Volume 5, Number 11 -- March 18, 2008

SourceLabs Offers Self-Support for Linux, Java

Published: March 18, 2008

by Timothy Prickett Morgan

If you are a developer working at a major corporation or a small company and you want to use Linux and open source tools to create Java applications, there is very little possibility that your company is going to let you do that without getting tech support for the Linux and tools that you use. But in many cases, even after paying for support, you end up doing a lot of the work yourself anyway. Which kinda defeats the purpose of paying someone else to do the support work and hold your hand.

That's why SourceLabs, the Seattle, Washington, provider of tech support services for open source software stacks, has created a new offering called Self-Support Suite tools.

According to Byron Sebastian, the company's founder and chief executive officer, the new tools give admins and programmers the tools they need to cut to the chase scene when it comes to Linux and Java stack support. "The product is designed to put a great deal of power in the hands of administrators, developers, and others to automate the way support gets done on open source programs," explains Sebastian. "They don't have to hunt down patches late at night or put themselves in the hands of the large support organizations who can take days or weeks to put out patches. Linux customers are buying commercial support, but they are still finding that they end up doing support for themselves. And once they make a change to the open source software in their stack, there really is no answer other than to do it themselves."

Self-Support Suite includes diagnostic tools to scan a crash on a system and then dial into the SourceLabs Intelligence Engine, a knowledgebase with over 16 million previously described and categorized issues with Linux, Java, and related open source software. The tool supports Red Hat Enterprise Linux, Novell SUSE, the CentOS clone of RHEL, Ubuntu, and Debian Linuxes, and dozens of popular packages commonly used to deploy Java applications on Linux machines.

The Self-Support Suite has been in beta testing since December, and has 3,000 users so far who have kicked the tires. SourceLabs is offering a special $99 annual support contract for the service for developers right now, and it costs $399 per developer normally. It also costs $399 for every two sockets in the server to get a supported version of the Self-Support Suite tool. The company is offering a 30-day free trial as well if you want to take it for a spin.


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Why File-based System Backup is your Best Bet
File-based, Full System Backups Create Advantages Over Image-based Backups

File-based backups used for system recovery have been around for years. And, until recently, file-based meant a long, painstaking, manual process capable of turning off even the most meticulous system administrator. Image-based backups, then, seemed to solve this problem by eliminating the need to deal with recreating partitions, filesystems, volume groups or other details related to the system's storage configuration. In an image-based restore, the storage configuration and data from the original system are restored as a whole to the new system. While this method produced fast recovery times, Linux administrators began to realize disk image backup was more of an alternative method with its own set of problems and limitations than an answer to the challenges of manual, file-based backup.

Limitations to Disk Image Backup
Since disk image backups make no distinction between files and instead backup the hard drive as a group of sectors, bare-metal recovery can be quick and easy by simply rewriting a duplicate image onto a new, identical disk drive. A fine solution, as long as the old system and new system are indeed identical in types, sizes, locations- basically the exact same hardware. Any differences in hardware, however, could render an image backup unusable.

Many system administrators know first-hand the frustration caused by the inflexibility of image-based backup. "What I hear time and time again from clients is that they switched from image-based backup to file-based because of the limitations they encountered when trying to restore a backup onto different hardware." said Manuel Altamirano, Storix Software Director of Sales and Marketing. "Administrators assume they will have access to identical hardware after a disaster or for migration when the time comes. Unfortunately, so often this is not the case. Companies are left with unplanned, excessive downtime."

Even more advanced disk image backup products, that offer alterations to disk partition tables, still fail to understand more advanced and increasingly common storage configuration tools such as the Logical Volume Manager (LVM) or Software RAID (meta-disks) that also must be altered to match new hard disk configuration before data can be restored. In these cases, users must manually alter and build the configuration, usually through command-line utilities and manual editing of configuration files. This also requires users to have knowledge on how to make a system bootable. Rebuilding a system using a disk image backup requires experienced Linux administrators and could take days, weeks or longer resulting in crippling downtime for an organization.

Advances in File-based Backup
File-based backup tools today can automate the process of recording every aspect of a system separately such as disk, filesystem and boot loader configuration while supporting all popular Linux storage configuration tools (i.e. LVM and Software RAID). This detailed backup information is used to greatly simplify the recovery of a failed system from scratch, even if hardware differences are detected on the new system. Furthermore, systems rebuilt from the ground up using file-based backups often times operate better than the original because there is virtually no fragmentation when the restore is completed.

    Flexible recovery based on file-based backup
    File-based backup products have the ability to reconfigure disks, partitions, filesystems and other storage solutions to fit onto new hardware. This ability to adapt a backup to fit new hardware or alter the system's storage configuration is called "Adaptable System Recovery" or ASR. Only backup solutions that gather details about the original system have enough information and flexibility to make the ASR process of altering configuration so simple even novice Linux administrators can quickly perform the recovery. Once new configuration is completed, data files from the backup are easily restored onto the new hardware. Finally, the system is made bootable based on the new hardware.

    The revolutionary adaptability of ASR found in file-based backup tools creates further added value for system administrators because these products can now be used for far more than just reactive tasks such as disaster recovery.
    Applications for ASR:
  • Disaster Recovery- restore systems in minutes after a crash, even if hardware is not the same as the original
  • Provisioning/cloning- a single backup "golden image" can be used to provision different systems, even if disks, adapters or other elements are not the same.
  • Storage software migration- change configuration on the same system for improved performance and availability
  • Hardware migration- install the same system onto newer or virtual systems
    New system backup management features
    Products using file-based system backup have not neglected to consider a system administrator's daily backup responsibilities. These products now incorporate functionality for backup management as well as some of the most advanced features seen in backup and recovery solutions for Linux and AIX. Some advanced features designed to simplify daily backup management for system administrators include:
  • Graphical, Web and Command line interfaces
  • Local and remote backups to disk or tape devices
  • Sequential and random tape autoloader support
  • Support for SAN storage solutions
  • Tivoli Storage Manager integration
  • Oracle database backup support
  • Backup data encryption
  • Multiple compression levels

File-based Backup Solutions Provide Most Bang for the Buck
Inexpensive products exist that combine both file-based backup management and ASR in one program. Look for a file-based system backup product with advanced features like those mentioned above. In turn, regular backup responsibilities such as automatically verifying backups and encrypting backup data will become much easier. Additionally, combined ASR capabilities greatly reduce downtime and required expertise for both reactive (even bare metal) and proactive recovery projects. File-based system backup and recovery solutions are an economical and more comprehensive option than their image-based counterparts.

About the Author
Anne Stobaugh is an independent contractor working with Storix Software to educate Linux and AIX users on the advantages of file-based backup and recovery solutions.

Editor: Timothy Prickett Morgan
Contributing Editors: Dan Burger, Joe Hertvik, Kevin Vandever,
Shannon O'Donnell, Victor Rozek, Hesh Wiener, Alex Woodie
Publisher and Advertising Director: Jenny Thomas
Advertising Sales Representative: Kim Reed
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