Disaster Recovery

How do I create a reliable backup with Acronis?

Jack Wallen taps into his experience as a consultant to show you how to create a reliable backup using Acronis.

Is it even possible to place a dollar amount on the importance of a good back-up plan? Many people seem to think so, as they often refuse to purchase back-up software capable of handling the job. The problem is that when you begin to create a back-up job using an application like Acronis Backup and Recovery 10 you might find it to be a rather overwhelming application. Or, you might find that the back-up job you have created simply doesn't work. Why? The frustrations experienced with trying to create a sound, reliable backup with Acronis can be many and great. But with a little help, you can have smooth running backups that will give you the peace of mind that often comes with an application that should be "set it and forget it" but rarely is.

In this How Do I blog post, I am going to show you how to create a reliable backup using Acronis. Understand that no two people will agree on what the best practice is for backups. Every situation dictates a different need and different configuration. What I am going to show you is the setup that has been the most reliable for our clients and has managed the fastest turnaround when disaster strikes.

This blog post is also available in PDF format in a TechRepublic download.

Before you start

I will warn you that the back-up plan I am going to outline shoots for simplicity and reliability as its foundation. This plan works only with full backups, so depending on the amount of data you are backing up, you will need the largest external drive possible. We tend to deploy either 500GB or 1TB drives for this purpose. Yes, the backups are large and they can take some time, but they are very reliable when disaster strikes.

This document will assume you already have the Acronis application up and running and that you have access to an SMTP server for sending out e-mail notifications. This will also assume you are running Acronis Backup and Recovery 10.

Step 1: How to begin 

After you have Acronis started, you want to click on Backup Plans and Tasks (Figure A) and then click on New | Backup Plan. You will now start to create a full backup that is sure to be reliable.

Figure A

The Acronis 10 user interface is light years ahead of the Echo release.

Step 2: What to back up

This is the first step in creating your backup. This is where you configure exactly what you are backing up. Most likely you are backing up disks so that you can leave that as is. By default Acronis is going to pick up any and all drives attached to the machine. More than likely you will need to change this to deselect the drive you are using to house your backups. To make this change, click the Change button and uncheck your destination drive.

Step 3: Where to back up

You will basically do the same in this step, except you will make sure your source drive is unchecked and your destination drive is checked. Here's another good tip. In the Name text area, make sure you give your backup a unique name. By default, the application will name the backup "Archive." I prefer to give those backups machine (or task) specific names so I know for sure what each backup is.

Click OK when you are done with this step.

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Step 4: How to back up

This is a crucial step in creating a solid backup. From the Backup Scheme dropdown, check Custom. When the Custom scheme expands (Figure B), you are going to click Change on the Full Backup section.

Figure B

The custom backup allows you to set up Full, Incremental, and Differential backups. For this task we are going to create a Full backup.

When you click Change for the Full Backup, a new window will appear asking you to schedule the task. Decide your backup's schedule, making sure you give AMPLE time for the backup to run before the next business day starts. Midnight is usually a good choice.

After you have set up your schedule for the full backup, click on the Change "button" associated with Retention rules. In this new window (Figure C), you will want to set up how many backups you want to retain.

Figure C

By default, Acronis will keep five backups. This is smart only if you have the space for it.

If you know you have the space for five full backups, keep the default setting. If, however, you do not have the space, go ahead and lower the number of backups to be retained. For some clients we keep only a single full backup. There are instances where keeping only one backup is not smart. Make this choice wisely (it is often dependent on the needs of the client). If you opt to retain only one full backup, you will want to make sure that you have notifications set up and that you monitor it every day.

The last piece of this step is to configure when to apply the retention rules. This option will appear only after you have created the retention rules. If the space available for backup is tight, I would suggest applying retention rules BEFORE the backup begins. If space is not an issue, you can apply the rules AFTER the backup completes.

OPTIONAL: Validation is an important step for backup. The problem with the Acronis validation task is that it can take a long, long time to finish. If this is not an option, you can schedule a validation for a nonbusiness day. Validation will ensure your backup is spot on and SHOULD be a viable recovery solution. NOTE: I say SHOULD because I have seen instances when a backup that has been validated would not restore, even using the Universal restore feature.

Step 5: Which backup options

For many, this is a portion of the back-up process that is too often overlooked. The Options section should ALWAYS be configured for your backup as there are some very crucial settings to take care of. There are times when a backup will fail because of issues with VSS (Volume Shadow copy Service). If this is the case, you will want to disable this feature by going into the Options window, clicking on Volume Shadow Copy Service, and then clicking Create Snapshots without Using VSS (Figure D).

Figure D

Although VSS is a very helpful tool when doing backups, the VSS service can often lead to failed backups.
Next in the Options section you will want to set up your e-mail notifications (Figure E). This option is fairly straightforward, but you will need to have a working SMTP server and you will need to know the authentication credentials.

Figure E

Make sure you have checked all three options in the Send Notifications sections so that you will be notified if jobs fail.

One thing I like to change is the Subject line of the outgoing e-mail. Replace ABR10 with the name of the Server or job (such as Exchange Server or even the client name) in case you have Acronis e-mail notifications coming from multiple machines. This makes it easy to quickly tell which machine was successfully backed up.

Finally, in the Options section, I always like to disable the Fast Incremental/Differential Backup option. This ensures that only a full backup is being done every night. Some will argue against using this type of backup alone, but I have found it to be a very solid solution.

Now that you have completed those option settings, go ahead and click OK in the Options window and then OK in the main window. You will have to give the administrative credentials in order to save the backup. After you have successfully authenticated, your backup will be saved and ready to run at the scheduled time.

You now have a full backup that will be saved to your external drive.

Final thoughts

As long as you have the space for full backups, this type of back-up scheme should work as a reliable means to recovery from disaster. Although there are plenty of dissenters out there who bemoan the full backup over the full/incremental/differential configuration, we have found this setup to work flawlessly for most situations.

About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

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