Backing up Windows

Don't wait until disaster strikes to wish you had backed up your Windows system. During this Guild Meeting, Trent Cook explained how easy it is to do.

On July 13th Trent Cook discussed how easy it is to back up your Windows system so you’re prepared in case disaster strikes. If you couldn’t join us then, enjoy the transcript; and we hope to see you on our next live Guild Meeting. You can find a schedule of Guild Meetings in your weekly TechProGuild Notes TechMail or on the Guild Meeting calendar.

On July 13th Trent Cook discussed how easy it is to back up your Windows system so you’re prepared in case disaster strikes. If you couldn’t join us then, enjoy the transcript; and we hope to see you on our next live Guild Meeting. You can find a schedule of Guild Meetings in your weekly TechProGuild Notes TechMail or on the Guild Meeting calendar.

Note: TechProGuild edits Guild Meeting transcripts for clarity.

Welcome to the Guild Meeting
MODERATOR: Welcome, folks. Tonight, Trent Cook joins us for our rousing good talk on everyone's favorite topic to overlook... backing up Windows. Take it away, Trent.

TRENT COOK: Great! Thanks. Hi, all. How is everyone tonight? Is everyone pumped for the backup chat? I’m sure you are, so let’s get started.

Backing up Windows 9x
TRENT COOK: First thing, of course, that should be discussed, is registry backups, seeing as how it is the heart and soul of the most stable OS in the world—Windows. At home for you Win9x users, if you back up the C:\Windows\System.dat and User.dat files, that can really get you out of a bind.

The only thing you should watch for here is that the System.dat file can grow rather large, bigger than the 1.44 MB of a standard floppy large, so I would recommend burning it to a CD or copying it to another partition, tape, or hard drive. That way you can boot off of a floppy if your Win9x machine is not bootable or severely messed up, and copy the good System.dat and User.dat files over top of the corrupt ones.

Backing up Windows NT
TRENT COOK: NT has a slick way to back up the registry. Who wants to take a stab? I am sure you all know.

With the registry hives open in NT (which they usually are), your easiest bet is to use the Rdisk utility. You all knew that though, right?

TRENT COOK: What Rdisk does is copy a compressed copy of the NT registry hives to a floppy disk. When you have the floppy made from the Rdisk utility, just go to Start | Run | Rdisk. You can boot off the NT boot disk, hit [R] when prompted, and use your disk to restore the registry.

CHEMPAC: That seems simple enough for NT. Do you do it on each PC or from the server?

TRENT COOK: Chempac, you have to do it on each system, unless you use a commercial backup solution.

Moving Windows to a new partition
HAROLD966: I have a C partition and a D partition. Why can’t I move Win95 to D when it is running?

TRENT COOK: Harold, you can’t move Win95 because you’re using the files. They are open and can’t be copied when they are in use.

Backing up Windows 2000
TRENT COOK: For Windows 2000, it’s a bit tricky (not really). Microsoft just changed the utility. Now you go to Start | Run | Ntbackup. When Ntbackup comes up, you can just select the Create An Emergency Repair Disk option and, boom, there you have a backup of the registry. Any questions so far on registry backups in Win9x, NT, or 2000?

Backup strategies
TRENT COOK: There are different strategies one should know about for backups. There are three terms we should know. First, Normal, or Full, backup simply means everything is backed up. Cons to this are that it is very slow to perform and, with many systems, it may not be possible to do each night. But the restore is easy and fast as you simply have one tape to restore from.

The second option is an Incremental backup. This backs up all files that have changed since the last Full backup. Then each incremental backup after that backs up only files that have changed since the previous incremental backup.

This is fast to perform the backup, as only new files are backed up. When you restore, you will need to restore from the full backup, then each incremental thereafter. The third option is Differential, which is a lot like Incremental except all files are backed up from last Full backup. Each Differential backup after that still backs up all files from the last Full backup. This is a bit slower than Incremental, but a restore needs only the last Full backup and the last Differential backup. The standard rule of thumb for a backup scheme is one Full backup per week, then either an Incremental each night or a Differential.

HAROLD966: How long should you keep backups?

TRENT COOK: Harold, that’s a good question. I always say keep them at least for two weeks; that way you have a good margin to fall back on.

Something else, if you are going to keep 10-14 tapes, it’s crucial that you keep the tapes off-site, because if your office burns down, the backup is useless.

JAMEST: Harold966, an old trick I have used several times, back on Win95 was to open a DOS prompt (while in Win95), back out to C:\ and then type xcopy32 c: /h/i/c/k/e/r/y d:. This method seems to work in Win98, also. Make sure your D: partition is the same size or larger than your C:. This will make an exact duplicate of all your system files! However, it is best to always test everything before you begin to think of relying on it! But now, if your hard drive goes, it's best to back it up on a separate hard disk drive. Of course, a tape backup is always preferred to this method.

TRENT COOK: Harold, good point. If you are copying files from Windows, you will have to boot from a DOS floppy, etc., so that the files aren’t open. That is the only way I managed to copy Windows files to a new location.

Backup frequency
JBAILEY: I have only five backup tapes at work. They are expensive. Should I push for more? They are Compaq ati 35.

TRENT COOK: Jbailey, it’s entirely up to you, but I feel far more comfortable knowing that I could backtrack a couple of weeks if I had to. Some might think it’s overkill, but that was my choice, I guess.

The software I use is NOVANET. I feel that it is a pretty stable product.

You really have to decide how you’re going to back up your workstations; servers are pretty simple because you have total control of them. You have two basic plans to go by for workstations. First, you can set up a folder on each client called BACKUP and tell users to copy their files there, then you can schedule your software to back up that folder each night. This is good only when you have a small organization. Second, you can have a fileserver with large disk arrays. Then place a folder on the server for each user. You can then just back up the server and user files that way. If you let the users know they have a backup folder, and you back that up, it is not your responsibility because the user knows what files are important.

My schedule is actually Full backup, with a different backup of clients each night, plus a Full backup of one of the five servers each night. This was fine in a small office (30 workstations), but as some of you heard earlier, I am starting a new job on Monday. There will be 350 workstations, so that plan won’t work anymore. I think that I will employ the Full-with Incremental solution for starters, then tweak it as I see fit.

Corrupted data
HAROLD966: Have you ever restored a backup and found the data was corrupted?

TRENT COOK: Yes, I have, Harold. The main cause of this is that the file was open, and the backup software got only part of the file. Most commercial products allow you to purchase open file managers if they are not native to the software. For example, has an open file manager that works with many of the big-name products. Other than that, if you are backing up over a network, data can become corrupt rather easily.

JAMEST: Harold966, all forms of removable media are susceptible to some form of corruption/damage. Always have multiple backups of important data!

TRENT COOK: Jamest, great call. Again, that is why I like a minimum of a two-week rotation.

HAROLD966: But sometimes the file is used only once or twice a month.

Home backup schemes
TRENT COOK: What do you use for a backup schedule?

RCAIN: I do a full backup every night.

TRENT COOK: Rcain, do you have a small office setting? I find if you do, then Full each night is the way to go. Some say overkill, but if you can, why not?

RCAIN: No, we have 15 servers. I back up the two Novell servers and the NT boxes nightly. I do full backups of the Citrix servers occasionally since there is no data stored there, and they are all set up the same.

TRENT COOK: Do any of you have any backup schemes at home?

CHEMPAC: I just burn onto a CD. They are relatively cheap.

TRENT COOK: Chempac, CD is a great way to go at home, definitely.

HAROLD966: I move everything to the D partition. I move important small files to floppies.

TRENT COOK: Harold, that was my next point, I have a C, D, E partition. On the E partition, I have a backup folder. That way, if Windows dies, I can format C:, reinstall, and E is fine with my data. Plus, I have tapes. To take the partitioning one step further, if you have two hard drives, backing up data to the second drive is always a good idea.

TRENT COOK: I have a SCSI host with a LEGACY 4000 external tape drive using the Win98 backup software. I find it works great.

Also, there are sites like, which allows you to upload 500 MB of files for free, or, which allows 50 MB. I have an account at both and love to store files online.

HAROLD966: You must need a very fast connection.

TRENT COOK: Harold, a fast connection helps. I have DSL here, but if you want to do some small files, it’s not too bad on a modem. If you follow those steps, you can be sure that sensitive data will be safe if your Windows machine happens to die on you.

HAROLD966: What about privacy on Internet backups?

TRENT COOK: Harold, privacy is always a consideration. With commercial software you can password protect, but if you want to have a workaround, ZIP up your data and specify a password. That way, even if it’s downloaded, they will need the Winzip password to unzip the file. This method is cheap, easy, and effective

TRENT COOK: I have a couple of tips I would like to pass on to you all. Anyone have any questions before I write them out?

First, if you are running commercial backup software at work and if your software creates a database, which it probably will, make sure you include that in your backups. What that database holds is all the information for the software, such as what tapes have been used, what files were backed up, and so on. If you don’t have this database and everything has been lost, you could be in a heap of trouble. The backups will be pretty much useless, so please make sure to back up the database for your backup software.

Second, imaging software such as Symatec ghost are a great tool for backing up your OS and files. You can make an image and burn it to a CD; it does support spanning of CDs. Then boot off a floppy with ghost on it and, boom, your system will be back just the way you left it in minutes.

Third and final tip: Does anyone know what the C:\System.1st file is? This is for Windows9x clients. The first time your system boots up successfully, your OS makes this file and then never touches it again. It’s a System.dat file; this file holds all your system’s configurations. If you find yourself in a mess because your registry is corrupt and Windows will not boot, boot off a floppy disk and then copy the C:\System.1st file to C:\Windows as System.dat. Reboot, and your machine will come back online. Your apps, etc., will have trouble as the registry entries will be gone, but this will allow you to have your PC up long enough to back up your sensitive docs and files.

That is just a tip if you’re in a total bind. It might save a file or two for you.

CHEMPAC: I really appreciate your info tonight on the NT backups. I work for a very small company, and I am a part-time chemist and part-time green IT, so your information is great!!!

Ghost Utilities
CHEMPAC: Tell us a little more about ghost utilities.

TRENT COOK: Ghost is a very easy utility, and you can make an exact image of a hard drive, partition, and all. If you have multiple PCs that have the same hardware, you can use the same image on each. So 20 computers could have OS and drivers in no time with an image on a CD. And as mentioned, it’s great for backing up important systems. I say this because it would be too time-consuming for me to Image all 350 workstations at my new job on Monday, so I’ll do the important ones for sure.

Thanks for coming
TRENT COOK: Well, if you want to e-mail me, I can write up a .txt file for you with everything. Or, yes, you could go over the transcripts. Either is fine by me

WELL: Okay, what is your e-mail address?

TRENT COOK: I am just here to help. I still get e-mails from my last meeting. Here is my address:

WELL: Thanks.

MODERATOR: That about wraps it up for tonight. Excellent job as usual, Trent. Thanks for speaking this evening. And to the rest of you... a big thanks for participating this evening.
Our Guild Meetings feature top-flight professionals leading discussions on interesting and valuable IT issues. You can find a schedule of Guild Meetings in your weekly TechProGuild Notes TechMail, or on the Guild Meeting calendar.

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