Backing up your data on a regular basis is important, and turning a spare computer into a backup server is often the best way to make sure it gets done. But most methods require either a good deal of command-line learning or serve only one operating system. Not with Restore, a free, open-source backup system that can install or run from a live CD, work with any OS, and operate through a simple browser-based interface. Today I'll demonstrate backing up a Windows laptop to an older desktop, but you'll see how Restore can be easily molded to fit just about any home backup needs.
First we'll need the right live CD from Restore's SourceForge pages. Grab the most recent "RESTORE-EE-LIVE" .iso file you see there—it's technically the "Enterprise Edition," but don't let that title scare you off. Burn the ISO to a blank CD with the program of your choice, place it in the disc drive of a computer that can boot from a CD, then fire it up. Now you can check out how Restore runs on your spare box (or old laptop) before dedicating yourself to installing it, without a single bit of data touched. Those with a bit of Linux savvy can also install Restore from Ubuntu/Debian packages or in a virtual machine; installation will be different, but the operation is the same.
Restore is based on Xubuntu, the lightweight Ubuntu Linux distribution, and boots up in nearly identical fashion. Hit "Start or Install RESTORE" from the first screen and give the CD time to boot up (go back and try "Safe Graphics Mode" if you see only black). Once you're in, you should see a desktop similar to this (click for larger image):
If you're not hard-wired to your internet connection, click the icon in the upper-right to configure your wireless connection. If you can't get access, your networking hardware might be the rare exception that Ubuntu doesn't handle out of the box; try the Ubuntu Forums or a little Google-searching for help.
If you're set on installing Restore, hit the "Install" icon on the desktop and follow the fairly simple prompts. Whatever drive or partition you install to, that's where the backups will go. If you need help partitioning off space from a Windows installation, reference Adam's triple-boot guide or Ubuntu's community docs for pointers. Whether you're installing or just testing it out, find the IP address of the computer running Restore through your router. Alternately, click the "Applications" button in the Restore desktop, then Accessories->Terminal, then enter the command
ifconfig and look for the address after "inet addr:", which usually looks like 192.168.x.x). Save yourself future IP hunts by setting a static IP address for your new backup server; see Adam's recent BitTorrent feature for a primer.
Set up your systems
Most backup servers rely on each computer regularly sending their files to them. Restore, on the other hand, reaches out to computers and copies their important files on a schedule. To make sure your system's ready to accept remote connections, do the following:
- Vista: Head to "Set up file sharing" or "Network and Sharing Center" from the Control Panel. Make sure "Network discovery," "File sharing," and "Password protected sharing" are set to "On." Right-click any folders you want to back up on your system, select "Share," "Change sharing permissions," and follow through the prompts.
- Windows XP: Follow Restore's
own guide to selectively share folders for backup.
- Mac OS X: Enable "Remote Login" in the "Sharing" section of the System Preferences menu. That's it—although take note of the IP address listed at the bottom of the "Sharing" screen.
- Linux: You have your choice of either using Samba for Windows File Shares access—I've found this forum post to be the most concise setup guide, at least for Ubuntu—or open up an SSH server on your system (Google to find a how-to for your distro).
Schedule your backups
Open a browser on the computer you intend to back up and point it to that IP address you grabbed from the server, followed by /restore, as in:
You can head to "Preferences" to make your login details a bit more secure, but let's roll up our sleeves and head to "Filestore" first." It's pretty bare on this screen, so hit "Add Target" near the upper-right corner. Here you'll get your choice of MySQL, SFTP (which is actually SSH File Transfer Protocol), straight FTP, or Windows File Share. I'll be using Windows File Share, which also works for Linux users comfortable with Samba shares, but Mac users will want to choose SFTP.
Type the IP address of the system you're connecting from into the "Hostname" field in the prompt that comes up, and then the username and password you use to log on to that computer. You'll be greeted by a collapsible list of folders that you can grab from. Ignore any "invalid argument" lines, select the data you need to copy and hit "Next" in the lower right. Give your selections a "Target Name" that relates to your selections (like "My Pictures Backup"), then hit "Save." You'll end up at that target's settings page. Hit the button that looks like "Play" on the far right to manually launch a snapshot backup if you'd like, but now we'll head to the "Schedule" tab.
Hit the "+" next to "Snapshot schedules" at the top of the left-hand column to choose how often Restore will reach out for a backup attempt. The "Simple" settings should be enough for most folks' needs; give your schedule a name and hit "Create." Now choose the "+" next to "Revision Schedule" on the right-hand column. This actually lets you set how many of your snapshots are saved and for how long, giving you a Time-Machine-like ability to choose from numerous versions of a file over time. Hit "Create," and you're done. When you need to get at your files, simply head to the "Restore Data" tab in each Target and choose which version you want to bring back.
You've now created a basic backup server that will look to copy files from any system manually or on a schedule, and which you can control with or without a monitor and other peripherals attached. Since you've got a working Xubuntu system running in there with CD-burning and other abilities, however, you might want to set up VNC to give yourself a graphical handle, when needed.
Need more help setting up or exploring Restore? Check out the Flash tutorials offered by its creator, Holonyx Ruffdogs.
What do you think about Restore? Does it seem easier than command-line-based options? Hit the comments with any questions, comments, suggestions and/or complaints.
Kevin Purdy, associate editor at Lifehacker, loves having his flock of systems shepherded by one small box. His weekly feature, Open Sourcery, appears every Saturday on Lifehacker AU.