Mirra, first impressions

We’ve currently got something like 7 computers currently in use in my house these days, and I’ve been looking for a centralized backup solution for the home for a while.

Eventually, I settled on a Mirra – a small form-factor appliance-like backup server.  It comes in four sizes, 80GB, 160GB, 250GB, and 400GB.  I ordered the 400GB based on the amount of stuff we’ve got saved on the various machines that will have to be backed up.

I’ve not yet had a chance to use all the features of the product (in particular, I’ve not used the remote access functionality), but I  did set it up and get it running on two of the machines over the weekend.

I have to say that I’m impressed.  IMHO, these guys have been taking lessons from Apple in terms of out-of-box experience (Personally, I think that Apple does OOBE better than any other PC hardware company).

You open the Mirra box, and you see a cardboard inset, with a folded card-stock flyer and the power cord and an ethernet cord.

On the cover of the flyer, are the words “Welcome to Mirra”.  You open it up, and it unfolds into a four page story telling you that you’re about to enter into a new world where you don’t have to worry about your data.  On the back of each of the four pages is one of the four steps to setting up the Mirra – the first tab has you plugging in the appliance (you need to plug it into AC and into an ethernet port), the second tab has you installing the software on your PC, the third has you configuring the PC, the fourth is “Relax”.

I LOVED this experience – it’s exactly the balance that computer-related appliance should strike – simple instructions, clearly spelled out, easy for Abby to get right.  The actual Mirra device is a small form-factor PC, I didn’t crack the case to see what was running inside it, but it’s got video, keyboard, mouse, and USB ports on the case (the video and USB are covered over with plastic).  The small form-factor PC is perfect for “plug it in and forget about it”.

I had some difficulties getting the software installed on the first machine I tried, it didn’t recognize the firewall I was running (Microsoft One-Care Beta1), and I had to manually configure it.  On the other hand, the manufacturers web site was extremely helpful getting past this hurdle, and once set up, it immediately started copying files.

I next went to each of the four accounts on that machine and set the software up on each of them.  It worked seamlessly for all four accounts, including all the limited user accounts.  This alone impressed the heck out of me – there aren’t that many software products out there that consider the FUS (fast user switching) and LUA scenarios, but clearly the Mirra guys had.

I then went upstairs to my computer, and installed it.  This machine doesn’t have One-Care installed on it, and the Mirra detected the XP SP2 firewall and opened the relevant ports in the firewall (the firewall is enabled and I didn’t need to do anything about it).  The machine then started hammering our home network copying off all the files on the machine.

I still need to get it installed on the kids computers, that’ll be interesting since the kids computers don’t have access to the internet.

The Mirra backup software runs as two services, running in two processes (I’m not sure why, since both services run at localsystem).  However, once configured, the Mirra backup software will run without requiring any process in the user’s session.  If I was doing it, I’d have used just one process to run both services, but…

As I commented to Valorie “This is the software I would have designed”.  I was utterly impressed that they seem to have nailed several critical scenarios that are usually overlooked.

One negative (not relevant to me, but probably to others) is that this is a Windows-only product – they don’t seem to have Mac or Linux clients.

In general, though, I’m pretty impressed.


Comments (18)

  1. Anonymous says:

    "I next went to each of the four accounts on that machine and set the software up on each of them."

    Wouldn’t it be better if there was an administration console that a local admin could set this up in one place for all four accounts?

  2. Anonymous says:

    Someone should tell Raymond that this is how you get software companies to pay "taxes". You say nice things about them in your blog when they do:)

  3. If I had to guess…

    I’d suspect that one walks the file system looking for files with the archive bit set, and pushes those filenames into a queue. This is a cheap operation.

    The other pulls filenames out of the queue, verifies that the archive bit is still set, and copies them to the Mirra.

    Which begs the question… does the Mirra work with other backup software that diddles the archive bit?

    If so, I’d have to guess it uses the modify date rather than the archive bit. In which case it probably needs to store the file-was-last-backed-up-on data in a local data store, rather than having constant back-and-forth to the device.

  4. Maurits, it could be, but why two processes?

    And I’ve not checked to see if it works with the archive bit, I suspect it has its own local store, but I’ve not used it enough to figure that out.

    It certainly appears to have backed up files that I had backed up earlier on the machine, so I suspect it’s not just looking at the "archive" bit.

  5. Manip says:

    I don’t like the idea of custom software to use a network device; I would have setup some Windows Shares (SMB) and used something /like/ Microsoft Backup or some other purpose made backup solution (or a bat file) to do it.

    Just for anyone that is looking at this post and thinking "hmm I could do with that"; I would like to throw out the Linksys NSLU2.

    The NSLU2 has no internal HDD, but has USB 2.0 ports on it. You attach fast USB 2.0 hard disks to the device and it shares them on the network (SMB, FTP, Web et al) and supports security policies and various magical things. The NSLU2 is a more cost effective solution.

    But if you are after a real saving I would buy a machine from Dell’s Outlet shop or from eBay; install NetBSD or Windows 2000; throw in some 200GB hard disks and you have yourself a very configurable backup box.

    PS – I found this quote from the Mirra site highly amusing:

    ///"Q. Can a virus on my PC infect files backed up on a Mirra?

    A. No, a virus cannot infect your backed up files. The Mirra uses the Linux operating system, which is not susceptible to Windows-based viruses. If a virus attacks your computer, you can use your Mirra to restore previously backed up, virus-free versions of your files." ///

  6. The thing I liked about the Mirra is that it’s a fire&forget device. I don’t need any special software to provide the backups.

    And you’re right, the Q&A is quite funny 🙂

    I’m still trying to figure out their patching story – it appears that the device periodically phones home to look for upgrades, since they claim that their techs can schedule upgrades for you.

  7. Todd, it would be nice, you’re right. But that would probably be more complicated than doing the config four times.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Um, how do you /know/ that it is backing-up your files? Have you tried restoring any yet?

    "It hums, therefore it works!"


  9. TC, Actually, I did check 🙂

  10. Anonymous says:

    Its a bit telling that all the NAS devices affordable by home users run Linux. The devices powered by Windows Storage Server seems to start at $999.

    I’m sure these devices will become evermore popular, as people have more machines and want a centralised store of media files. I’m pretty sure Apple will come out with something like this when they next refresh their Airport Extreme base station line.

    When (if?) WinFS finally arrives with its built-in sync support I’m sure there will be a market for small, quiet mini home servers for safe (raid) backup and media storage.

    Will Microsoft have a product for OEMs to build around, or will it be left to OSS to reverse engineer the sync protocol?

  11. Moz says:

    The problem for many of us is that 400GB is

    not enough to back up even most stuff. The Brad Templeton URL above is him looking for cheap NAS and not getting very far. My solution is RAID5 in the main PC, but that’s not really ideal. I’d love a terabyte backup store somewhere fairly portable, ideally with PGP or something built in.

  12. Anonymous says:

    Nice solution; wish I could try the software on my own box, but hey, its their business model. And do I see that the sw is written in .Net? I have not seen vendor sw require this to date!

  13. James, yes, I did notice it was a managed app 🙂

  14. Anonymous says:

    One of the comments I made when doing my "first impressions" of the Mirra backup device was that the…

  15. Anonymous says:

    Apparently Seagate acquired Mirra today. Larry you are not the only one impressed with them!

  16. Anonymous says:

    After reading Larry’s post, I thought to myself "Wow, that’s something I’ve been dreaming about for years!".

    After wasting a weekend with Mirra (I got a 400 GB version), all I can say is "what a piece of @#$%!" If you want to play with it, make sure you get it from a local retailer so that you can easily return it. I was stupid enough to order it online…

    For starters, I applaud the idea of the "fire and forget" backup concept. At the same time, nothing should prevent Mirra from addingg a well hidden "Advanced Options" dialog. A short list of the missing "must have" options:

    1. There is no way to say "I want this folder backed up NOW!", e.g. if I am about to disconnect my laptop and I want to make sure all the latest changes are backed up before I run out the door.

    2. There is no way to specify file extensions exclusions. E.g. I don’t want all the temporary files created by a compiler to be saved.

    3. There is no way to specify any kind of schedule for the backups. I don’t want to have a backup of my Outlook PST files every 5 minutes; which (given that only the last 8 versions are saved) will give me an hour old backup at most. I’d rather prefer to have a copy made once a day. Especially with the 2GB PST files.

    Oh, and they don’t support files bigger than 2 Gb!

    I don’t mind small hiccups every now and then, but the performance if simply unacceptable:

    1. The software will not work if you have a shared internet connection (would be nice of them to tell you that upfront). No, problem, I can fix that.

    2. The client keeps loosing connection with the backup server every 5 minutes or so. No, I don’t have a problem with my local network, trust me on that one! If you already have Mirra installed, look at the "C:Documents and SettingsAll UsersApplication DataMirra" folder, Mirra.Service.Events.log file in particular: my file lists .Net exceptions every 5 minutes or less (lost connection, blah). For crying out loud, this is a local network, any app should be able to run for months without losing a connection!!! And this happens on 3 machines…

    3. As I am typing this, I can see that I have 71,000+ out-of-sync files, yet nothing is going on… It just sits there for hours… Hello?!

    Is it Linux on the backup server or .Net on the client side? I don’t really care, I am not impressed at all… I think I’ll just swallow the shipping and restocking fees and return the @#$% thing.

  17. Anonymous says:

    Soon after I posted this mini-review of my Mirra home backup solution, Charlie Kindel sent me mail describing

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