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Jonas Bonér

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The last year I have been spending time finding the “ultimate” backup solution for Mac. I also have the requirement that it had to work equally good on Windows, since I am running both Windows and Mac. For example, I would like to be able to commit to my local SVN repository on my MacBook, type one single command to upload the changes (only the deltas) to my backup hosting, then invoke one single command on my Windows box to retrieve the latest changes so I can build and test it on Windows - and vice versa.

The different approaches that I have been playing with the last year are:

  • CD-RW
  • External HD with USB/FireWire connection (small portable to carry around).
  • Running a Linux server on a spare box (openssh, rsync etc.).

Unfortunately, none of these alternatives really worked for me, each one had its problems.

I wanted the backup solution to have:

  1. Zero administration time, it should just work - on Windows and Mac.2. 24/7 uptime.
  2. Fast connection.
  3. Secure connection.
  4. No cables or other hardware to carry around.

Then I found Amazon S3.

It is inexpensive:

  • Pay only for what you use. There is no minimum fee, and no start-up cost.
  • $0.15 per GB-Month of storage used.
  • $0.20 per GB of data transferred.

It has a fairly rich API:

  • Write, read, and delete objects containing from 1 byte to 5 gigabytes of data each. The number of objects you can store is unlimited.
  • Each object is stored and retrieved via a unique, developer-assigned key.
  • Authentication mechanisms are provided to ensure that data is kept secure from unauthorized access. Objects can be made private or public, and rights can be granted to specific users.
  • Uses standards-based REST and SOAP interfaces designed to work with any Internet-development toolkit.
  • Built to be flexible so that protocol or functional layers can easily be added. Default download protocol is HTTP. A BitTorrent(TM) protocol interface is provided to lower costs for high-scale distribution. Additional interfaces will be added in the future.

Great stuff, seemed to do what I needed. So far so good. But then the next problem - how to find a usable S3 client that:

  • Worked equally good on Mac an on Windows.
  • Could be run in command mode (so I could schedule it with cron).
  • Detected updated and new files - e.g. did not just shovel everything up to the server.

After X hours trying out different (bad and worse) clients I found jetS3t - which actually seemed very usable. It is a Java based application, that has two apps in one:

  • Cockpit: a Swing GUI program that is fairly easy to configure. It supports drag and drop, detects new and updated files, keeps the original file name and path (more important than you think), compresses (gzip) files, encrypts them etc. Read the documentation for more details. It also has a Java applet that you can use if you want to download some files to a computer that does not have Cockpit installed: http://jets3t.s3.amazonaws.com/index.html.

  • Synchronize: a command line tool that has the same functionality as Cockpit but runs in headless mode. This is great if you want to schedule backups (using cron or similar) or just want a simple - single command - way of synching up the data.

Good stuff. Perhaps not ultimate, but I am happy for now.

Another thing that I have found very useful in S3 is the possibility of creating public URLs or Torrents that can be made available for a specific amount of time. This is very useful if you want to share files with friends. We even use this feature at Terracotta to host the distribution of our downloads.

Thoughts? Can it be improved?


Update: Geert Bevin pointed me to the js3tream project. It plays nicely with standard shell tools such as tar, gzip, piping etc.:

tar -C / -czpO /etc | java -jar js3tream.jar -K mykey.txt \
-b mybucket:etc.tgz -i -t "An archive of my /etc directory"

According to Geert it is working fine. I have to try it out.