP based machines, and don't share any applications. The notebook has all the standard productivity applications, and the desktop has the power hungry video, 3D modelling and gaming applications.

  • Notebook: 93% unique
  • Desktop: 94% unique
  • Combined: 87% unique 

Copying unique files alone gives a reasonable saving, and between two very different machines gives a good saving as well. An interesting find, was that my notebook had 362 files (~1GB) which had the same 64KB at the start, middle and end. I manually inspected a couple of these files, and found 14MB files with only a couple of hundred bytes different 3/4 of the way thru. You'd also, find large similarities between aged versions of files, and it'd be nice to take advantage of that.

This is what I'd like: A disk based solution that can be fed files, find similarities and deduplicate, and then recreate the files when requested. It should also be able to delete no longer needed files from its store and reclaim space.

  • Set Store
    • Set Management: Manage backups of "sets".
    • Timeline Recording: Files & directories have timelined events (creation/updates/removal)
  • Blob Store
    • Smart Chunking: Break blobs into variable length chunks based on data (rolling hash matches).
    • Single Instance Chunk Storage: Store chunks referenced by size & hash.
    • Single Instance Blob Storage: : Store blobs referenced by size & hash as references to multiple chunks.
    • Compression: Compress chunks. Maybe 7z? (compressed: PPMd/BCJ2, non-compressed: LZMA/BCJ2).
    • Cross Volume Storage: Use multiple store locations to support large stores.
  • Client
    • Open files: Backup open files using Volume Snapshot Service.
    • Bypass ACLs: Backup all files using SeBackupPrivilege.
    • Efficient change discovery: Read changes from NTFS Change Journal.

How hard could it be?

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My Cordless Drill - Death of nickel-cadmium (NiCd), arrival of lithium-ion (Li-Ion)

by Ivan Hamilton 7/10/2008 11:48:00 AM

A few years ago low-cost rechargeable drills/drivers hit the market. I purchased a nice GMC 18V driver with two batteries.

It's given good service over the years, but:

  • the batteries don't hold as much charge as they used to
  • the batteries don't hold their charge as long as they used to
  • recently, the "charger" (timer & battery clip) died
  • recently, the plug-pack transformer died

The drill itself is perfectly fine, and I've worked around the charger & plug-pack issues, but the time had come... the batteries died completely.

Professional cordless tools often have replacement parts available, but my drill was only a consumer level item and years later, is completely superseded. A number of people have had success rejuvenating cordless tools by "repacking" the batteries. Often, the battery packs for these tools consist of a number of series wired "Sub-C" cells (18V = 15 x 1.2V Nickel-cadmium cells). At $3-$5 per Sub-C, that's $90-$150 for both packs. After making such an investment, a much smarter (and safer) charger would be justified. If the charger is not "smart" (i.e. it cannot detect when the battery is fully charged), then overcharging is likely, which will damage the battery.

With a new 18V drill + two batteries available for AU$99, repacking didn't make economic sense. Armed with the experience from my first, my wish-list was:

  • 18V - I like the power from the 18V driver, and want to keep that. 
  • Geared - My ungeared driver wasn't fast enough for drilling wood or plastic, but I still need power for driving screws.
  • Low self discharge - Sometimes I won't use it for weeks, I want it ready to go.
  • Smart charger - If I need to charge a half used battery for use tomorrow, I want to not think about it (and not  damage the batteries).
  • No hammer action - Even with the hammer action disabled, hammer drills have an amount of axial play that interferes with accurate bit placement.

Any geek worth his salt knows a little about batteries (phones, laptops, etc): Nickel-cadmium (NiCd) then nickel metal hydride (NiMH) then lithium-ion (Li-Ion) then lithium ion polymer (Li-Poly) cells. The latest professional cordless power tools have started to use lithium-ion (Li-Ion), and in my scouting around I found the Bosch PSR 18 LI-2.

What do I like?

  • At AU$250, it's much cheaper than other Li-Ion drills on the market at the moment.
  • The lithium-ion battery is only about half the size & weight of comparable NiCd batteries.
  • 18V power
  • 2 speed gearbox
  • 85 percent of the charge is retained, even if it has not been used for four months.
  • Charging station is automatically switched off when the battery is fully charged (with no memory effect, these batteries can be recharged at any time without reducing their charge capacity.
  • Interrupting the charging procedure does not damage the battery.
  • Not a hammer drill (no axial play)

With all the smarts included to prolong the life of the battery, I figure it should give twice the value of a $99 Nickel-cadmium (NiCd). Time will tell...

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Mechanics | Pragmatism

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"My inner nerd can beat up your inner nerd."

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