5 Open Source Data Backup Options for Small Business

Data backup is an essential, yet often neglected, part of running a successful small business.

Your business is vulnerable to unstable power grids, hackers, failing hardware, new employees, and big-thumbed interns. The loss of your business contacts, contracts, employee data, tax and regulation compliance documents, work projects, images, and video could result in a costly disaster.

Even worse, you could lose your business completely. According to the Small Business Administration, 43 percent of small businesses shut down permanently after a catastrophic data loss. You can mitigate these hazards of doing business, and most basic safeguard is consistent, restoreable data backup. 

Go Open Source for Small Business Data Backup

Small businesses have plenty of choices when it comes to data backup solutions. For my money, the decision comes down to who you trust. You could choose an expensive backup service vendor, or you could choose a cloud-based solution, but who knows who really works there or how long until they’re hacked.

Only open source data backup solutions can assure the security and privacy that today’s companies need and should demand.  It’s much harder for unscrupulous actors to inject malicious code into publicly published source code without being caught. Bug fixes come faster in the open source world, and open source options don’t cost as much. 

Open source software is an unbeatable bargain—many times there’s no monetary outlay at all. The trade-off is the investment of your time and energy, and for budget-strapped small businesses trying to save money, open source makes sense. Open source data backup software is a popular choice for all these reasons.

The big question, of course, is which of the dozens of open source data backup applications are best for your business? We look at five of our favorite contenders.

5 Open Source Data Backup and Restore Programs

1. LuckyBackup

LuckyBackup, a free and open source data backup and restore utility, is one of the most popular according to user ratings. It boasts “backup any directory (source) to another (destination).” After the initial backup, it performs incremental backups of files as well as snapshots that you can use to roll-back a system after disaster.

Lucky Backup: open source data backup software

LuckyBackup provides a tidy user interface for handling backup configurations.

It sports an easy-to-navigate graphical interface with tool tips at every option, and it also offers safety overwrite features that could save you from a disaster. LuckyBackup offers local, remote, or cloud backups with encryption and compression. Run at will or schedule regular backups at your convenience.

The Task properties dialog contains all the options for setting up the backup. After choosing a name for the backup, simply select the source and destination from the graphical directory tree. From the Advance options, you or your admin can add a file description and set which directories and files to include and to exclude.

The Remote host dialog assists in setting up remote backup or remote storage of local backups. Use the configuration screen for running programs or commands beforehand, such as mounting a directory or dumping a database. A validate button checks that the configuration will work, and a dry run button lets you test it.

You’ll even find an option for synchronizing two sources. When the task is completed, LuckyBackup writes full logs and emails a report. Restoring is a very similar procedure; just start from the menu Task > Create Restore Task. It doesn’t take long to discover why this particular application is a favorite of small shop admins.

2. Unison

Unison, a file synchronizer, basically creates a copy of a data source at a destination of your choosing. This cross-platform program supports secure shell (SSH) connections, checks for conflicts, and offers a graphical interface. Unison goes a bit beyond other backup tools in that it actually checks files on both source and destination, and it can transfer the most recently modified file from either to the other, regardless of the file systems.

Unison: open source data backup software
Unison’s easy-to-navigate interface makes it easier to tap its true power underneath

This is a particular handy feature for people who take their work home or on the road and want to keep their devices synchronized. It’s also handy for keeping project members on the same page. Unison is popular because it’s a backup tool for the operator and a synchronizer for employees.

A simple wizard walks you through setting up backup jobs—called profiles. You can then add others, edit, or delete. Select and open one to get to the main window of Unison. In the main window you will get a full list of files and directories from each location, including hidden or dot files. Click on any item to get full information such as last dates modified, owners, and size.

Many options populate the menus in addition to the toolbar. Copy files and directories both to and from—one at a time, cherry pick a batch, or click the Merge button to just synchronize everything. The menu contains more advanced options like resolving conflicts, forcing actions, and viewing Unison recommendations.

As a bonus, you can access documentation through the menu as well. It’s powerful, clean, fast, and user-friendly; and the project is active having announced a release six months ago.

3. Back In Time

Back In Time, a backup application designed just for Linux systems, ships with interfaces for KDE and GNOME, and you can use it at the command line for servers. It resembles—in appearance and functionality—Apple’s TimeMachine. Like many backup solutions, it’s based on rsync, so it can backup and synchronize, locally or over SSH—similar to Unison.

Back In Time: open source data backup software
Back In Time features a three-pane window with KDE or GNOME integration

Back In Time touts its ability to back up symbolic links (either the link or destination), which is especially handy with servers. However, Back In Time is primarily designed for users, not admins,  and will not let you overwrite a file that doesn’t belong to you.

When you first open the program, a Settings dialog appears to help you configure the backup snapshot: where to save snapshot, files to include or exclude, schedule unattended or regular backups, and more advanced options like preserving attributes or setting up at cron job. After you configure the “main profile,” the three-pane Back In Time window appears. From there you can make or restore backups, view logs, delete backups, or open the configuration dialog to create or modify tasks. One button sets the system to shut down after taking the snapshot.

The menu has a just few more options, but simplicity is the goal. You’ll find documentation linked in both the menu and in the toolbar. It’s less complicated than LuckyBackup and less powerful than Unison; its interface is a bit busier as well, but it’s a great alternative especially for employees.

4. Clonezilla

Clonezilla differs from the other programs in that it’s a disk-and-partition cloning application. It’s a great tool for creating backups of entire disks or selected partitions. Clonezilla comes in two flavors; one for the desktop and a more-powerful version for servers (and server farms). It supports just about every kind of file system out there, and it works with MBR and GPT partitions.

Clonezilla: open source data backup software
Clonezilla is primarily for the owner/operator, and it requires root or administrative privileges.

The program includes options for reinstalling bootloaders, and it supports Linux Volume Management 2 and encryption. It can clone a system or apartition as an image to store, or clone it directly to another disk or partition as a file-to-file clone. Clonezilla is perfect when you want to back up the whole shebang; however, its main drawback is the lack of incremental backups.

It doesn’t ship with a fancy UI, but the console interface is easy-to-learn. You navigate using the arrow, Tab, and Enter keys. The first screen offers to make a backup image or clone disk/partition; the next offers local, over SSH, Samba, and NFS. Next it gets disk information and walks you through choosing the source, destination, and other options. Clonezilla may not be pretty, but it’s easy to learn and a powerful tool to have around.

5. Duplicity

Duplicity is a command-line option that creates compressed archived packages or tarballs—a collection of files compressed for size and “paper-clipped” into a single file or package. It can then encrypt and store said package either locally or remotely (cloud, ftp, SSH, etc.).

Duplicity: open source data backup software
Deja-Dup configurations with simple on/off deployment button make using Duplicity a breeze.

Duplicity supports other archiving tools besides tar when necessary, so it can handle advanced tasks like incremental updates (which is a key feature of Duplicity) or long file names. This is a wonderful replacement for homemade tar and rsync scripts that may have been in use. Graphical front-ends—such as Deja-Dup—are available, and they make configuration and deploying much easier.

Susan Linton, a writer of, and expert in, all things Linux and open source, founded the website TuxMachines.org in 2004.

Do you have a comment or question about this article or other small business topics in general? Speak out in the SmallBusinessComputing.com Forums. Join the discussion today!

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