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Linux Backups For Real People, Part 1

Backup Hardware

November 1, 2007

Everyone knows they should make regular backups of their data. But hardly anyone is as diligent with backups as they should be. So in this two-part series we're going to learn some nice simple methods for making regular backups on single PCs or small networks. Part 1 covers external backup media, and bending udev to your will so that your backup devices will have persistent names. Part 2 will reveal fast, easy, reliable ways to run your backups, both automated and on-demand by clicking a button.

The type of backups we're going to make are also easy to restore files from, which is the whole point of having backups in the first place. The backups we're going to make are for short-term archiving, which means the useful life of your backup media. Making data archives for the ages is a separate problem; our goal here is to be able to make easy, fast backups, and to quickly recover from a hardware failure, theft, and other immediate problems.

To follow my excellent backup scheme you're going to need a few things:

  • A reasonably modern PC that supports USB 2.0
  • GParted, the excellent graphical partition editor
  • An external USB storage device: SATA or PATA hard drive, USB pen drive, or Compact Flash
  • Rootly powers for the initial setup

You can purchase external hard drive enclosures that will hold any SATA or PATA hard drive, or you might prefer all-in-one external drives. The all-in-ones often come with Windows- and Mac-only backup software, which is not a problem because we do not need their silly software. You may need to reformat them, as some of them are formatted in NTFS or some other filesystem you don't want. This is where GParted earns its keep: it's the best graphical partitioning and formatting tool there is on any platform. Just plug in your external storage drive, make sure it's unmounted, and then partition and format it as you like.

The easiest way is to format it as FAT16 or FAT32, because using FAT saves you from having to set up user permissions. FAT filesystems don't support any kind of access controls, ownership, or permissions. This means you'll be able to easily access your backup media from any computer. FAT16 shouldn't be used on media larger than 512 megabytes because it wastes a lot of space.

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