Disaster Recovery

Configure automated backups using SyncToy and Windows 7's Scheduled Task

Learn how to create a new SyncToy task that automatically schedules backups of the directories clients need regularly backed up to a network share or external hard disk.

A common request from clients is to implement reliable desktop and laptop backups. Users frequently store critical information within their computer's Desktop and My Documents directories, but Group Policy/profile-based backup or folder redirection isn't in use or isn't always an option. Image-based or automated native Windows backup operations don't always meet client needs. What then?

Third-party tools don't always work well

Judging from the many failed platforms my consultancy has inherited from other technology providers who tried their best for clients, third-party backup solutions have limitations. Sometimes the programs stop working. Other times Windows or application updates break the third-party backup software. Occasionally jobs just stop running. In other cases, the wrong software is backed up, the backup media fills and stops collecting new backups, or a backup account password is changed and causes the scheduled backup routine to fail.

Leverage Microsoft's free SyncToy utility

Fortunately, a simple and cost-effective (read: free for Windows 7 users) method exists to automatically schedule backups of just those directories clients need regularly backed up to a network share or external hard disk. Better yet, the process is straightforward, dependable, and requires no user interaction and only that the desktop or laptop it will run on be powered on electrically (and possess access to the backup media) at the time automated backups are scheduled.

The method combines Microsoft's SyncToy operation with a dedicated Windows 7 Scheduled Task. First, you must download and install SyncToy on the user's desktop or laptop. Then, you must create a new scheduled task. Here are the step-by-step instructions for completing both tasks.

Install and configure SyncToy

1. Download SyncToy 2.1 from Microsoft's website. Make sure you select the correct version (64-bit x64 edition vs. 32-bit x86 edition).

2. Install SyncToy 2.1 on the client machine.

3. Create a network-accessible server share that uses the user's name and SyncToy (e.g., JohnSmithSyncToyBackup) so you can properly identify it. You should assign only that user permission to that share to ensure other users cannot access the user's data or connect an external hard disk to the computer.

4. If you're using a network-based server share, map a drive on the user's desktop or laptop to that new network share. If you're using an external hard disk, note the drive letter the Windows system dedicates to the external hard disk.

5. Open SyncToy.

6. Click the Create New Folder Pair button (Figure A). Figure A

Click the image to enlarge.
7. Beneath the Left Folder entry, click the Browse button and select the desktop/laptop directory to back up (Figure B).

8. Beneath the Right Folder entry, click the Browse button and select the server directory where the selected desktop/laptop directory is to be backed up or the drive dedicated to the external hard disk (Figure B).

9. Click Next (Figure B).

Figure B

10. Select Echo from the What Do You Want To Do? menu (Figure C). The Echo selection ensures synchronization does not occur and specifies that new and updated files are copied from the left (original source location) to the right (intended backup location).

11. Click Next (Figure C).

Figure C

12. Provide a name for the directory being backed up within the Name Your Folder Pair window, and then click Finish (Figure D). Figure D

13. Click the Run button to test the folder pairing and confirm SyncToy performs a backup properly (Figure E). Figure E

Click the image to enlarge.

14. Repeat steps 6 through 13 for additional desktop/laptop folders or directories that require backing up.

Read the rest of the tutorial.

About

Erik Eckel owns and operates two technology companies. As a managing partner with Louisville Geek, he works daily as an IT consultant to assist small businesses in overcoming technology challenges and maximizing IT investments. He is also president o...

12 comments
Bowen1973
Bowen1973

Do you know any way of getting synctoy to work on Win8? running through GUI syncs fine but trying to sync via cmd with task scheduler just error's saying it cannot find the network source?

wdpcpa
wdpcpa

I am trying to back up the external drive of a new computer. It is on the same network. Sync toy sees the computer but not the drive. How can I get it to see the external drive. I want to back up the entire external drive. Thanks, wdpcpa

dgeron
dgeron

I am using the software "Allway Sync" ... very reliable and has automatic backup option as well. And also very fast. :-)

gdvngkrishna
gdvngkrishna

I am using Microsoft Outlook. My PC crashed due to Hardware failure several times due to mishandling of my Laptop in the Laboratory. Every time i called for a data recovery, it is costing me huge. I would like to know whether, SyncToy can be able to take of *.pst while Outlook is in operation? If not, Please give any other tool details, which will operate for back-up, even when the file for back-up is in use. Thanks

Erik Eckel
Erik Eckel

This comment is addressed to those IT pros with concerns about SyncToy reliability. Have you used SyncToy in the manner I described in this article, namely just the Echo component writing files one way? I've deployed this solution at numerous clients and have yet to see a single file not back itself up when the scheduled task runs.

gclifton_BANNED1234567891
gclifton_BANNED1234567891

I've been using Robocopy for some time now, after reading Greg Schultz's article, and comes with Vista and 7. It's a manual backup, replacing Xcopy, but it has many switches and works well. I used an Xcopy batch file in XP and put it in the Task Scheduler. Both worked well and handled my backup needs. My files are backup up to my NAS, a Dlink DNS-321 network storage device on my home network with mirrored drives. My wife's and my computer are backed up to it.

John_LI_IT_Guy
John_LI_IT_Guy

I stopped using SyncToy because it became unreliable. I've been using FreeFileSync which is open source. It is more customizable than SyncToy and SyncToy can't hold a candle to it. My 2 cents.

Tolga BALCI
Tolga BALCI

I have tried SyncToy on various scenarios. I can safely say that it works fine for personal use but do not consider it a workhorse for large number of files.

gkeramidas
gkeramidas

erik: maybe you can shed some light. using windows 7 desktops in a win2008r2 domain. pc's are typically logged off, but not always if I set up synctoy under the user account with the target on the server, the test works, but then the job fails when run as a scheduled task, if I remember, can't find the path, or something like that. the path I typically use as the target is "\\servername\users\username\documents\outlook backup" if I use a mapped drive and they've logged out, it will fail, because it doesn't know what the mapped drive is. I've set it up logged in as the administrator on the pc, and it seems to work, though sometimes it can't find the target path because I have redirected my documents to a folder called documents in their user directory. in all instances, the test after initial setup works fine. also, how do you get away without specifying the backup name? I always use - R "Outlook Backup" for the command line parameters.

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

[b]Share the Drive[/b] for it to be visible on the Network. ;) Col

lelandhamilton
lelandhamilton

-R without any parameter backups all folder pairs that are active for backup all folder pairs. -R followed by a folder pair name (must be in quotes if it contains a space) backups only that folder pair.

wdpcpa
wdpcpa

Appreciate the help.

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