Old Mac, new tricks: Backup server

Your old Mac may be too slow and creaky for rendering lush 3-D graphics or blasting through the latest shoot-'em-up, but before you put your middle-aged Mac out to pasture, consider using it as a backup server, a place to store work in case your hard drive fails (or, heaven forbid, your network of Macs bursts into flames). Though a "backup server" has a lofty name, it's really no more than a Macintosh-with some kind of attached storage device-networked to one or more Macs and/or PCs. It hosts your backup software and coordinates when and how the data on those networked computers, and the server itself, is backed up onto the attached storage device.

Creating a backup server isn't as difficult as it might sound. In this article-part of our "Old Mac, New Tricks" series-you'll see that all it takes to create a backup server is a couple of Macs, backup software, a medium to back up to, a network, and the knowledge we'll provide.

Step 1: System Requirements and Software

The first steps in setting up a backup server are making sure your old Mac can do the job and getting the right software. We'll give you some pointers and suggest ways to enhance your Mac to make it an even better backup server.

Recommended Macs A backup server needn't be a particularly powerful computer-a Mac II or just about any Mac made in the past 10 years (if it has a SCSI port) will do. But there are advantages to using more-recent Macintosh models.

The 7500-and most Mac models released after the 7500-have a distinct advantage over their predecessors: a PCI slot. A Mac's PCI slot allows you to add a fast SCSI, USB, or FireWire card, making your Mac far more compatible with modern backup media devices than earlier NuBus or slotless Macs. A fast SCSI or FireWire card is also likely to speed your backup by allowing your Mac to move data more quickly to the storage device.

Fast SCSI cards such as Adaptec's PowerDomain 2930 (408/945-8600, www.adaptec.com ) usually cost around $90 and have data-transfer rates as high as 20MB per second (versus an older Mac's native SCSI-1 transfer rate of 5MB per second). PCI FireWire cards such as Keyspan's FireWire PCI Card (510/222-0131, www.keyspan.com ) generally cost around $75. Which you choose should depend largely on your backup medium. FireWire devices are hot-swappable and generally cost less than SCSI devices. Mac OS 8 or later is required for the Adaptec card, and you must be running Mac OS 8.6 to use a PCI FireWire card.

Of course, if your backup medium is slow to begin with-a slow tape drive, for example-adding these cards will buy you very little performance gain.

Having a Mac equipped with an Ethernet port can speed backups as well. Backups across a TCP/IP connection can take half as long as those that use the slower AppleTalk networking protocol. If you plan to backup data from a PC, your backup server must have an Ethernet port-PCs don't natively support AppleTalk-and it must support TCP/IP via Apple's Open Transport. Ethernet ports appear on some Quadra models and all Power Macs. Open Transport is compatible with 68030 and later Macs running System 7.5.3 and later.

If completing a backup quickly is a primary concern, you could also add a 100BaseT Ethernet card to your backup server, along with a processor upgrade. Running a backup across a 100BaseT network-where both the server and client have 100BaseT Ethernet cards-can cut your backup time in half. 100BaseT Ethernet cards from companies such as Farallon (510/346-8001, www.farallon.com ) and Asanté (408/435-8388, www.asante.com ) usually cost as little as $40.

Although a faster processor has little impact on the basic functions of copying files across a network, it can speed backup software's compression and encryption operations, as well as the process of matching previous backup sessions. (See "Old Macs, New Tricks: Get That Mac Out of the Attic and Back to Work," June 2001.)

Monitor, Keyboard, and CD-ROM Drive No matter which Mac you end up using as your backup server, you'll need a monitor, keyboard, and mouse so you can configure and interact with your backup software. And you'll need a CD-ROM drive so you can install it.

Backup Software For network backups, Dantz's Retrospect (4.0 mice. ) is the only software we'll recommend-there isn't a better way to back up your data. Retrospect not only offers network backup but also allows you to easily create backup schedules, and it lets you use just about any backup device.

You'll need the $175 Retrospect Desktop Backup (which supports network backup) for your server, as well as client software for the computers you want to back up. A network-client five-pack (of software that supports both Macs and PCs) costs $120. If you need to back up many computers, the workgroup edition of the program-which includes 20 clients-is a good deal at $340.

Memory, Hard Disk Space, and OS At the very least, your Mac must have at least 16MB of memory and 50MB of free hard drive space to run Retrospect-though we recommend at least 32MB of RAM and 100MB of hard disk space. If your Mac doesn't meet these requirements, you should add more memory (see "Old Macs, New Tricks: Get That Mac Out of the Attic and Back to Work," June 2001) and clear some space on your hard drive. Dantz recommends that your Mac run Mac OS 7.6.1 or later.

Step 2: Choose a Backup Medium

Now that you have a backup server, you need a storage device. Your choices include hard drives; tape drives; CD-RW and DVD-RAM drives; and removable-cartridge devices such as Zip, Jaz, Orb, and magneto-optical drives.

Three factors will influence your backup-medium choice: the amount of data you need to back-up (don't forget that you should create more than one backup set), the reliability you require, and your budget.

Tape If your network is made up of Macs with hard drives that hold dozens of gigabytes of data, you should look at a high-capacity tape drive, or FireWire tape drive. Tape is reliable but slow, and although a tape drive can be expensive (ranging from $800, for a DAT drive, to more than $1,000, for higher-capacity drives), you can store a lot of data on an inexpensive tape. Tapes usually cost only $1 or $2 per GB, depending on the format and capacity, and can hold anywhere from a few GB per tape to more than 60GB. Note, however, that the amount of data you can store on a tape may differ wildly from the published specification. That specification generally takes into account 2:1 compression-a level of compression that you may not achieve.

DVD-R DVD-RAM is another fine high-capacity option. Such drives cost around $500, and each disc (priced at around $30) holds as much as 4.7GB of data.

CD-RW A CD-RW drive is a good option for backups of a few gigabytes. External CD-RW drives are available for around $200. CD-R discs cost less than fifty cents each when bought in bulk and reliably hold as much as 640MB. The disadvantage of CD-RW is that for multigigabyte backups, you'll spend a lot of time swapping discs.

Removable Cartridge Drives Removable cartridge drives-such as Iomega's $350 Jaz (2.5 mice. ) and Castlewood's $230 Orb (2.5 mice. )-that hold a couple of gigabytes of data per cartridge can be unreliable and are not good long-term storage solutions. (4.0 mice. ) Iomega's $150 Zip drive has also been known to have reliability problems, and older Zip cartridges hold less than 100MBs of data (new Zips hold less than 250MB)-necessitating dozens of disk swaps for even a small network of modern Macs. And storing several gigabytes to this kind of media can be expensive.

Hard Drive While you can easily back up to another hard drive, that hard drive is just as susceptible to damage as the hard drive from which the data originally came. A hard drive is a reasonable short-term solution, but for the long run, you're better off with some kind of reliable removable media. And because long-term storage can be a problem with any medium, it's always a good idea to create more than one backup and to keep one backup off site.

Internet Backup You can also back up your data to the Internet-to an FTP site that you maintain or to a Dantz Certified Internet Backup Site. Storing files on the Internet can be deathly slow, depending on the speed of your Internet connection, so you should consider backing up only your vital files.

To find a list of certified sites, open EasyScript within Retrospect and select the option for backing up to the Internet. You'll be presented with a list of Internet storage spaces.

Step 3: Set Up the Physical Network

For your backup server to move data from one point to another, your Macs must be able to share information across a network. This can be done via a physical connection-over a wired Ethernet network-or wirelessly via AirPort (though an AirPort connection will be slower than a 10-Mbps Ethernet connection).

Macs that lack an Ethernet port can be equipped with an add-on Ethernet card. Farallon and Asanté make cards priced between $40 and $80, depending on the kind of Mac you intend to use the card with. For older PowerPC Macs that carry an AAUI Ethernet port, you'll need to add an AAUI-to-10BaseT transceiver to string Ethernet cables between your old Mac and the rest of the network. Such transceivers cost around $30.

If you're networking only two Macs over Ethernet, you can string an Ethernet crossover cable between them. For larger networks, you must add an Ethernet hub-an approximately $30 device that carries a number of Ethernet ports and acts as a traffic cop for data moving across the network.

Step 4: Set Up the Mac's Networking Software

There's a real speed benefit to configuring your server to backup across an Ethernet network via TCP/IP. If your Macs are already configured for TCP/IP and are set up to access the Web via Ethernet or AirPort, you can skip ahead to the next step-your Mac is configured for network backup. If you access the Internet via a modem-or if this is your first outing with TCP/IP-here's how to set up your Macs:

Open the AppleTalk control panel. Then open the TCP/IP control panel. Select Ethernet from the Connect Via pop-up menu and Manually from the Configure pop-up menu. In the IP Address field enter 192.168.6.1 on the first Mac you configure. Follow the same procedure for subsequent Macs, increasing the last digit of the IP address by one for each. (192.168.6.2, 192.168.6.3 and so on). These IP addresses are reserved for internal networks and won't conflict with any Internet IP addresses. In the Subnet Mask field, enter 255.255.255.0 on each of the Macs. Close the TCP/IP control panel, and click on Save when prompted. Your Macs are now ready to talk across the network.

Step 5: Install Retrospect and Configure Clients

Installing Retrospect on your backup server is easy. Configuring Retrospect on your network's clients, however, warrants some explanation (since you do it from the backup server computer, not the client computer).

After installing the client software on each networked computer, launch Retrospect from the backup server. Click on Retrospect's Configure tab and then on the Clients button in the resulting window. In the Client Database window that appears, click on the Network button.

In the Clients On Network window, you'll see AppleTalk and TCP/IP listed as network protocols. Click on TCP/IP, and then choose Mac OS in the Type field to see all of the running Macs on your network (if you have AppleTalk clients, clicking on AppleTalk will reveal them). Clicking on Windows 95/98/NT will show all PCs on the network (because Windows doesn't support AppleTalk, no PCs will appear when you click AppleTalk).

Now select a client computer from the Select A Client window, and click on the Configure button. The resulting window includes options for selecting volumes for backup, as well as for changing the client's network protocol from TCP/IP to AppleTalk or vice versa. Click on OK to confirm your choices. Repeat this step for each computer.

Step 6: Be Selective with Your Backup

You should now think about what kind of files you want to back up. Sure, you could fire up Retrospect and ask the program to back up every item on your network, but you don't really need to back up every MP3 file scattered across your drives or that massive 632MB game installation. Depending on the number of applications you'd have to reinstall, perhaps not.

Retrospect allows you to filter out files you need to back up. After clicking on the Backup button, click on the Selecting button in Retrospect's main window. In the window that appears, you can select a subset of the files on your Macs. For example, you can back up everything except cache files. Or you can back up all your documents but no applications. Or you can back up only those files labeled "Hot."

If you click on the More Options button, you can narrow your selection by, among other things, file type-only Microsoft Word files, for example-size, and date. You can even back up files that are subsets of other files-"Hot" files larger than 50K, say. You also have the option to exclude files-all MP3 or movie files that exceed a certain file size, for example.

Only you can judge what is and isn't worth your backup server's time. Some people backup only their documents while others can't imagine a backup that doesn't contain every niggling file on their drive.

Step 7: Create a Schedule

The key to successfully backing up your data is consistency -making sure your data is backed up often enough that, should one of your Macs' hard drives go the way of the dodo, you can recover as much data as possible. The frequency of your backups will depend on how often things change on your hard drive: some people are comfortable backing up once a week, and others backup at the end of each day. The secret to a consistent backup is scheduling-creating a script that automates your backups.

Thankfully, Retrospect includes EasyScript, an easy-to-use scheduling assistant. To create a backup script, just click on the Automate button in the main Retrospect window; click on the EasyScript button; and then click through a series of windows that ask you which volumes you'd like to back up, which storage medium you'll use, how often you'd like to back up, how often you want to rotate your backup medium, and what time you'd like the backups to begin.

After you answer these questions, Retrospect will create a backup script for you and-as long as your backup server is running-automatically run the script at the time you designated in EasyScript. If you want to edit a script you've created-for example, if you find that it works better for your schedule to back up on Monday morning rather than Friday night-,simply choose Scripts from the Automate portion of the main Retrospect window, select the script you'd like to edit, click on the Edit button, and alter the script to your heart's content.

To complete your immediate backup, just leave your Macs running and load your storage medium. Retrospect will tell you if it thinks the backup will fit on it. If a swap or two is in order, schedule the backup for a time when you're available for backup babysitting. If everything fits on a single disc, tape, cartridge, or drive, you're set-turn off the lights and let your Mac and Retrospect do the rest.

Last Word

Your old Mac put in yeoman's duty during its most productive years, and although it's older and slower than your current crop of Macs, it's still capable of handling your backup needs today. So go ahead: fire up your old Mac and a copy of Retrospect-both are ready to serve.

Contributing Editor CHRISTOPHER BREEN, who maintains a network of five Macs and a single PC, backs up religiously with the help of his Power Tower 180e.

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