CrashPlan Comes Through

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Just a quick article to sing the praises of CrashPlan. Greg recently posted a comment asking if I still use CrashPlan on my WHS 2011 box. I do. I also had two recent occurrences where CrashPlan features came through to help me out.

First, my iTunes sync to my iPhone started reporting sync issues due to missing music files. A little research showed it was individual songs from a few different albums and they were deleted around the time I was trying out iTunes Match back in June. I was able to use CrashPlan to restore the missing music files. Even though they were deleted from the computer CrashPlan keeps them around forever (or until I stop paying the bill).

Second, both my Cloudberry backup to Amazon S3 and the CrashPlan backup stopped working around the same time. After two days CrashPlan sent me an alert email because there weren’t any recent backups. Since Cloudberry didn’t have a hard error there wasn’t an alert. While not doing a backup isn’t good, at least Cloudberry caught the problem. For the record – simply restarting both backup jobs resolved the issue. I suspect the problems were related to thunderstorms that rolled through around the times the problem occurred.

CrashPlan is having a back to school sale through Sept 8th and are offering 20% off 1 and 2 year plans. Unfortunately (for me) it appears to be for new accounts only.

World Backup Day

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Backup Logo - Laptops connected to backupIt’s world backup day. I was surprised to find it’s not a creation of a greeting card company or some other commercial entity. Even so, businesses have latched on with promotions on backup related products. According to CNet World Backup Day was created by:

…Ismail Jadun, a biology student from Youngstown State in Ohio who saw the need for it after reading comments on the lack of backup awareness on social news site Reddit.

There are several offers and links to backup how to articles on their site. But the unbeatable offer I saw cam through my email –  50% off Cloudberry Backup for Windows Home Server. It’s $14.99 through April 7, 2012. I use Cloudberry to create my critical backups. I do hourly backups of my critical data to Amazon S3 (Amazon S3 costs are additional) and then nightly backups of everything to a local NAS. In the past I’ve done backups to attached external drives.

I also use CrashPlan as a safety offsite backup. They don’t seem to be offering any discounts today (just a free e-book with sign-up) but they are relatively inexpensive if you have a lot of data you want to store offsite. They do have special offers occasionally which is how I signed up. Data caps and slow upload speeds limit its use for massive amounts of data, which is one way they get away with an unlimited data plan.

I guess the concept of World Backup Day is a good way to remind people, but backups should be a every day occurrence.

CrashPlan Upgrades to 3.2

Backup Logo - Laptops connected to backupCrashPlan has upgrades to version 3.2. The details are here. There’s some new features of course, although none that I’ll be using. There’s also a few bugfixes:

  • Real-time file watcher now works properly on Linux installations with 3.x series kernels
  • Attaching an archive no longer adversely affects existing archive.
  • Setting up a backup to an attached drive no longer redirects to the local install path of CrashPlan.

None of those bugs bit me.

I run CrashPlan on Windows Home Server 2011 and Crashplan updated itself about 1AM this morning, shortly before it’s scheduled backup start time at 2AM. Not sure if that was coincidence or intentional preparation.

I like how CrashPlan has been “basically set it and forget it”. I have it set to send me an alert if no backup occurs in 2 days. Even though CrashPlan is a safety backup of stuff already backed up,  I don’t want the surprise of finding out I need it and there hasn’t been a backup in 3 months.

I haven’t given a status in awhile. I’m up to 363 GB stored with them. That’s more than Comcast’s data cap (250 GB) will allow me to restore in a month so if disaster strikes I’ll either need a couple months or some fast talking. So I haven’t been looking to add much more to the backup beyond changes of current selections.

CrashPlan is still on my recommended list for WHS backups, even if it’s not officially supported. CrashPlan related articles are here.

Backup Review

Backup Logo - Laptops connected to backupAs the year draws to a close it’s a good time to review my backup strategy and do a few test restores. My last backup review was in November of 2010. My overall philosophy hasn’t changed from last year – a file needs to exist in three places, two of them geographically separated. In addition, the backup has to be automatic since I’m lazy and forgetful. As for testing the restores it’s fairly simple. I restore some files from the oldest backups, some from the newest backups and some in between and compare them to the live files. I don’t restore everything and don’t do any full system restores. Now on to the strategy and tools used.

All my data is kept on my Windows Home Server so my backup strategy is centered around it. And yea, many would probably consider it a bit overboard since I go way above the three file rule for the important stuff.

Windows Home Server Backups

Cloudberry Backup for Windows Home Server

I’ve been using the Cloudberry WHS add-in for most of the year and it’s served me well. I have 7 backup plans configured and they back up to 6 destinations. In total, I’m currently backing up a tad under 6 TB of data on the Windows Home Server with all of that 6 TB going to at least two different locations.

The important stuff gets backed up every hour to Amazon S3. This currently totals 13.6 GB of data which include versions going back a month. I also keep deleted files for 10 days before they’re purged. I do compress and encrypt the data that goes to S3. I compress because I pay for bandwidth/space and I encrypt since it’s in the cloud. This means I need to use Cloudberry to do any restores. Cloudberry does support server-side encryption in Amazon S3 but I do the encryption using my own key within the Cloudberry software before it leaves my PC. Cloudberry just added Real-time data protection (a.k.a. continuous backup) which I’m currently testing instead of hourly. I haven’t used it enough to decide whether to use it instead of the hourly schedule.

My Windows Home Server has four data drives and also four data backup drives. So there’s a Cloudberry backup plan for each data drive/backup drive pair. I use the drive level backup (rather than share level) option to select the files for backup. For each data drive I select the “Server Folders” directory on the drive and backup everything it contains. This avoids the recycle bin, shadow copies and other non-data files. These run once a night about an hour apart and everything gets backed up. Since alls the drives are local SATA or eSATA the backup is pretty quick. The initial backups did take awhile, especially since the MicroServers aren’t speed demons.

I have a second server in the house that’s currently running Windows Server 2008. The hardware was my original WHS 2011 hardware but at this point I haven’t repurposed it so it runs Windows Server 2008 and serves as a backup destination, I power it up every weekend and manually trigger the backups. There are two backup plans setup but they go to the same file share on the server. There’s one plan for Video and there’s another plan for everything else. The main reason for two plans is a hold over from the days when I was backing up a lot of video. The “Everything Else” backup typically takes longer since it goes through hundreds of thousands of files and backs up tens of thousands although the total data is relatively small.

I don’t compress or encrypt any of the local backups. I can go directly to the file system and pull out the files if I need them although I do need the software if I want to more easily find versions or maintain the file structure.

CrashPlan Backup

I recently began using CrashPlan for additional offsite backup. It’s an economical way to store a lot of data offsite. It doesn’t officially support WHS but it’s been working well. I’ve had a couple occasions where it stopped doing backups and I had to cycle the service on the server. But the test restores have been fine. Now that the initial backups are done I’ve limited the backups to between 2AM and 7AM every day and I’ve throttled the bandwidth. I currently backup everything except video.  I’m currently backing up 288 GB to CrashPlan. The problem with that amount of data is my bandwidth cap of 250 GB. So if I ever need to do a full restore I’ll either need to wait two months or have them send me the data on a drive.

Windows Home Server Native Backup

I have an external drive attached and use the WHS native backup to save the files needed for a OS recovery. My testing doesn’t include a OS restore although it did work way back when I needed it. Worst case is an OS and add-in re-install then restore the data.

Sneakernet Offsite

As part of my offsite backups I have two 2 TB drives that I rotate offsite. Every week I bring one to my office desk drawer and bring the other home. The drive at home is attached to my Windows 7 PC and every night a batch files runs Robocopy to update the drive with everything that’s not a video file. This drive is encrypted (Truecrypt) so I don’t have to worry if it’s stolen from my desk.

Backup Shortcomings

There’s no offsite backup for my videos. I have two backups in the house along with the original source disks but if the worst happens to the house there’s nothing off site. I figure I’d have more to worry about than the videos and that is what insurance is for. I used to keep copies of the ripped videos on drives offsite but that became a hassle to keep updated as the number of drives grew. Especially since I tended to use old, retired 1 TB or smaller drives.

I need the software (CrashPlan or Cloudberry) to do a restore. Being able to pick a file from the local backups can work in a pinch but that would be an exception. In the past I used to keep the same shares on another server and do a share to share robocopy every night. In theory this made it easy to quickly switch to the new server. Now that I have several Micro Servers I’ve approached a hardware failure by already having a duplicate of anything in house and I can swap hardware around and restore any lost files. Actually, I don’t have duplicates of some of hardware used for backups, but as there’s redundancy across the backups I figure I can lose updates to one while I wait for a new part. Of course, the failure will come at the worst time.

Windows PC & Virtual Machine Backups

This is simple. I use Windows Home Server 2011 backup  to backup my Windows 7 PCs and virtual machines. As I said, data is on the Windows Home Server itself so there’s not really much data to back up. To keep backups small I exclude the Virtual Machine disk files from backup. For testing I just went in and pulled a couple files out of the backup, I didn’t do a full restore.

In 2010 I used Jungle Disk for to do some Offsite Windows backups but I no longer use it. I don’t do any backups directly from a Windows PC to any offsite destination. Everything goes to WHS.

Mac Mini Backups

For my Mac Mini (Desktop) I use SuperDuper to clone the hard drive every night. This gives me a disk I can boot from should my Mini’s drive fail. I also use Time Machine to back things up. Time Machine is a hold over from when I kept local data on the Mac. It’s useful should I need to recover an old configuration file so I keep it.

I also run Arc Backup on the Mini to backup files to Amazon S3. I back up my application support folder along with my Documents folder (which is mostly empty). I have Arq Backup limited to $1/mth in Amazon charges which limits it to over 10 GB although it’s still only using 2.9 GB

In 2010 I used Jungle Disk to do my offsite Mac backups but didn’t like the direction the software was taking. Plus it didn’t support Amazon Reduced Redundancy Storage which would increase my costs.

MacBook Air Backups

I have a Seagate Portable drive I attach when I’m home and do a Time Machine backup to it. I’ll also pack it if I’ll be traveling for a few days but it typically stays home for short trips. I do use the encryption feature of time machine in case the drive gets lost.

I also use Arq Backup on the Air and it’s also limited to $1/mth (or 10.75 GB). Because it’s a laptop so does have more files locally, at least at times, there’s currently 3.9 GB stored on Amazon S3. I limit the backups to data files and a few configuration files. This is useful if I’m traveling since it moves the files far from the laptop.

Amazon S3

Amason S3 pricing isn’t the most straightforward because there are charges for bandwidth and other operations in addition to space used. My total Amazon S3 charge for November was $3.52 and this is pretty standard although down a bit from September and October when it was $4. The November charge was $1.81 for the storage and $1.71 for those other charge, I use the Amazon Reduced Redundancy Storage option to keep costs down. I’m saving a total of 19 GB with Amazon S3. Amazon does offer Free Usage Tier which is not included in my prices as it’s only good for a year.

Summary

My Windows Home Server backup software of choice is Cloudberry since it’s so flexible. It’s gotten new features since I started using it and while I don’t use them all it’s nice to see the software gets continual care. CrashPlan is my choice if there’s a requirement to store a lot of files in the cloud. CrashPlan is a bit less flexible when it comes to local sources but it is a better choice if you want more offsite flexibility.

Arq Backup is my choice for Mac backups and replace Jungle Disk. In addition to a feature set I prefer, Arq backup does an excellent job of handling file attributes and file bundles that are common on the Mac platform.

Are you sure your backups work? You do backups, right?

 

The OS Quest Trail Log #66: Slow Month Edition

Image of a giy coming out of a computer screenIt was another slow month on the quest as real life tended to intrude and some best laid plans went bad.

Home Cloud

I had been working on setting up remote access to multiple servers through pfSense and thought I had things worked out. I’d even posted the introductory article. Then two things happened. First, a IP address change for my cable modem didn’t make it’s way to updating DNS. My previous testing had been to force an address change which required restarting the modem and changing its spoofed mac address. So in other words, a hardware reset and configuration change. This time the routing ip address change was detected, but failed to make it’s way to the DNS records. So I made some config changes but will have to wait until Comcast changes my IP again so I can see if it helps.

The second item was a comment by Jared that turned on a light bulb. He mentioned about using layer 7 for the routing which is something pfSense can’t do. But, I also have Untangle and had used it as a router in the past. The light bulb went off because Untangle works on Layer 7 so should be able to route based upon the destination address. So I’ll be looking at switching back the Untangle again if it can doe this without having to do port mapping which will greatly simplify things.

This is one of those times I wished I had built the router on a VM and could just fire up different virtual machines for testing. But the MicroServers are the next best thing since I can just swap out hard drives for my testing purposed and not lose the old configuration.

Further complicating things was the death of my version 1 Windows Home Server. It wasn’t unexpected and in fact the server had been replaced, just not stripped for parts. The problem presents as a bad hard drive but if history repeats itself it will be another bad sata port on the motherboard. Not worth fixing so it’s time to yank the drives and reuse them. I’ll build another WHS V1 as a virtual machine for my testing purposes.

CrashPlan Backup Status

CrashPlan ran into it’s first hiccups this month. There was a day long network outage back on Nov 14th. In my case CrashPlan said it couldn’t connect long after they posted the issue was resolved. I went in and manually told it to connect and it immediately started backing up again.

I had a second issue where at exactly 1AM (my time) the backup stopped and CrashPlan wouldn’t connect. But this time I could connect to my account over the web so it wasn’t the same type of problem as before. A quick search of the CrashPlan website revealed and old technote on this problem with the solution being to restart the CrashPlan server or the entire PC. I opted for a server reboot and that did resolve the problem.

Since those outages I’ve also noticed that the top upload speed I see is generally slower. In the past I would frequently see it nearing it’s 2 Mbps upload ceiling (that I configured) where as now it hovers around 1 Mbps.  There could be any of a dozen other things affecting this speed but I do see speeds greater than 2 Mbps up when I test other transfers (like a file to my web server).

I haven’t soured on CrashPlan. It’s a low cost service $42/yr (after a discount) for unlimited backup. Test restores worked fine after these outages so it does appear this was a network problem and not a problem affecting data.

As for what’s backed up I’ve been hindered more by Comcast’s data caps than CrashPlan’s capacity. I’ve backed up 178.4 GB consisting of 231,297 files. At this point I’m trying to decide what else I want to back up, There’s no point in backing up my movies as they are so large it could take me years to back them up and stay below my cap. And if I ever had to restore them doing so online would also take years and I probably wouldn’t want to pay to have the hard drives shipped. Any sort of backup to a friends computer would have the same data cap issue so while that’s a nice feature the CrashPlan online solution seems more reliable, despite recent problems.

Holiday Tech Deals

I pretty much avoided any Black Friday/Cyber Monday deals. I didn’t see much that I wanted or see anything I knew was a good deal (as opposed to the merchant just promoting it as a good deal) and I could use. The one exception was a NewEgg deal for the HP MicroServer. At $250 it was a good deal and while I don’t need a sixth for my collection it was tempting. By the time I talked myself into taking a look at it they were sold out.

I did buy some discounted iTunes gift cards from Apple and Best Buy. I use them instead of a credit card both for safety and as a way to budget my expenses in an environment where it’s much too easy to buy things.

I do suspect we’ll see additional deals between now and Christmas so I’ll keep checking. Anyone see a good deal they’d recommend?

Domain Price Increases

If you own any domains be aware that the registry fee Verisign charges for .com domains will go up 51 cents (5%) and .net domains will go up 46 cents (10%) on January 15th. The increase is not retroactive so you can extend your registration at the current prices before that time. Whether your registrar increases their prices and by how much is up to them and can vary. I’m sure some will bump their prices by the percentage rather than the actual increase. You can register .com and .net domains for up to 10 years into the future and I’ve done that for this domain along with a couple others I know I’ll want to keep.

The Month Ahead

With the December holidays things are likely to be busy in the non-tech parts of life but I do have some vacation days during December which may make up for that lost time. I’ll be giving Untangle another try as a router to see if it can better handle the remote access. Beyond that we’ll see what pops up and catches my attention.

 

CrashPlan Update – Week 2

Backup Logo - Laptops connected to backupWell, not exactly week 2 due to a 5 day power outage but it feels like two weeks and it’s time for an update. I installed CrashPlan on Windows Home Server 2011 and have uploaded the first 70 GB to their online backup service. Upload speed has been good. I generally limited it’s bandwidth usage and it’s done a good job of staying near the  limit while not going over. When I opened it up it was likely affected more by my connection’s limitations than an throttling by CrashPlan. So no complaints there.

They can also backup to another PC, a friends PC (running CrashPlan) or a locally attached folder. I don’t think I’ll use anything other than their online storage. I like Cloudberry Backup better for backing up to other computers (on my network) and to local drives. Cloudberry will back up to a share and not need any software installed on the PC. Backing up to a friends computer with CrashPlan would require that computer to be online and for them to have CrashPlan installed. I’d still be using my bandwidth (and theirs) but not get much more reliability than cloud storage. One benefit that backing up to a friends computer has is the ability to seed the backup with a hard drive and then to get that hard drive back for a restore if needed at no cost. This would avoid the bandwidth of the first backup or a complete restore without the cost and time lost when sending them to CrashPlan. So these are definitely good features, just not ones I’m likely to use, at least not yet.

The idea of having PCs I support back up to my server is intriguing but my bandwidth caps makes me leery of becoming a data center.

Crashplan rescans the drives to verify backup selections at 3AM every day (configurable). This stops the backup for a short while but then the backup starts again with the refreshed file list. In my case this would refreh changes and put already backed up files before previously selected files were ever backed up. I kind of liked this since it meant backed up files were kept relatively fresh. On the downside it takes longer to ge at least one copy of all files up there. It’s only my observation that it seemed to refresh previously backed up files, it may not have been 100% consistent. For me the scan is taking about 10 minutes for 230,000 filet totaling about 70 GB.

The test restores worked fine. I was able to restore while files were still being backed up. With over 200,000 files backed up at the time, the files I selected were quickly restored to my desktop. The restore messages were a bit confusing which is my only complaint. The screenshot below is typical when a restore is finished:

CrashPlan Restore message

It says it’s unable to restore, yet the restore is already done. The rest of the restore options are pretty intuitive, The default options restore to the desktop and don’t overwrite any files which are pretty safe selections. Although in the case of a server I generally avoid filling up personal directories like the desktop since they are on the C: drive which is usually smaller than any other drive. Can’t really complain since this is desktop backup software, Just have to remember that large retores go to a drive with the space.

The backup also runs fine whether or not I’m logged on to the server (such as through RDP) without needing an hacks or workarounds.

CrashPlan does have an iOS app but it doesn’t support people like me who insist on our own encryption keys, so I haven’t tried that out.

I haven’t had any noticeable performance hit wile doing the backup. I generally limit the backup to uploading at 500 kbps when I’m home. This is about 1/4 of my rated upstream bandwidth, and about 1/3 what I usually see my upstream running at when under load and during peak net usage times (like after dinner when the entire neighborhood jumps on.) There hasn’t been any noticeable impact on streaming or file access when the backup runs. I also didn’t have any streaming issues when the nightly file scan ran.

I’ll be holding off adding any more files to my CrashPlan backup for a couple weeks. I figure I have about 100 GB of my Comcast cap that I can use for these backups in a normal month but want to wait awhile to make sure it’s a normal month. I’m already backing up the directories that typically change, so there will still be backups and I can see how CrashPlan handles versioning and deleted files.

The only negative is fairly obvious. Since CrashPlan doesn’t officially support Windows Home Server there’s no add-in. It’s necessary to remote desktop into the server (assuming it’s headless) and run the client. But that’s a relatively minor downside. I’m hesitant to trust my backups to software that isn’t officially support for the way I use it, but I haven’t read about any problems or encountered any myself. I’m confident enough that I turned off some offsite backups to S3 and I’ll trust those to CrashPlan. Not everything, the critical stuff goes to Amazon S3 too but is relatively small.

Update Dec 3rd: The latest CrashPlan update is included in Trail Log #66. A few hiccups bit going well.]

The OSQuest Trail Log #65: October Blizzard Edition

Picture of trees covered with October SnowAnd mother nature keeps right on attacking, Not content to wait until, winter officially starts mother nature decided to hit Connecticut with some nice, heavy snow clinging to all the picturesque October foliage. Eventually bringing much of that foliage, and the limbs it was on, crashing to the ground and bringing along power lines for good measure. I lost power on Saturday and just got it back Thursday, with cable/internet following on Friday. So I went through gadget withdrawal for a few days. The picture above is from Saturday afternoon after a couple hours of snow and before the trees started coming down. Luckily the ones around me missed cars and buildings. While not everyone was so lucky, I was pretty suprised by how many downed trees there were that managed to find open areas rather than other nearby targets. But on the the tech…

The highlight of the month for me was my first podcast as a guest on the Home Server Show podcast.

New Software

I installed CrashPlan backup on Windows Home Server, taking advantage of a discount offering unlimited online backup for $42/year instead of the normal $49. The backups been working well although I’d been hoping to get a bunch up there in October since I had plenty of space left in my cap this month, The power outage ruined that. It’s uploaded just over 54GB with about 15GB in the queue that started uploading once the internet came alive. But it’ll be later in November before I add much more. I want to avoid having to throttle myself by using too much early on. I figure I can do about 100GB a month and stay under my cap but want to play it safe.

I moved from using Untangle as both a router and unified threat manager (UTM) to using pfSense as a router but leaving Untangle as the UTM. I’ve been happy with the results and was just beginning to dig into some of the features during the snow-shortened weekend. I’ve started digging into pfSense a bit, more poking around than R & D. I also plan to do some testing to see if a caching proxy will reduce the bandwidth I use. I figure I need to make sure it will cache software and patches in order to make a dent in the bandwidth I use. (The cache in Untangle didn’t actually serve much from it’s cache when I tested it.)

Updated Software

It seems like everything I use was upgraded. But the highlights were…

I put Lion on my desktop Mac Mini only to find my upgrade fear imposed delay was unwarranted. Everything worked find with only a minor Synergy frustration due to Lion’s new feature where mouse movement doesn’t wake it. I’ve no plans to put Lion on anything besides this Mini and my Air. The other Macs have no reason to upgrade or the upgrade will remove features I use.

iOS is also updated to iOS5 of course. Despite some frustrations I managed to get both my iPhone 4 and iPad 2 upgraded. I’ve experienced shorter battery life for sure although no where near as bad as some complaints I read. I tend to keep things turned off and I hadn’t enabled much of iCloud. I saw the worst performance the days I was home and had a wireless connection. Despite typical usage the battery drained far faster than when I was in the office with wireless on but no network to connect to. No scientific test but typical usage each day. By 5PM at home the battery would be around 20% while usually above 50% in the office. But I just read Apple has an update in beta that’s supposed to help.

Not really software, but Google Reader saw an update. I use Google Reader on my computers (with the account being used by iPad apps). The timing was bad, the update came as I was grabbing some battery powered 3G access during the blackout so the last thing I wanted was change. I’ve trying to avoid hating it just because it’s different. I didn’t use any of the discontinued features so no complaints there. But I found it easy to blow through a bunch of articles and star ones I want to read later. That’s become a problem. Ignoring the performance problems (very uneven scrolling) the star isn’t in the same place in every post. It’s now at the end of the title, rather than the first things. And speaking of the titles, while it has a clean look the article titles blend right in. Sure the star at the bottom of the post is always at the very left, but it’s hard to find and I star based on title. I’ll be looking for a new desktop reader and use my iPad more to check through the feeds.

Google+

While I still maintain my status as the last human not on Facebook, I finally broke down and joined Google+ when they enabled it for Google Apps users. It wasn’t much later that I lost power so I don’t have much to say about it yet. I did find the Google+ iOS app doesn’t like Google Apps users and tells me to go get an invite when I log on, but the web interface is fine from the iPhone.

iCloud

iCloud was making news and I moved my MobileMe account to iCloud. I wasn’t a big MobileMe user having been burned by Apple’s cloud services in the past. I think my problem with iCloud (beyond not trusting Apple to keep things running) will be that it requires users to dive into the deep end, accept the way it works, and don’t expect a lot of options. I gave photo stream a try. Problem was my camera fumbling uploaded more bad pictures than intended pictures. Not really an iCloud problem, but still a problem. But I have no doubt it will improve over time and I’ll be drawn into the iCloud.

Web Work

I spent some time with the plumbing of the website. I seems like I have a bunch of minor issues that I can’t seem to get to (or keep putting off). At least I was able to tackle a logrotate configuration change. I also changed my caching plugin back to WP-Supercache. I always liked the plugin but stopped using it after it broke due to an upgrade. It’s working again and I’m using it. I did make an errant mouse click and enabled compression which didn’t work (possibly because I have compression enable in Apache). Unfortunately it went unnoticed in my testing and I didn’t notice a problem until my views went way down.

My change to WP-Supercache seemed to cause another problem which went unnoticed until recently. It doesn’t seem to have been rampant, but it was frequent. I don’t quit understand the problem completely but I don’t think it was a WP-Supercache bug. In short my Adsense ads would often display a “Page Not Found” error in the frame for the ad. I set up the ads to only display ads to new visitors. View a few pages over the course of a couple months and the ads are supposed to go away. I think WP-Supercache would sometimes cache the “don’t display” page which would cause a problem when a new “display the ad” visitor arrived and the code ran to display the ad.

Home Networking

I had been hoping I had pfSense and dynamic DNS setup to handle IP address changes so I could remotely access multiple home servers using my own domain. Well, when I got my internet back today Comcast gave me a new IP address as I hoped. But alas, no update to DNS, So it’s time to do some more research. I’ll be tackling that this weekend. I’m hoping I just have a pfSense setting wrong. [Update: Got this working so hopefully a write-up soon.]

The Month Ahead

The only thing I really want to get done is getting those home servers set up with Dynamic DNS and pfSense. [Update: Rather easy fix so hopefully a write-up soon] After that I’ll see what catches my interest. I’m also hoping this past week isn’t a sample of what’s to come this winter.

Powerless Days Are Over – Still No ISP

Snowy Trees

Snowy TreesBeing a Connecticut Yankee I was feeling the effects of the freak October snow that clung to all that picturesque New England foliage until the branches came crashing down bringing along the power lines. I lost power Saturday night and the gadget withdrawal began to take effect almost immediately, especially since I didn’t know how long I’d have to rely on batteries but it was obvious it would be awhile.

Luckily by Sunday night I got word that the office had power so I’d be able to start charging things up. Still, it was too hectic in the office to do much leisure surfing or post writing and too damn cold at night to do much except crawl under the covers to keep warm.

The power’s back today but cable is still out so I’m relying on iPhone tethering and Verizon to get connected. Some things I learned already:

  • Windows Live Mesh is great for sinking files between PCs but it apparently needs the internet even for PC to PC syncs. All my PCs see each other, but Live Mesh says they’re all up to date when they aren’t.
  • The iPhone isn’t smart enough to use 3G when it’s wi-fi network has no internet connection. I had to turn off wi-fi to avoid all those server not found errors since the phone saw my home wireless network.
  • My Mac is too stupid to route local or internet traffic properly when tethered via USB to my iPhone (with internet access but no access to home PCs) and connected via wi-fi to my home network (with no internet access). Well, probably not really a Mac specific failing, I’ll have to play around with some routing settings sometime.
  • Crashplan gets lonely. Both my own CrashPlan account and my parent’s account have begun to send emails saying there’s been no backups in several days. Along those lines, I received an email from CrashPlan promoting gift subscriptions. They mentioned a black Friday sale the 25th-28th for existing customers. (I suspect new customers would get similar deals). Their store is currently offering 10% off regular and 20% off gift subscriptions but it may be worth the wait. No special links or coupons, the current deals are in the CrashPlan store.
  • UPSs are good. And after the PC is safely shut down, the remaining juice can recharge phones, iPads and Kindles.

I was pretty well into the Octiober Trail Log when the lights went out so should have that out this weekend.

I’ve also been working to set up pfSense with Dynamic DNS to be able to access multiple servers (or PCs) in the home from the internet. I seemed to have it setup properly moments before the power went out. This one may take a little longer since it’s more involved and I’m still testing need I’ll need full blown internet access for the home network . On the bright side, the extended down time will probably cause Comcast to give me a new IP address which will be a good test of the Dynamic piece. I changed the Mac address spoofed by pfSense for the WAN connection to try an help the process along.

A final thought is that bandwidth caps are really beginning to annoy me. While not usually a problem, the Comcast cap doesn’t allow much flexibility in testing cloud storage and I have tapped the ceiling two months recently. And now being forced to the iPhone tethering I’m approaching the 2GB Verizon cap for that. At the rate I’m going I’ll hit the cap before it rolls to the next month. I do have unlimited data for the phone itself so I use it directly whenever possible.

Hope anyone else in the northeast US is getting back to normal and didn’t have anything worse than an inconvenience that’s forgotten when power is back (and the internet).

CrashPlan on Windows Home Server 2011

Backup Logo - Laptops connected to backup

CrashPlan recently ran a discount offer for their one computer, unlimited backup plan so I decided to give it a try. [While the email I received said the promotions will end mid-October, when I check today it’s still active. The URL is: www.crashplan.com/mobilize.]

I’ve been using CrashPlan to back up my parent’s PC and it’s been working well. My main reason for using it on their PC was the ability to backup to a local disk in addition to online storage. (It can also back up to other PCs over the internet but that wasn’t a factor in it’s choice.)

CrashPlan Installation

Install CrashPlan on the Windows Home Server

CrashPlan setup wizard

It is the same software no matter what CrashPlan subscription plan you have – start by installing the software as a trial install. Download the Windows 64-bit version for Windows Home Server 2011. RDP (Remote Desktop) into the server and run the installer locally. I accepted the defaults for the entire wizard. Nice and simple. At the end of the installation CrashPlan will start and you’ll either create a new account or link to an existing account.

Create New Account

Crashplan Account Creation

When the setup wizard completes CrashPlan will start. I want to create a new account for this testing and since this is a one computer subscription there’s no reason to add it to the CrashPlan account I already have for my parents. I enter the information to create the account.

Setup Encryption Key

CrashPlan security screen

One of my requirements is that the backups be encrypted using my own encryption key which is not available to the backup provider. So I went into Settings and selected “Replace With Your Own Data key (Advanced)” so that I could enter my own key. The CrashPlan docs indicate this encryption key will also be used for any additional computers I add to the account.

I click the passphrase option and enter in a 63 character passphrase

Acknowledge The Risk

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Using my own encryption key brings some warning.

Default Backup Settings

CrashPlan backup configuration screen

The default settings aren’t very appropriate for a server so I’ll be changing them. I also want to select what to be backed up in relatively small groups to avoid bumping up to my bandwidth cap. I click the “Change” button under Files so I can deselect the Administrator’s home directory and add my first group of files to backup.

Select Files to Back Up

File selection screen

I select the files I want to back up. They total about 12.5 GB.

Start The Backup

Start the CrashPlan backup

Click the “”Start Backup” button to, well, start backing up. It’s initial estimate is that it was take just under 4 days although this was soon cut in half. The backup will continue even if I shut down the GUI and log off the user.

Adjust Bandwidth Limit

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By default the outbound bandwidth was limited to 300 kbps. I’m in no particular hurry to get the backup done and I don’t want to impact my other internet activity, including other backups. So while this is well under my upload bandwidth I still lower it 100 kbps to avoid impacting performance while I’m home. At night and when I’m out for work I’ll bump it back to 300 kbps. At 100 kbps CrashPlan estimates 4.5 days to upload the 12.5 GB.

Conclusion

While CrashPlan isn’t officially supported under Windows Home Server 2011, and I’m leery of using it because of that, CrashPlan is generally reviewed positively so I’m going to give it  a shot. Initially I’ll back up some files that don’t already get backed up to the cloud. They’re relatively large files (music, video, archived software) that don’t change a lot. With a data cap from my ISP it’s not feasible to store terabytes of data offsite, even if I had the bandwidth I’d hit the cap. While pricey, CrashPlan does offer the ability to get a hard disk in the mail as a restore solution. It’s a bit pricey but something I’d only need to pay for in a pinch.

So I’ll be doing some testing to see how CrashPlan works with Windows Home Server 2011. Anybody already using CrashPlan with WHS 2011?