Storage/Backup Solutions

I’ve been working a lot on storage and backup recently. Maybe I’ve gone a bit overkill, but I thought I’d document some of it here.

First, I had written of the Linksys NSLU2 (aka “”Slug”) before, here. That has been up and running really well. I have all the PC’s and MACs in the house rsync to it nightly, and then the Slug has a 2nd drive that synch’s nightly as well. And then I have a 3rd drive off site that I bring in once a month or so to keep up to date.

One issue with this solution is that my drives are all 160 GB and I’m now 70% full. The slug will handle any size drive(s) so that is not an issue, but it would be a bit of a pain and hard work to set up again. But at some point I will do that. I may just buy a new slug and 3 new drives… I haven’t decided yet!

Another issue is that the Mac’s HD was full. I set up an “archive” section on the slug so that we could off-load files manually to the archive and remove them from the mac. That’s fine, but see the point above about my slug drives being too small. :-/

We also archived a bunch of stuff off to CD’s and DVD’s, and keep two copies, one on-site and one off-site. But with many of the recent reviews saying expect 2 – 3 years out of these, that’s a bit scary. Granted, that is with the lower end products, but even if you buy the higher end, name brand CDs/DVDs, how much longer can you really expect? It may be better to just have two large HD’s, one on-site and one off-site, than keep all the CDs/DVDs…

In addition to all that, I’ve been looking at some of the on-line storage and backup solutions. I would never keep my only copy of valuable data at these places, so it’s only one piece of the puzzle. I’ve played with 3 such services and will write mini-reviews in my next few posts.

rss2email


rss2email
is a handy little program that I started using for all of my RSS/Atom feeds. I had been using Thunderbird, but it was a pain (not possible!) to keep feeds sync’d across different computers. I’m so used to imap for mail, which keeps everything sync’d, that feeds were a real problem.

rss2email is very simple to install and set up. It basically polls the feed site for new articles, and emails them to you if there are new ones. I ran rss2email on my old FreeBSD box for a few weeks, and then moved it to my new Debian box. Debian has a package so it is really easy, though I found that when I need to updated one of the components, I had to do that manually.

Basically all you need to do is “r2e add [email]>” where feed is the URL to the RSS or Atom feed, and email is option. I use email with something like “sean+RSS.” so that I get automatic filtering into imap folders… The “+” is a feature of postfix that is very nice. Then you need to use “r2e run,” to scan for new posts. I have this running in a cron job every 15 or 30 minutes.

Anyway, now all my RSS feeds go to my email, so no matter what computer I’m using, I’m in sync.

The only real drawback is that some feeds only give a link to the post. Thunderbird feed reader was smart enough to just load it in to the client window. But since the link is now in an email, thunderbird does not load the link. Not a big deal, and in someways this is more efficient as I don’t open every article.

/Sean

LinkSys NSLU2 (slug)

slug.jpg

I picked this device up for about $90, and quickly flashed the firmware with Unslung, which basically means I have my own cheap little linux box now. You can read more here:

http://www.nslu2-linux.org/

So far I have my Slug doing the following:

  • pc’s and macs in the house rsync to it on a daily basis to back up all important files
  • I have the primary drive mirror to the secondary drive on a nightly basis
  • I run an FTP server on it for some docs, so I can get to them from wherever
  • I run OpenSSH on it, so I can access it from wherever.
  • I run an mt-daapd server on it, which is an “iTunes” server. Basically anyone that runs iTunes in my house on my subnet will see the “Slug Music” server in the list of shared libraries.
  • I run both SMB and NFS on it so the devices can mount it directly, not just via rsync.
  • There’s a lot more that it can do — bascially just about anything a linux box can do. The Unslung version is based on the Linksys firmware and has about 500-600 packages built for it, though I found that most take some tweaking to get to work right. I was tempted to do a debian install, but they don’t have a binary flash pre-built — you have to build your own. And that’s more work than I was interested in taking on right now! At 1st I was tempted to move more to it, such as my web server, or at least portions of it, but I’ve decided to use a real server for that kind of thing, at a real colo. 🙂

Home Network

I think things may be getting out of control. I have way too many devices and too many wires for my home network. At least I recently bought a shelf and moved it all out of a small cabinet, where it was getting too hot and way to cramped to work. Any time I needed to add a new cable for a new device, it was a nightmare trying to figure it all out. So I moved it all out and used velcro bands and twisties to keep the cables as short as possible. It’s still somewhat of a mess wire wise, and it would be good to get several 1′ and 2′ etherent cables.

Here’s a quick picture I took with my new logitech quickcam fusioin that I use for web conferencing/video chat:

home_network.jpg

And descriptions for each device:

  • Far Left on the floor: Belkin UPS with AVR
  • Top, hanging on wall: Another UPS, this one APC, with a USB into the PC for graceful shutdown.

Top shelf starting on left:

  • 160 GB USB 2.0 / Firewire external driveShared backup storage for various computers around the house. I built this by buying a cheap case and a simple IDE drive.
  • NetGear Wirless access point Used to get wireless signal to the rest of the house.
  • IOGear KVMP I use this to share one keyboard and mouse between the two main computers, my shuttle (see below) and my work thinkpad (not shown, it’s on the desk). I run the video direct from each computer to two monitors, so I’m not sharing the video. I do sometimes add a 3rd PC for short term work, in which cases I will share video on one of the monitors. This device also lets me share 2 USB peripherals.
  • Shuttle PC I built this a while back, runs mostly windows though does have debian on a partition. Had some problems buidling it, with voltage regulaters being replaced by shuttle once, and then having the motherboard completely replaced to fix some weird problems. Runs great now though the firewire ports seem to have a short. :-/

Bottom shelf starting on left:

  • NetGear 8 port Fast Ethernet switchSo that all my ethernet devices can talk to each other and get to the Net.
  • LinkSys Vonage RouterThis gives me a VoIP phone from Vonage, which works great. I do all my long distance and work calls from this phone now, for a low monthly flat fee. It has a WAN port that goes the DSL router and then an Ethernet port runs to the switch.
  • Sprint (Zyxel) DSL routerTo get to the Internet. It’s a bummer, but when I put this into briding mode instead of routing mode, so that my vonage router got the WAN IP, I lost the ability to run mrtg from my Internet server to my home network to monitor bandwidth usage, as the vonage box doesn’t support that. At some point I would like to solve that problem.

At least there’s a little more space. I’d like to add another shuttle type (small form factor) PC to run linux on, and I recently ordered a LinkSys NSLU2, which I will run linux on instead of the standard linksys firmware. Once you put linux on these, affectionaly known as slugs, the skies the limit. I plan to run an itunes music server, and ftp server, ssh, etc. I won’t move my things that need more stability that DSL here, such as my web server, mail server, etc. And then I’ll need at least one more, if not two, USB 2.0 hard drives to connect to the slug. So at that point I pretty much will be out of space.

What needs to happen is all these home devices need to be standardized to fit in a small home sized rack. 🙂

IOGEAR KVMP and wireless keyboard/mouse combp

In my quest to clean up my desk top at home, I’ve done several things. I started using both my work laptop and home PC at the same time. All things that need a VPN connection (work email, intranet web browsing, SSH to various internal hosts, etc.) are done via the laptop while everything else (IM, web browsing, personal email, music) are done via the home PC. I recently wrote about synergy which allows me to use a single keyboard and mouse to control the two PC’s, and while I’ve had some issues with that and had to go with a hardware KVMP to supplement the software KM synergy, it has worked fairly well.

The KVMP I got is the IOGEAR GCS1734:

gkm521r.jpg

It’s alot fancier than some on the market but what drew me to it was the fact that it allows you to share USB peripherals (thus the “P”). Once I switched from SSH tunnels on my work laptop to VPN, I lost the ability to do anything on my local home network, including printing via a shared printer, without quiting the VPN. But with the USB printer plugged into the KVMP, I can switch it over to my work laptop and print. I also think I will do this with an external drive at some point.

I’m actually using the KVMP as a KMP — no video switching. I’m using two screens for the two computers. This is a four port unit though I’m only using two now, but I like the upgrade option if I ever add a home linux server or even a mac mini. 🙂 The unit comes with four cables that include audio, video (vga), and the USB connection, so you can also share audio between multiple PC’s to one set of speakers, though I’m not doing that now.

Overall the unit is pretty nice, but I was using a 5 or 6 year old keyboard and mouse that came with an old Aptiva. So I thought I’d upgrade and I thought wireless may work well in order to continue the clean up. I first tried a wireless Microsoft comfort keyboard/mouse combo, and was fairly happy with it. It did have a lot of extraneous keys that I’d never use, but I really liked the slight curvature of the keyboard. Not quite as radical as a fully ergonomic keyboard, but just a nice curve to keep the wrists at good angles.

Alas, the microsoft keyboard did not work at all with the h/w KVMP. After some research it turns out that almost no wireless keyboard/mouse combos work with any KVM’s — or at least they are not supported. So if it does work, you are kind of lucky.

IOGEAR told me that they have a wireless keyboard/mouse combo, the GKM521R, that would work with their KVMP. I picked it up for about $10 after rebates from Amazon! Overall it does work fairly well, but you do lose the keyboard control of volume, being able to open up web, mail, or the calculater from a single button, etc.

What is nice about using the IOGEAR keyboard with their KVMP is that the hot keys do work. So I can hit “scrl-lock, scrl-lock, #, enter” to switch to the PC on port #. Or if you just want to swtich the key board and mouse, and not the USB peripherals, hit “scrl-lock, scrl-lock, #, k, enter.”

At first I was not crazy about the tactile feedback of the IOGEAR compared to the microsoft unit or my very old keyboard, but it has grown on me. However, the backspace key is too small — a normal sized key instead of a double key, and that has been hard for me to get used to. In addition, the Enter key is quite large, and I often hit it when I’m trying to use the pipe “|” key. Another thing that drives me crazy is the mouse uses rechargable batteries, and I have not yet gotten used to charging it, so it often dies on me.

I may switch to an MSFT comfort curve wired keyboard at some point, though I’m told some of the keys like volume control, open calculater, etc., won’t work as the KVMP is an emualted one, not a non-emulated one. Sigh. A couple of wires aren’t going to kill me.

Synergy

Synergy is a pretty neat little software utility that acts as a “KM” switch, where K = Keyboard and M = Mouse. Normally folks use hardware KVM switches to control two or more computers using one keyboard, mouse, and video display. In this case, software is used to control two PC’s each with their own video head.

My set up is a bit strange so it’s not quite as stable as I’d like, so I do have a traditional HW KVM (I’ll review what I have sometime soon) for those times when synergy fails. What is difficult in my situation is that one of my stations is VPN’d in for work, while the other is a home PC. Since I don’t have a static IP for my DSL connection, I 1st had to setup dyndns so that my IP is findable via DNS. I then had to set up a port forward for synergy on my router to always send the synergy port to my PC that acts as the server. Then my VPN’d box is a client of the server, and uses the dyndns host name to reach it.

The reason this is a bit flaky is that all the packets that go back and forth are now going across the Internet to my VPN end point rather than just on the local network. Or if I’m not VPN’d in and don’t change the synergy configuration, the packets are still not passed locally.

About 80% of the time this works fine. Every once in a while it gets a little slow when working on the VPN box, and then every once in a while it fails totally. So I do have the hardware switch I can use.

Overall, though, I think synergy is great! I wish I could be VPN’d in and have the synergy packets flow locally, but that is not possible with our VPN s/w.

One thing that is great about a s/w KM vs. a h/w version is that you can actually cut and paste between PC’s!