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


View All Comments

  • wumpus - Thursday, May 22, 2014 - link

    The whole point of RAID *is* to protect you from things like bit rot. The difference between RAID5 and RAID6 is that RAID6 protects you from two rotted bits in a single sector (more specifically, two different drives with failures in the same location). You should be able to avoid this with RAID5 by periodically reading the entire drive and correcting any single error you find (called "scrubbing"). Reply
  • Mr Perfect - Thursday, May 22, 2014 - link

    It's not really a sure thing with the RAID though. The array has no idea which version is correct, and which one is rotten. The best it can do is take a consensus and go with whatever version of the file the most drives agree is correct. They did an article about bit rot over at Ars Technica, and the author's RAID 5 happily used the rotten version.
  • bsd228 - Thursday, May 22, 2014 - link

    not, really, wumpus. The whole point of RAID (minus 0) is to protect you from a disk failure. By itself it does not deal with bit rot at all. On a mirror, who is right? In typical implementations, disk 0 is presumed to have the correct copy. ZFS (and I believe MS's knockoff, ReFS) implemented scrubbing with checksumming to give a means to identifying the correct copy. Reply
  • beginner99 - Thursday, May 22, 2014 - link

    I use Microsoft's free tool SyncToy. With it you can synchronize folders to anywhere else, like an external hdd. And of course only updates are synched and you can specify in which direction to sync. I use it to backup my media collection. The external hard drive can then be stored off-site (at work). The advantage I see with this is that the media files are copied over and are readable on the backup directly. You can take the external hdd on the road and have your full media collection at hand. With image files you will have to first restore them before being able to use them.

    Important documents should be stored in the "cloud". This can be a simple encrypted zip sent by email and it will be stored on the email server (say gmail) or whatever. That was possible like over a decade ago already.
  • gsvelto - Thursday, May 22, 2014 - link

    I do most of my backups from Linux: I use rsync to sync my home directory and other relevant files outside of /home and ntfsclone to backup my Windows drives. The latter option is definitely slower than incremental backups or somesuch but allows me to restore a Windows installation very quickly w/o need for reinstalling. It's also handy when moving Windows from a hard drive to another. Reply
  • AlexIsAlex - Thursday, May 22, 2014 - link

    Another aspect to backups is bit rot. Both on the backup media (are the files in the backup still good?) and on the live media (do I need to restore this file from backup, as it has become corrupted?)

    For a decent backup system, I want checkusms stored with the backed up data, and verified regularly. I also want the backup to actually read all files to be backed up from the source, even if they are not supposed to be modified since the last backup, and check that they still have the same checksum. Unfortunately, this takes rather a long time, but I don't see any alternative to discovering months down the line that some rarely accessed files have become corrupted, and worse, been backed up in a corrupted state.
  • boomie - Thursday, May 22, 2014 - link

    >Windows 8 fixes that issue, but creates new ones by no longer allowing automated image backups
    Well, I didn't think supposed IT pros at anandtech would be so casual as to be afraid of command line.
    If you cannot live in this world without regular image backups, who prevents you from adding a task in task scheduler with wbadmin call?
    Come on now.
  • ruthan - Thursday, May 22, 2014 - link

    There are extended tutorials to Windows native backup setting, but for Winserver essentials, here are very compressed version of descriptions. Could you more explain it - for example - "Once the connector software is installed" - this is big shortcut - after installation is backup set up from server or from local machine?
    How is linux / macs backup support, because of this is real different, Windows backup solution isnt now big problem. From my experience - best solution are form Acronis and Paragon, but they have lots of limitations and known issues.
  • davidpappleby - Thursday, May 22, 2014 - link

    We have two laptops, and two desktops. Each has a boot drive and a separate physical backup drive for images using acronis. All pictures/music/data reside on the server which has separate backup drives for its OS and data (again with acronis). I'll be looking into S3 again as a result of this article (last time I looked I thought 2tb was too much). My wife has an external drive we use as off site backup of her important data (downside is that that is current only). Reply
  • Mikuni - Thursday, May 22, 2014 - link

    Mega gives 10GB for free, encrypted storage, why wasn't it mentioned? Reply

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