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— Update 2016-01-03 read about my new approach to backup

Over the last month I’ve learnt a lot about backup. There had been significant structural changes over the last few years, disc is cheap, bandwidth is inexpensive and remote storage is coming down in price dramatically.

It is necessary to address two different issues, protecting your data files and enabling rapid recovery of a laptop or workstation when the hard drive fails.

Protecting data files

It is no longer necessary or desirable to store backups of current files in proprietary containers such as “backup sets”. You should simply use a copy utility to echo local files to remote storage. The requirements are

  • It should be possible to schedule jobs for unattended execution
  • An email should be sent if the job fails

I am trialling the product GoodSync from Siber Systems. This supports many protocols therefore it is possible to backup to local servers or any number of cloud servers.

I find it acceptable to rely on my backup archives to recover historic copies of my files however it is possible to find sync utilities that will keep a number of previous versions for you.

Enabling rapid recovery when a hard drive fails

To recover a laptop from a crashed drive it is necessary to have a disk image. This not only has all the data at the time of the backup but also the necessary boot records.

I trialled two products, Acronis true image 2014 which I found unreliable and StorageCraft ShadowProtect Desktop.

ShadowProtect is an excellent product, it is designed by techies for techies. Key features include

  • No impact on performance during incremental backups
  • Logging is excellent
    • progress bars are reasonably accurate
    • emails can be sent on success for failure
  • The user interface is very well designed
    • Documentation is very good
  • Very fast incremental backups
    • Hourly incremental backups take about 30 seconds
  • Automatic consolidation of incremental backups using the ImageManager tool
    • It is possible to reproduce the Apple Time Machine behaviour
      • One backup every hour the last day
      • One backup everyday for the last week
      • One backup every week for the last year
      • (This is only one of many possible backup regimes)

Using Windows built-in disk manager I partitioned my laptop’s 1 TB drive into an operating system partition (C:) and backup partition (E:). I then set up ShadowProtect to create incremental backups to the E: drive as described above.

I use GoodSync to copy the backup files from the laptop to my home server once a day. If I’m away from home and then return I can run a GoodSync job manually or simply wait for its next scheduled execution.

ShadowProtect also provides a bootable ISO image so that you can create a recovery disk to launch the ShadowProtect software when your drive fails. Rather than create a CD I simply burnt the ISO image to a USB memory stick using the excellent Rufus utility.

ShadowProtect’s website is very ugly, I suspect that rather than hiring a web designer they decided to spend more time making the product better. You also have to fill out a form to get a trial copy and remember to ask for a trial of the recovery environment as well. However it is worthwhile getting through these hurdles because the product is very effective.

You may read earlier articles in this series here.