Welcome!

Linux Containers Authors: ManageEngine IT Matters, Elizabeth White, XebiaLabs Blog, Liz McMillan, Gregor Petri

Related Topics: Linux Containers

Linux Containers: Article

How to Avoid Desktop Disasters

Take basic precautions with data backups

It's 2:00 a.m., you're working on that critical presentation, and the power goes out. Since you moved your power supply to your significant other's computer, you just lost all your work.

We've all been there one time or another. Then the real trouble starts: not only haven't you saved your work in an hour but lo and behold your PC won't boot back into your operating system. As the cold sweat drips from your brow you realize that in addition to losing your presentation, you've also lost your financial records, calendar, and more data than you could ever hope to replace. Before it happens to you again you need to have a desktop backup strategy.

This scenario resonates with many, if not all of us. It's not an individual problem; it's a computer-user problem common among suits and "propeller-heads" alike. That's why I'm focusing on ways to avoid desktop disasters this month.

In addition to focusing on backup disasters I'm going to delve a little more deeply into the command line to solve some of these problems. I don't want to intimidate anyone who's more comfortable in the GUI world, but there are many easy-to-use and powerful command-line utilities that are at your disposal in most Linux distributions. Also, I have been recently inspired by Doc Searls (http://doc.weblogs.com) and his movement for DIY (do-it-yourself) IT; check out his IT Garage (http://garage.docsearls.com/). This idea isn't fascinating or interesting to me because it's new; it's because I come from the do-it-yourself generation, the one that makes it possible for a DIY channel on cable and 101 home improvement shows to exist. What's interesting and noteworthy is that, with a little knowledge, you can save yourself a lot of money by doing some of these tasks yourself. So with a nod to my fellow do-it-yourselfers, let's explore the world of Linux desktop backup strategies.

Desktop Backup Strategies

There's an old saying, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." This phrase could just as easily have been attributed to a system administrator after a server crash if it wasn't first attributed to Ben Franklin. More often than not we as computer users have not taken the most basic precautions with our personal computing environments. The bottom line is that there is no foolproof way to keep our PCs from crashing, so backups are critical. Please follow me as we take a walk down backup lane.

Data

The first step in developing a backup strategy for your data is to figure out where your data lives on your system. By default almost all your user data is stored in your /home/$USER directory ($USER just means the user you log in to Linux with). Once you confirm that this is where your information is, you can decide how you will make backups. In my case, I have a DVD/RW on my laptop. I try to keep the bulk of my data in one directory but it's actually a fat32 partition that I access from Linux or Windows. That directory is /windows/D/. I simply launch my favorite CD burner software k3b (www.k3b.org) and create a data project to copy all my critical files to a DVD or CD. Its drag-and-drop interface allows me to make copies easily, but that's only one of the many ways to archive your data. You can also copy to a second hard drive or other storage device or even back up your data over the network. However, the method is not nearly as important as remembering to do it, or at least scheduling the system to do it on a regular basis (see the sidebar How to Automate Backups).

Operating System Backups

Most of you who have read my previous columns will know I'm a Linux LiveCD junkie (www.linuxworld.com/story/45259.htm); Linux LiveCDs can be very valuable when backing up your operating system. One method for creating backups is to use the handy dandy Knoppix CD (www.knoppix.org) and then do a complete disk copy to an extra hard drive (see Figure 1). Now this is not the fastest way to do things, but it catches everything on my hard drive (including all my data) and it's very easy to verify the contents of the backup. In this scenario I'm going to use the example of a PC with two hard drives. The first hard drive will be where your operating system resides and the second hard drive is where we will store your data. Not everyone will have a second hard drive but in these days of cheap storage it's not cost prohibitive to have a second internal or an external hard drive. For a 60GB hard drive there are many options well under $100. Since you don't have to invest in backup software with these techniques, you'll most likely have the extra cash.

How to Back Up Your Hard Drive Using Knoppix

You can create backups of your hard drive in a variety of ways; however, copying the entire contents of one local drive to another can create the most thorough backup. To start, boot your computer using your Knoppix CD. You should see both hard drives on your desktop and if you open your shell you can sudo su to gain root (super-user) access. You can also discern which drives are which by their contents, which should be browsable using the Konqueror file manager. Make sure that once you have discerned which hard drive is which by browsing them that you unmount them so you can copy one drive to another. One drive is likely to be /dev/hda and the other is probably /dev/hdb. You may need to research them a little more thoroughly to be sure. To copy one drive to another simply type the following command:

dd if=/dev/hda of=/dev/hdb

Imaging Your Drive from Another Server

You may not have room for a hard-drive image on your local machine and may choose to keep it on a server so that you can migrate it to newer hardware or use it for other PCs in your enterprise. Once again you can use the same dd command in conjunction with a variety of remote access protocols to reimage your disk. While I have done this a few times, I defer to an expert on this topic, J.H. Moore, who has put together an excellent how-to at www.okmoore.com/imagedrive.html, mirrored at knoppix.net/docs/index.php/ImageYourHardDriveUsingKnoppix.

Give Your Hard Drive a KickStart

Inevitably you'll have to reinstall your operating system on your desktop Linux PC; in a larger environment you may have to do it for many machines. Part of a good disaster plan is a fast recovery, that's why you may want to use Red Hat's KickStart to automate the reinstall or even the initial reinstall of systems. The process is to build one PC that has your preferred configuration (this is called the build machine), then use that template to "kick off" additional installs. This automates the installs and minimizes human interference (and consequent mistakes). This is a good measure for fixing failed machines because you basically maintain one master machine and then let it configure your additional PCs painlessly. This tool was designed for use with Red Hat Linux, but many people have hacked it for other distributions. A search on Google for "Kickstart Linux" will yield a bounty of information on the subject. For more information, check out the Kickstart (listman.redhat.com/archives/kickstart-list/) mailing list as it's a good place to ask questions and get ideas on what other Linux users are doing with this tool.

Other Tips and Tricks

Backups are obviously essential to recover from a desktop disaster, but here are some tips to prevent you from having to use your backups or fix your installation before you resort to a restore of your system.

Protecting Files: Making Data Read Only

Sometimes we have data that we store but never alter. In those cases it could be advantageous to make the data read only so it doesn't get overwritten or deleted. You can make your data read only by using Linux permissions. Every file and device on the system is controlled by permissions, and before a file is executed, written, or read there it checks to make sure that that action is allowed.

Users and Groups

Every process on a Linux system is executed by a user from the super-user root to a user with restricted permissions, so he or she can't compromise other parts of the operating system; in my case, this user is mrhinkle. Each of these users is part of one or more groups, which makes it easier to share resources and still enforce permissions. All information about users and groups is kept in /etc/passwd and /etc/group/. Now if you do have data and you don't write it often, or maybe it's just an archived copy of a presentation, you could change the permissions for the files to be "read only." That way it's harder, but not impossible, to be overwritten or deleted. Do this by using the chmod command. Chmod sets permissions for a file. The syntax is typically chmod ### file where ### are the permissions for owner, group, and all other users. For fields that I don't want to get overwritten I occasionally set that number to 444, where the four indicates read only.

In the example below I've created the file example.txt using the vi editor. Once I created the file I used chmod to set the files to read only so that I don't overwrite the data there. Notice that when I try to remove the file I also get warned. This isn't a foolproof method and I could have answered "y" to the rm dialog and the file would be deleted, but the warning should help me to think twice before I edit the file.

[email protected]:~> vi example.txt
[email protected]:~> chmod 444 example.txt
[email protected]:~> rm example.txt
rm: remove write-protected regular file `example.txt'? n

You may also want to be extra cautious and have the files owned by another user with just read-only attributes. For example, if I normally work as mrhinkle, I could have the files owned by root. That way, the only way I could delete them would be if I was logged in as root. You may even want to create an archive user, then use the shown command to "change owner" to archive. Keep in mind that to do this you must have permissions for that file so it's easily done as the root user. The syntax for this would be:

[email protected]:~> chown archive example.txt

Keep in mind that I first created the user archive, then changed the ownership of my files.

Creating a Boot Floppy

Most distributions offer various utilities for creating a boot floppy in case a misapplied kernel update or other disaster strikes. If you want to find out how to make your own, you can try this method. It takes your kernel image and copies it to a floppy disk.

Step 1: Find the Kernel

For the most part, your kernel is usually going to be in /vmlinuz or /boot/vmlinuz (on my SuSE 9.1 installation it's /boot/vmlinuz). This is a soft link to my kernel, which is vmlinuz-2.6.5-7.95-smp.

Step 2: Copy the Kernel to a Floppy

You can do this by copying the kernel image to your floppy; in most cases this will be /dev/fd0.

dd if=/vmlinuz of=/dev/fd0

Step 3: Set the kernel image on the floppy to the location of your root system.

rdev /dev/fd0 /dev/hda7

Your root filesystem may be some-where other than "/dev/hda7". You might find that your Linux installation is somewhere other than "/dev/hda7". I found out where my Linux installation was by changing to the root user and using the fdisk utility tool, and listed my partition table.

SIDEBAR 1

Simple Backup Script

Most of us are used to our point-and-click environments, but sometimes it's easier to use the command line. However, if you're like me, you forget the syntax to the commands and make mistakes that cause the commands to become troublesome. That's why I took a little time to find a simple script to help you create a compressed archive directory complete with date. It also requires that you write a shell script. I chose to write the following script I called "arcive":

Step 1: In your favorite text editor type the following three lines:

#!/bin/sh
tar czvf $1.$(date +%Y%m%d).tgz $1
exit $?

Step 2: Save the file and make sure it's executable. I saved my file and called it arcive. (Since I have some other files called archive I decided to change the spelling so I wouldn't be confused. You could call it whatever you want.) I had to change the file to make it executable by using the chmod command:

chmod 755 arcive

Step 3: Now the easy part: I'm going to make a backup of my Firefox Web browser folder so I can preserve all my bookmarks and plug-ins as well as copy them to another test PC. The format for doing this is to simply enter:

./arcive directory_name

where directory name is the name of the directory you want to archive. Since I archived a directory called Firefox I got the following result:

firefox.20040712.tgz

Notice that the name has the date (July 12, 2004) in it so I can easily track when I made the backup. This is a simple script that I find very useful as a noncommand-line guy; it makes it easy to archive directories.

SIDEBAR 2

How to Automate Backups

There are as many ways to back up your data as there are types of data. Here's a quick way to back up your data that's mirrored in the exact same format that it's stored in your home directory. Keep in mind, this is from a command-line interface. You'll be using two commands: rsynch and crontab. They're probably installed on your system already, but if not you may want to use Google to search for more information on their installation and use.

Rsynch is used to synchronize with files at another location. In this simple example, we'll be synching to another directory on the hard drive. In this example I will be synching my data from my /home/mrhinkle/data/ directory to a drive I have mounted at /mnt/backups/.

Cron is a daemon that executes scheduled commands. In this case, we're using it to schedule backups, but you could use it to schedule the upload of files to a Web site, to archive mail, or for a variety of other tasks.

To start this exercise, type the following at a shell prompt:

crontab -e

then add a line in the format below. Keep in mind that the anatomy of a cron file looks like this:

30 4 * * * rsync -a /home/mrhinkle/data/ /mnt/backups/
30 4 * * *

This is the line that indicates the time at which to run the commands further down the line. Remember that your PC needs to be turned on at this time for it to run. (This should be evident but sometimes we forget the basics when we enter new territory.) The first number is the minutes; the second the hour; the next three asterisks indicate day of the month, month of the year, and then the days of the week (acceptable values here are 0-6 with zero equal to Sunday through Saturday. I used the wildcard "*" to indicate every day of the month, month of the year, and day of the week).

rsync -a

This is the command. Run rsynch, which will copy the data from one directory to another and only synchronize the data that has changed since the last synch. In the case of this example I put all my data in one directory. Other things you may want to back up are bookmarks and browser settings. (I use Firefox so all my browser preferences are saved in /home/mrhinkle/.mozilla/.)

/home/mrhinkle/data/

This is the data I want to synchronize. In this case the data is stored in /home/mrhinkle/data/.

/mnt/backups/

This is the location I want to synchronize to. In a desktop PC this might be a second hard drive or ideally a remote file server to ensure additional redundancy. I have many different configurations so this is just an example. Once again, if this is a file system that must be mounted, make sure it's mounted at the time the cron job runs.

Once you have done this you'll want to check that your first couple of backups have run as you expected them to. Once you verify that your system is backed up regularly, you should have peace of mind that you could restore that data should the need arise. Also, it's good form to check from time to time that nothing has gone amiss.

Summary

To boil it all down, no matter how careful you are or how stable Linux is, chances are you will someday run into a "disastrous" crash and your only recourse will be to restore your system and data. That's why I recommend that data backups be the backbone of your disaster plan. Also, the preceding tips and tricks may be helpful in preventing a disaster. The bottom line is that I sincerely hope you never need to use the tactics outlined in this article, but if you follow these guidelines I think you'll find a Linux desktop crash won't be a disaster.

More Stories By Mark R. Hinkle

Mark Hinkle is the Senior Director, Open Soure Solutions at Citrix. He also is along-time open source expert and advocate. He is a co-founder of both the Open Source Management Consortium and the Desktop Linux Consortium. He has served as Editor-in-Chief for both LinuxWorld Magazine and Enterprise Open Source Magazine. Hinkle is also the author of the book, "Windows to Linux Business Desktop Migration" (Thomson, 2006). His blog on open source, technology, and new media can be found at http://www.socializedsoftware.com.

Comments (0)

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.


@ThingsExpo Stories
The IETF draft standard for M2M certificates is a security solution specifically designed for the demanding needs of IoT/M2M applications. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Brian Romansky, VP of Strategic Technology at TrustPoint Innovation, explained how M2M certificates can efficiently enable confidentiality, integrity, and authenticity on highly constrained devices.
In today's uber-connected, consumer-centric, cloud-enabled, insights-driven, multi-device, global world, the focus of solutions has shifted from the product that is sold to the person who is buying the product or service. Enterprises have rebranded their business around the consumers of their products. The buyer is the person and the focus is not on the offering. The person is connected through multiple devices, wearables, at home, on the road, and in multiple locations, sometimes simultaneously...
Basho Technologies has announced the latest release of Basho Riak TS, version 1.3. Riak TS is an enterprise-grade NoSQL database optimized for Internet of Things (IoT). The open source version enables developers to download the software for free and use it in production as well as make contributions to the code and develop applications around Riak TS. Enhancements to Riak TS make it quick, easy and cost-effective to spin up an instance to test new ideas and build IoT applications. In addition to...
Identity is in everything and customers are looking to their providers to ensure the security of their identities, transactions and data. With the increased reliance on cloud-based services, service providers must build security and trust into their offerings, adding value to customers and improving the user experience. Making identity, security and privacy easy for customers provides a unique advantage over the competition.
CenturyLink has announced that application server solutions from GENBAND are now available as part of CenturyLink’s Networx contracts. The General Services Administration (GSA)’s Networx program includes the largest telecommunications contract vehicles ever awarded by the federal government. CenturyLink recently secured an extension through spring 2020 of its offerings available to federal government agencies via GSA’s Networx Universal and Enterprise contracts. GENBAND’s EXPERiUS™ Application...
"We've discovered that after shows 80% if leads that people get, 80% of the conversations end up on the show floor, meaning people forget about it, people forget who they talk to, people forget that there are actual business opportunities to be had here so we try to help out and keep the conversations going," explained Jeff Mesnik, Founder and President of ContentMX, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 18th Cloud Expo, held June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY.
I wanted to gather all of my Internet of Things (IOT) blogs into a single blog (that I could later use with my University of San Francisco (USF) Big Data “MBA” course). However as I started to pull these blogs together, I realized that my IOT discussion lacked a vision; it lacked an end point towards which an organization could drive their IOT envisioning, proof of value, app dev, data engineering and data science efforts. And I think that the IOT end point is really quite simple…
Internet of @ThingsExpo, taking place November 1-3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, is co-located with the 19th International Cloud Expo and will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world and ThingsExpo Silicon Valley Call for Papers is now open.
You think you know what’s in your data. But do you? Most organizations are now aware of the business intelligence represented by their data. Data science stands to take this to a level you never thought of – literally. The techniques of data science, when used with the capabilities of Big Data technologies, can make connections you had not yet imagined, helping you discover new insights and ask new questions of your data. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Sarbjit Sarkaria, data science team lead ...
WebRTC is bringing significant change to the communications landscape that will bridge the worlds of web and telephony, making the Internet the new standard for communications. Cloud9 took the road less traveled and used WebRTC to create a downloadable enterprise-grade communications platform that is changing the communication dynamic in the financial sector. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Leo Papadopoulos, CTO of Cloud9, discussed the importance of WebRTC and how it enables companies to focus...
"My role is working with customers, helping them go through this digital transformation. I spend a lot of time talking to banks, big industries, manufacturers working through how they are integrating and transforming their IT platforms and moving them forward," explained William Morrish, General Manager Product Sales at Interoute, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 18th Cloud Expo, held June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY.
SYS-CON Events announced today that 910Telecom will exhibit at the 19th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Housed in the classic Denver Gas & Electric Building, 910 15th St., 910Telecom is a carrier-neutral telecom hotel located in the heart of Denver. Adjacent to CenturyLink, AT&T, and Denver Main, 910Telecom offers connectivity to all major carriers, Internet service providers, Internet backbones and ...
SYS-CON Events announced today that LeaseWeb USA, a cloud Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) provider, will exhibit at the 19th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. LeaseWeb is one of the world's largest hosting brands. The company helps customers define, develop and deploy IT infrastructure tailored to their exact business needs, by combining various kinds cloud solutions.
For basic one-to-one voice or video calling solutions, WebRTC has proven to be a very powerful technology. Although WebRTC’s core functionality is to provide secure, real-time p2p media streaming, leveraging native platform features and server-side components brings up new communication capabilities for web and native mobile applications, allowing for advanced multi-user use cases such as video broadcasting, conferencing, and media recording.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Venafi, the Immune System for the Internet™ and the leading provider of Next Generation Trust Protection, will exhibit at @DevOpsSummit at 19th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Venafi is the Immune System for the Internet™ that protects the foundation of all cybersecurity – cryptographic keys and digital certificates – so they can’t be misused by bad guys in attacks...
ReadyTalk has expanded the capabilities of the FoxDen collaboration platform announced late last year to include FoxDen Connect, an in-room video collaboration experience that launches with a single touch. With FoxDen Connect, users can now not only engage in HD video conferencing between iOS and Android mobile devices or Chrome browsers, but also set up in-person meeting rooms for video interactions. A host’s mobile device automatically recognizes the presence of a meeting room via beacon tech...
The cloud market growth today is largely in public clouds. While there is a lot of spend in IT departments in virtualization, these aren’t yet translating into a true “cloud” experience within the enterprise. What is stopping the growth of the “private cloud” market? In his general session at 18th Cloud Expo, Nara Rajagopalan, CEO of Accelerite, explored the challenges in deploying, managing, and getting adoption for a private cloud within an enterprise. What are the key differences between wh...
It’s 2016: buildings are smart, connected and the IoT is fundamentally altering how control and operating systems work and speak to each other. Platforms across the enterprise are networked via inexpensive sensors to collect massive amounts of data for analytics, information management, and insights that can be used to continuously improve operations. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Brian Chemel, Co-Founder and CTO of Digital Lumens, will explore: The benefits sensor-networked systems bring to ...
On Dice.com, the number of job postings asking for skill in Amazon Web Services increased 76 percent between June 2015 and June 2016. Salesforce.com saw its own skill mentions increase 37 percent, while DevOps and Cloud rose 35 percent and 28 percent, respectively. Even as they expand their presence in the cloud, companies are also looking for tech professionals who can manage projects, crunch data, and figure out how to make systems run more autonomously. Mentions of ‘data science’ as a skill ...
Manufacturers are embracing the Industrial Internet the same way consumers are leveraging Fitbits – to improve overall health and wellness. Both can provide consistent measurement, visibility, and suggest performance improvements customized to help reach goals. Fitbit users can view real-time data and make adjustments to increase their activity. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Mark Bernardo Professional Services Leader, Americas, at GE Digital, discussed how leveraging the Industrial Internet a...