Damian Mehers' Blog Android, VR and Wearables from Geneva, Switzerland.

11Apr/0913

Windows Home Server needs a peer backup system

I've just set up a Windows Home Server on my home network, and so far I think it is fantastic. I've been able to collect an assortment of hard drives and plug them all into the same machine, and have them seamlessly presented as a single large virtual drive:

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Our photos are stored in a shared folder hosted by the Windows Home Server, and by enabling the "Duplication" feature, I know that copies are kept on two physical disks, meaning that in the event of a hard disk failure, I'll still have a copy on another disk.  I've also been able to set up all of the computers in the house to be backed up.

There is however, as others have noted, a big flaw in this situation. Although I have all my photos duplicated on two disks, and all my computers backed up , in the event of a fire, or theft, I'm screwed.  Someone could walk off with all the physical disks.

What I really need is off-site backup. I've been doing this using an excellent service called Mozy, which for US$5 a month offers unlimited backups for a single PC.  Unfortunately Windows Home Server is based on Windows Server 2003, and Mozy will not run on Server operating systems.

A modest idea: a peer backup service

What I'd like to have, and what I'm tempted to develop, is a peer backup system, implemented via a Windows Home Server Add-in I'd create, and a web site which serves to hook people's Windows Home Servers together.

My idea is this: I'd create a web site where people could register (probably automatically via the add-in) their need for an off-site backup, indicating how much space they need to backup. They need to commit to making an equivalent amount of space available on their computer for someone else.

My web site would match people up, and then the people could use each others systems to automatically perform offsite backups.  The add-ins could talk to each other, either peer-to-peer, or via my web site. There are issues of course. The backed up data would have to be encrypted, which makes incremental backups problematic.

The next obvious step would be to allow the backups to be stored redundantly across the computers of multiple participants, so that you are not just reliant on one other person.  For this to work you'd need to volunteer to make available much more space for other people's backups than your own backups require - perhaps twice as much.

I'm tempted to develop this service, however  I'm not sure how I could cover my costs. Would you pay say US$25 a year for a peer-based secure offsite backup service?

Comments (13) Trackbacks (0)
  1. Hi Damien,

    Cucku Backup is a p2p backup system for Windows. I know that some of our customers have got it working on Windows Home Server. At the moment you need to have Skype installed for the p2p connection. Please check it out – I’d be really interested in hearing if it meets your needs.

  2. I assume you’ve not heard of, or rejected, CrashPlan? You’ve described their service to a tee.

  3. Hi Mark/Robert,

    This is why software patents are generally bad: its too easy to independently arrive at the same (good) idea.

    I must admit I didn’t do a general Google, although I did look for Windows Home Server backup products, and found nothing that did this.

    Thanks for the pointers, I’ll take a look.

    /Damian

  4. I think in principle its a good idea and I assume you’d use a torrent based system. The downside with this is here in the UK, ISPs currently think this method is ONLY used by pirates and restrict our download speeds to the point of being unusable if they detect heavy peer to peer usage.

    I’m not hugely up on torrent and it might not be the mechanism you’d use, but it would also split the “download” across multiple peers automatically allowing a more resilient backup. The downside to that is there would have to be a lot of peers to ensure you could get it back on one piece and in a timely manner!

    I would definitely pay for a service of this nature and as you are not storing the data a flat fee sounds reasonable. $25 is not unreasonable.

    good luck
    regards
    Graham

  5. Great idea, I really like it but I hate to be a party pooper here but I think you would be better off to just get a lot of dedicated server/NAS or create an WHS add-in that wraps around an existing cloud infrastructure such as Amazon S3. One of the many, many problems with peer-to-peer would the synchronization and reallocation of data if a paired host expires any set check-in timeframe; it’s do-able but requires serious resources. The concept is great and should be quite feasible towards the end of the next decade when many of us will have fiber connections at home? but you’re always going to need some dedicated state servers.

  6. If a service like this did exist i think it would be better to use a service like S3 as previously mentioned by Alexander. Even if the data was encrypted on the meshed WHS Boxes, i just want to know whats happening with my data.

  7. I think you have the seeds of a great idea here Damian. I really like it and would be willing to pay twice what you are asking for a service that worked well. There are some issues that may be outside your control, particularly with the ISPs limiting upload speed and (even with torrent use) they will want to control your bandwidth capacity I think. I defintitely do not see it from the ISP’s point of view and am upset at their policies, but I wonder if your idea will survive their rediclous policies?

    Don’t give up on the idea and pleas let us here back here or by email (since you have all our addresses who post here) what you find out about the alternative services mentioned that attempt to do the same thing you are considering.

  8. +1 CrashPlan, here is why:

    1. You don’t have any monthly fees while protecting data off-site to another location you know or trust. You can even “seed” your backup so initial data is not sent over internet, but is direct to disk.

    2. It’s not anonymous P2p – you know where your data is. While you might not care because of encryption, you do care when it comes time to restore. It’s much faster to restore over LAN than WAN. (or simply transport disk!)

    3. Destinations verify data independent of source. This is superior and more trustworthy that san S3. It’s far more efficient utilizing less bandwidth and resources.

    re> your storage methodology.
    I prefer an externalized portable store over proprietary internal one. Using something like a Drobo means you can easily upgrade storage while keeping it quite portable. This can come in handy as your storage needs increase.

  9. Maybe I am a bit old fashioned, but on my Windows Home Server, I do manual backups to external USB drives and store them in a safe deposit box, encrypted. I do updates quarterly or more often if I have been adding/moving a lot of files. In addition, for the really important stuff like my digital pictures, I burn the full resolution pictures to DVDs and send them to my parents in another state for a backup. That way they can look at them and I’m super protected.

  10. This is a great idea, but not a moneymaker I suspect. I’d love to have a P2P WHS-aware plugin available, which I could use to share storage with a friend who is also a WHS owner. I suppose the requirements would be:

    – WHS-Aware – no worries about tombstones/UNC/Shares
    – WHS add-in based – simply enter the two homeserver domains, and perhaps setup a user/password, and all the other network stuff if sorted
    – Encrypted in transfer and storage
    – Incremental – only changes are transferred (obviously)
    – Quota management
    – Potentially, the option to seed a backup to begin with (a la Crashplan)

  11. Following this thread with intensity, as I want to get a full backup of my WHS offsite in case of fire, etc. but really don’t want to pay an external service provider a monthly fee for their disk set.

    I read through the CrashPlan site, and this is looks like a potential solution, but I couldn’t find any mention of their supporting WHS. Can someone confirm CrashPlan installs and works properly in the WHS environment?

  12. I too invented this idea a few minutes ago and did a search only to find that I am a few years too late.


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