Top three free storage tools for SMBs

Here are three very useful free software tools that solve data storage problems facing nearly every storage administrator.

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It wasn't that long ago that free storage software wasn't considered viable for businesses. Many viewed open-source code as untested and unsupported programs written by 14-year-old hackers. Some of these concerns were justified; there were very few open-source tools that really attempted to solve real IT problems. Over the last five or 10 years, several open-source projects became staples in storage shops of all sizes. 'Three very useful...

open-source (i.e., free) software tools that solve data storage problems facing nearly every administrator are outlined below.

Bacula data backup software

Backup software is usually expensive and complex, or cheap and limited. If you're currently using a commercial backup product, you may find that a solution like Bacula has similar features at no cost. If you're doing less-sophisticated backups, it might be time to take a look at something with more power under the hood. Bacula is a program that, according to the developers, "comes in the night and sucks the essence from your computers." This multitiered software package isn't simple, but it's flexible. It supports high-end features like auto-changer tape libraries and supports multivolume backups. This means that if your backup doesn't fit on one tape, it can continue the backup on a second tape. Most open-source backup products can't do this. Bacula also keeps data secure with TLS encryption for data on the network.

Common uses for an app like Bacula include single large backups with a complex schedule or storage capacity needs, all the way to backing up an enterprise over the network. It also provides a great foundation for disaster recovery using tape backups.

The Bacula project started in 2000, and was first released to SourceForge.net in 2002. The 2.0 version was released in 2007.

IOzone file system benchmark software

Without real scientific evidence, disk storage performance is very subjective. Storage performance management requires that we know how specific brands and configurations of storage work in different situations. IOzone is a brand-agnostic filesystem performance benchmarking tool that measures a multitude of different file operations types and works on almost every operating system.

With a benchmarking tool like IOzone, you can perform system stress tests to make sure a system is ready for production. It's also useful in product or configuration bake-offs where two configurations must be evaluated against each other for suitability with an application. IOzone can be leveraged to document a baseline for disk performance tuning and future troubleshooting operations. IOzone is also very mature; it's been around for over 16 years.

Rsync remote mirroring software

The need to migrate data from one system to another is common, yet it's often difficult. Keeping two file structures in sync by hand can be labor and bandwidth intensive. Conversely, commercial replication software is usually very expensive and can be complex. Rsync is an open-systems tool developed for Unix systems (it works on Windows with Cygwin), and is designed to replace the Unix rcp command. It intelligently synchronizes two file structures that may exist on the same machine or on two machines connected over a distance via a network. The replication process is bandwidth-friendly, leveraging compression and incremental updates. Rsync uses the "rsync algorithm" to synchronize two file structures by sending only the differences in the files over the network. The replication traffic can also be made secure via encryption.

Rsync solves several problems common to anyone managing large amounts of data. First, it can be used to migrate data and apps from one system to the next. The rsync incremental updates make it possible to complete most of the replication to a new system before the cutover outage begins, shortening the interruption required. Also, it can be used to keep a remote copy of the data in sync for disaster recovery purposes. Rysnc was first released in 1996, and it has become the de facto open-source replication tool.

All three of these tools take a little elbow grease to get running the way you want, but once mastered, they'll be difficult to replace. Remember that open-source allows you to use the software for any purpose, lets you study how the code works, allow you to improve the tool and enables you to profit from it. What could be better than that?

About the author: Brian Peterson is an independent IT infrastructure analyst. He has a deep background in enterprise storage and open systems computing platforms. He has consulted with hundreds of enterprise customers who struggled with the challenges of disaster recovery, scalability, technology refreshes and controlling costs. 

This was first published in April 2008

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