Plan Your Backups

No matter what kind of a backup system you end up using, you need to start with a plan. To be successful, there are a couple of things that need to be ironed out first:

  1. Where is your data now? Do you keep your data organized in your Documents, Photos, Music, and Videos folders? Is it on a NAS device? External hard drive? While not essential to performing backups, knowing where you keep your data is going to make the process easier. The more it is spread out, the more difficult it is to back it up – not impossible – but more difficult. Some of the built-in backup tools assume your files are in fact in your user folder, or at least your libraries, so take the time now to figure out where your important data is. Other backup programs will scour the entire computer for files, so if you have files everywhere, there are solutions for this as well.
  2. How important is your data? Is it all about equally important, or is there some data where you don’t want to lose it, and other data where it’s crucial you don’t lose it? It’s possible to do full backups to a local backup target, but also back up your most important data offsite.
  3. How much risk do you want to mitigate? The easiest backups will be to an internally or externally attached hard drive, which will protect against equipment failure, or user error. Moving up, you can back up to a NAS on your LAN, which will add a possibility of mitigating theft (but certainly not a guarantee) as well as giving you the option of backing up multiple machines. For ultimate protection, some sort of offsite backup is required. This is the only way to mitigate the risks of fire, flood, theft, and natural disaster. If the data is extremely important, you may even want to ensure the data is backed up to multiple geographic areas to ensure recovery from a natural disaster.
  4. How much space are you going to require for backups? If you are doing Image Level backups as well, factor in that you will need a backup target larger than the total amount of data you want to back up. The more space you have, the more versions of files and the farther back in time you can go to perform a restore. It would be prudent to start with a backup target that is at least twice as large as your total data to be backed up.
  5. What is your RPO? Are nightly backups good for you, or do you need to perform backups more often? Do you need continuous backups? It is essential to define an RPO that works for you.
  6. What is your RTO? Cloud based backups are wonderful because they are offsite, but the amount of bandwidth required to recovery multiple terabytes of information will be quite significant. If you aren’t worried about time, then it may be fine for you, but if time is a factor you may want to ensure you have some sort of local backup as well as offsite. RTO also factors in to the backup equipment decision. Optical media can be used as an offsite backup method, but recovering the data will be labor intensive and slow.
  7. What is your budget? For a single PC, you can configure a backup using just optical media, or an external hard drive, either of which will not be overly expensive. For multiple PCs, you may want to invest in a NAS or server to back up to. You can also expand the backups to the cloud for monthly or annual fees depending on the backup system you decide to go with. Just remember though that the cost of your backups may potentially save you from a much higher cost if disaster ever strikes.
  8. How much time are you willing to spend performing backups? Actually, this is a trick question. While it is possible to do a backup plan based on burning files to a DVD, and then storing these discs for later use, the fact is that unless a backup system is completely seamless, odds are that it’s not going to be used. In this day and age, there are many ways to perform backups without having to do anything but the initial set up, and for this reason there isn’t much point in doing anything manually.
Introduction Built-in Backup Tools - Windows 7
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  • gcoupe - Wednesday, May 21, 2014 - link

    Well, to be fair WHS 2011 is not yet "defunct". It is in mainstream support until April 2016:

    However, I agree that it is a crying shame that Microsoft has left the home server market to wither on the vine. WHS was a good product. WHS 2011 was not the advance over the original that it should have been, because of Microsoft organizational politics. Still, it was a real bargain at $40. Windows Server Essentials 2012 is too expensive for home users to even consider.
  • peterfares - Wednesday, May 21, 2014 - link

    I agree. I Use Windows Server 2012 R2 because I got a license from DreakSpark but there is absolutely no way I'd consider buying that for home server use. I'd probably just run a client version of Windows and use third party programs to handle backups. It's unfortunate that they removed automatic system image backups from Windows 8.1
  • kmmatney - Wednesday, May 21, 2014 - link

    WHS 2011 with Stablebit DrivePool has been working for me. I plan on keeping it a while, but after that I'll just figure out a way to pretty a regular version of Windows on the machine, and third party central backup programs. I also use my WHS server as a Minecraft server, and media server.
  • SirGCal - Wednesday, May 21, 2014 - link

    100 GB - $24
    1 TB / $120
    10 TB / $1200
    20 TB / $2400
    300 TB / $3600

    Don't you mean 30TB, not 300TB? For Google Drive on 'Consumer Cloud and What I Do' page? If not, then 300TB is for sure the way to go. What a savings...
  • Brett Howse - Wednesday, May 21, 2014 - link

    Yes I did fixed tyvm!
  • Guinpen - Wednesday, May 21, 2014 - link

    No mention of options for Linux? Why?
  • Brett Howse - Wednesday, May 21, 2014 - link

    I mentioned Crashplan has a Linux client. I don't use Linux on my home computers, and neither do most people, so I didn't discuss it for the most part.
  • wumpus - Thursday, May 22, 2014 - link

    I plan on backing up my cousin's windows computer (I owe him one, otherwise highly not recommended). Best I can tell, the way to do this (especially if you have some handy drives that will store the data compressed, but not uncompressed) is to install Linux on some removeable drives (OpenSUSE looks promising, see below) and then use the dd command to copy the windows drive completely as an image to the Linux external drive (this gives you the option to either copy the entire system back (with everything already installed) or to mount the file with -loopback and copy individual files). Note that you will likely want a compressed linux drive (to save space). This looks easiest with btfs (thus Opensuse, and don't forget the forcing option otherwise the compressor will give up before it hits all that empty space). Using this system for incremental backups requires a bit of programming (but is surprisingly easy with pyfuse).

    Quite frankly, the dd "disk destroyer" command is so famous to get wrong (and thus write empty sectors over what you wanted to back up) that I would be afraid to include step by step instructions in something like this. You have been warned.

    It would be nice to see if you could back up with something like Anaconda, especially for free.
  • peterfares - Wednesday, May 21, 2014 - link

    Ah sweet I didn't know there was still a GUI method for doing a system backup in Windows 8.1! I thought you had to use wbadmin. I was wondering why the Windows 8.1 recovery still supported system image restores when I thought there was no way to create a system image without the command line.

    Anyways for previous versions on Windows 8.1: they're still there! Just the tab is not shown for local drives. If you access a network share you can still see the previous versions of files done with Volume Shadow Copy. Turn on system recovery for all your hard drives (it's on for the system drive as default) and then access your own computer via it's UNC path (\localhost\C$ or whatever other share you want to access). Then when you press properties on folder or file the previous versions tab is present!

    Another way to access volume shadow copies of files is to use ShadowExplorer.
  • peterfares - Wednesday, May 21, 2014 - link

    More details

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