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A Catch-All Guide to Backing Up
Linux is almost immune to viruses, malware and other things which attack Windows on a regular basis, however no operating system is immune to hard drive failure and user error. In the past, backing up your system was a long tedious process often involving reams of tape, some huge floppy disks and a lot of patience, this is why people often resent doing it.
These days it can be a lot simpler if you plan ahead, you can schedule automatic backups and even put your backups into the cloud and be confident that it will be there when you need it.
I am going to start this article off by showing you a few traditional backup methods, either to another partition on the same hard disk or another hard disk in the same machine. Then I am going to show you how to back it up to a remote server and finally I will show you how to back it up into the cloud using various services such as Amazon S3 and Ubuntu One which both have a free tier.
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Conventional Means for Backing Up
This system can be used to backup data up to another partition or hard drive in your computer. This is useful if you accidentally delete something important or you have a corrupted partition. The Ubuntu Simple Backup Suite, which can be found in the Software Center, is a very useful tool for this job.
From the Simple Backup Suite, you can set up automatic backups to take place at a certain time and set what is excluded and included in the backup process. It will automatically back up to /var/backup but you can set an alternate location (such as a secondary hard disk) or even a remote host using either FTP or SSH. Finally you can purge old or incomplete backups so you're not wasting space on your hard disk.
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Beyond Your Machine
Server backups are relatively cheap and easy to do. This can also be achieved by installing Ubuntu Server Edition on an old computer at home, but it advised that you know a bit about the terminal and bash. This is because servers do not tend to use the graphical user interface to save space, bandwidth and harden security, they instead rely on commands from the user.
Once you have a server up and running, backing up to it using the Ubuntu Backup Suite above is relatively painless. All you need to install is proftpd on the server and then configure the backup suite so it uploads to it. If you are a more advance user, you can also create your own scripts, giving you more power and control over the backup sequence.
This is a relatively old backup method but it does work and I thought it was worth a mention for advance users since the power of your own backup script can only be left to your imagination. However, for the new user take a look at the next section where I go on to talk about cloud backups.
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Inside the Cloud
Cloud backups are still relatively new, it is claimed that the data is redundant and always available, but this has recently been proved wrong by Amazon's recent S3 outage. However, 99% of the time cloud storage is great and usually free for the first few gigabytes. Instead of having a set amount of space, you pay for the exact space you use in the cloud.
Ubuntu One now offers 2GB of free space and you can easily sync your folders from within Ubuntu, so everything is automatically on the cloud the moment it is on your computer and accessible from anywhere. They are even expanding into the smartphone market with contact and music synchronization. They also offer an extra 20GB package for a few bucks per month and you can buy as many of these as you need.
Amazon S3 are also offering a free tier of 5GB for the first year to new users, you can use programs such as Dragon Disk to upload your precious files to your S3 account. It does however lack the automatic sync that Ubuntu One has.
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All Backed Up!
Overall, if you are just looking for somewhere to back up a few gigabytes worth of important documents and photos the cloud is certainly the best place to go. Even if you do not want to trust one company, you can upload it to multiple clouds online. However, if you have hundreds of gigabytes or want to mirror your hard disk the best way to do it would be a home server as transfers would be quick via your home network.
I hope this article has prompted thoughts on your current backup systems and for those of you who don't back up, I hope you will now that you have seen how simple it can be. If you have any questions or comments, please post below and I will do my best to answer them!