Old plane wreck

Restoring from a Linode Backup

It was caused by a silly mistake but it totally destroyed my database. I wasn’t entirely unprepared for the situation and I did have backups. However, I hadn’t bothered to get familiar with the restoration process to recover data from my backup and I was now rummaging around in unfamiliar parts of the Linode Manager.

As mentioned in my review of Linode’s VPS services, I’ve paid for the Linode Backup service but I had never bothered to looking into it. I assumed it would be a one-click process and that would be that.

My assumption about Linode Backup wasn’t exactly wrong, but I was a bit optimistic regarding how easy it would be to use. I’d imagine the process would be something like this:

  1. Login to the Linode Manager
  2. Select my virtual server and go to Backups
  3. Locate the most recent backup before the disaster, and click “Restore”

So far I was on track, but from there things got a bit hazier.

Backup Details show in Linode Manager

Backup Details screen in the Linode Manager

Where do you go from the Backup Details screen? What happens next? There were no instructions, and Linode’s documentation of its backup service is a bit lackluster. I guess they think it’s very intuitive as they built it. I, however, was left guessing as to what to do next.

The only information I had to go on was the “not enough free space” info message. I guessed that I’d have to delete the virtual disks that were attached to my virtual server to free up virtual space so I had enough room to restore my virtual backups. I wasn’t sure if this was the right course of action and I was a bit worried that my backups were associated with the drives rather than the server, and removing the drives would delete the drive backups. As I also had a separate local backup of everything too, so I decided to just go for it even without really knowing what would happen.

After deleting my Swap image and virtual disk, I headed back to the Backups manager, select the most recent backup, and I now had the option to restore a copy of my backed up disks to the server. After about 90 seconds, I could resize my backup drive and grow it to fill my server’s storage capacity and I was ready to boot from the recovered virtual drive.

I really think there should be a “restore and replace” option in the Linode Manager. I’m surely not the only customer who would have wanted this option.

For most Linode customers, this would have been where my backup recovery story ended. Unfortunately for me, I’m a stubborn man of principles and convictions.

Rather than relying on the stripped down Linode’s Unified Linux Kernel, I’d choose to restore and use the default Fedora kernel instead. (Linode disables SELinux in their kernels, and I prefer to leave the security feature enabled.) If I’d used the default kernel, I would have been able to boot up instantly and be on my merry way. With a custom kernel and boot loader, I had to make further adjustments before my server could be fully recovered.

To boot from the custom kernel (arguably the default kernel, as I used an unmodified Fedora kernel), I had setup GRUB2. Unfortunately for me, the recovered backup drives had completely different UUIDs, meaning GRUB didn’t recognise the drives. I messed about with Linode’s various recovery systems and environments for one hour before admitting defeat. I swapped my server configuration back to using the default Linode kernel from the Linode Manager, and it booted up in seconds. After two minutes of disk and journaling integrity checks, my server was back up and running.

From within the now working environment, I was quickly above to adjust GRUB2’s expectations for disk IDs and reboot into the default kernel again.

I was a bit upset that Linode had not replicated the UUIDs for the backup disks as both the original and recovered disks were virtual disks. There are clearly usecases where it would be beneficial with unique disk IDs and usecases where identical disk IDs would be beneficial. The gist of it is that it’s easier to recover from my scenario than to deal with two disks with the same ID in other scenarios.

I definitely wish there would have been more clear instructions provided in the Backup Details screen. I wasted a good hour trying to locate better documentation on what it all meant. It’s unnecessarily vague and sparse on details.

The lesson I learned from this experience? To always make myself familiar with the full backup restoration process before I start relying on any backup solution. It’s the sensible thing to do anyways.

PS: If you’re looking to sign up for Linode, you can get a better deal with the link and coupon code that you can find at the bottom of my Linode review.

Feature photo by © 2015 Blair Fraser.

2 thoughts on “Restoring from a Linode Backup”

  1. I just read this and I’m sorry to hear you had quite a tough time! I’m a project manager at Linode who works heavily with the development teams. We’re currently working on a new version of the Linode Manager and I just wanted to let you know I’ll be sure to get this feedback to this team and the Linode Backup Service team so the points you’ve made can be discussed.

    Thank you for taking the time to write such an extensive account of your experience!

    1. —and thank you for taking the time to read customer feedback. 🙂 I think the team behind the backup service may have been blinded by the fact that they already knew how all of this works. It’s not very intuitive when you don’t already know what to expect and how it should work.

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