Backups – Introduction
Backups – Data Backups vs. Drive Images
Backups – External Hard Drives
Backups – Software for Data Backups
Backups – Online Backups

If you missed the earlier lectures, then go back and review the class notes about the difference between backing up individual data files and backing up an image of your entire hard drive.

You don’t care what a backup program does while it’s working. You only care about what happens when you need to restore your computer after a crash. The cost of the hardware is trivial compared to the other costs and difficulty of getting back up and running. Hard drives are cheap; if your hard drive has to be replaced (after it stops working, say, or after a nasty bit of malware invades it), you can replace the hardware easily.

Then, if you have an image of the hard drive, you can restore your computer to exactly the way it was at the moment that image was created – all the programs, all the settings, all the user accounts and desktops and mail and documents and photos, everything, in a single operation. When all goes well, that can be done in 15 minutes or so. (Use the term “bare metal recovery” in conversation – people will respect you.)

imagebackup1 Vista’s Complete PC Backup creates that kind of image. You use the Complete PC Backup program to create an image of your computer at a moment when your programs are installed, Windows is up to date, and things are nice and stable.

In a crisis, you’d buy and install a replacement hard drive that is the same size or larger than the old hard drive, then start the computer from the Vista installation DVD and choose Repair your computer / Windows Complete PC Restore. The whole process is described with screen shots on this page.

When the computer restarts, you’re back to your position when the image was created.

The Complete PC Backup program cannot be scheduled easily and it takes a while to run. You’re not going to want to do this every day. It makes more sense to update the image on a schedule – once a month, once every two months – and also use a program that backs up your data automatically every day or every week. You can use the image to restore your computer to what it was like a month ago, then restore your data to what it was like a few days ago. That process takes far less time than installing Windows from scratch, then installing each program individually, and only then restoring your data.

Unfortunately, Complete PC Backup is only a feature in Vista Business and Vista Ultimate. If you have one of the Vista Home Editions, it’s not there, and it was never part of Windows XP.

The best backup software on the market is ShadowProtect Desktop Edition 3 from Storagecraft. It costs under a hundred dollars, including a year of support. You should buy it.

SP_Desk_webmin ShadowProtect runs on Windows XP and Vista. It creates images of your hard drive on an external hard drive or a network device. It seems remarkable but it updates those images every hour, with no impact on the computer’s performance. You can recover individual files or restore an entire hard drive from any of those backups – you can go back to a version of a document from three hours ago, or four days ago. You can store as many backups as the backup device can hold, so you can go back for weeks if you like.

It’s not quite as simple to set up as Vista’s built-in utility. You might want some help to be sure it’s doing its chores.

But it does one more trick which might be crucial. ShadowProtect includes support for a “hardware independent restore,” and that is very good stuff indeed.

An image-based backup is very closely tied to the specific computer that created it. You can swap a hard drive for a similar hard drive without any fuss, but what if the computer itself has to be replaced? Normally you would not be able to use a backup image on completely different hardware – different motherboard, different processor, different networking.

ShadowProtect does some special tricks to accomplish that. It can be tricky – you might wind up paying me or working with Storagecraft’s support team to get past some hard parts. But it is simply miraculous that it can be done at all, and the odds of success are actually quite high. (Trust me – the more you know about the technical details of it, the more magical it becomes.)

At least one other company makes a similar product with a good reputation – Acronis True Image Home 2009. I don’t have any experience with it but reportedly it is also high quality. I’ve had such good luck with ShadowProtect in the last couple of years that I have an almost mystical faith in it, so I’m going to recommend it single-mindedly.

So let’s start to summarize a bit.

  • ShadowProtect Desktop Edition is a sufficient backup solution for a home or office desktop computer.
    • Adding data backup to a different place (online storage, for example) would be a nice addition.
  • A complete backup strategy can be created by running Vista’s Complete PC Backup every month or two, and setting Vista’s data backup program to run automatically.
    • Adding data backup to a different place (online storage, for example) would be a nice addition.
  • Other data backup programs and services work fine but personally I’d want to have two different methods at all times – backup to an external hard drive by some program, AND backup to an online service, for example.

Next: backups for small groups with Windows Home Server.

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