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Data backups aren’t as exciting as dual-core Intel
chips that dual-boot Mac OS X and Windows XP, but maintaining a sound backup
strategy can prevent excitement of a different kind (the kind you don’t want). Although
technology professionals can choose from a confusing array of OEM, proprietary,
and third-party solutions, Windows’ native backup program often proves adequate
for meeting the data backup and recovery requirements of most small and medium
businesses. The trick is in knowing Windows Backup’s benefits and
drawbacks. By playing to the utility’s strengths, you can eliminate unwanted
excitement and keep your workday low key.

#1: It’s proven (i.e., no one ever got fired for
buying IBM…)

No one in their right mind wants to explain to a client or
director why a backup or recovery operation failed. Losing data is among the
greatest technology sins, so it’s only appropriate that the job be entrusted to
a reliable solution. The old saying reminds that, “No one ever got fired for buying IBM.” The same holds for technology professionals in small or medium-size businesses who opt for using Microsoft tools.

Although many criticize Microsoft’s native Backup tool for
its lack of sophistication and flexibility, the Windows utility’s lack of
complexity is its greatest strength. Windows Backup provides a simple and
proven method for safeguarding data. Further, it’s a capable tool for backing up
data to a medium that’s easily stored offsite.

#2: The wizard is your friend

Sure, you can elect to work in Backup’s Advanced mode (Figure
A
), but wizards simplify complex tasks. More important, they help ensure that
you don’t forget a step. And let’s face it, when the phone’s ringing and you’re
downloading a service pack, applying a patch, and configuring a backup, it’s
easy to overlook a setting.

Figure A

Windows Backup’s Advanced Mode let’s you specify all backup configuration
details manually.

There’s a reason wizards dominate Windows Small Business
Server administration: They work. When creating a critical backup, take a few
extra moments to allow the wizard (Figure B) to walk you through the
process.

Figure B

The Windows Backup Or Restore Wizard simplifies backup creation and helps
ensure that you don’t miss critical configuration settings (such as scheduling
the backup to occur daily or configuring an Incremental versus a Normal backup).

The Backup Or Restore Wizard first asks whether you want to
back up or restore files and settings. Assuming you specify a backup operation,
the next step involves specifying the data you want to back up. You can elect
to back up local files and folders as well as network shares, of course.

After you configure the data to be backed up, you’ll have to
select the backup location. I’ve encountered clients who back up data to the
same hard disk, believing it’s a second disk (due to its being partitioned and
possessing a different drive letter). Backups always work best when a copy is
stored offsite, thereby protecting against fire/smoke/water damage that might
occur at the central place of business.

Next, the wizard will prompt you to provide a name for the
backup. It will then provide a summary screen (Figure C). But you’re not through yet.

Figure C

The wizard’s summary screen leads you to believe you’re just about finished
configuring the new backup; you’re not. You still need to configure advanced
settings.

Click Advanced to configure the type of Backup:

  • Normal backs up all files and marks each
    as backed up.
  • Copy backs up files but does not mark
    them as backed up.
  • Incremental backs up files only if they
    were created or modified since the last backup operation completed and marks
    them as backed up.
  • Differential backs up only those files
    created since the last backup completed, but unlike Incremental backups, a
    Differential backup doesn’t mark the files as backed up.
  • Daily backs up only files created or
    modified that day (without changing files’ archive bits).

Once you’ve specified the backup type, the wizard presents
two options: Verify Data After Backup and Disable Volume Shadow Copy. A third
option, Use Hardware Compression If Available, will appear if the system has
the appropriate equipment. Make your selections and specify whether to append
or replace the backup, select a time for the backup to run, and enter a backup
name (this name identifies the backup operation, not the .BKF file the backup
creates). Enter a user account with the appropriate permissions to run the
backup operation and then provide the password.

Before clicking Next to finish creating the backup routine,
click Set Schedule. Use the Schedule tab to specify how often and when the
backup runs. Use the Settings tab to configure additional options, such as the
length of time the backup has to complete the process and whether the backup
should run even if the power fails and the system’s battery power kicks in.

Once those settings are configured, you’re finished with the
wizard. You can rest assured all important steps have been considered (even if
you’re interrupted mid-process by a telephone call).

#3: You must watch names when creating new backups

When creating backups using Windows Backup Or Restore Wizard,
you need to provide a name for the backup routine. In fact, you must enter two
names, one to identify the backup operation itself (the job name) and another
for the actual .BKF file that Backup creates (the backup name). They’re easy to
confuse, and worse, Windows Backup remembers the last names you used and
displays them by default; it’s easy to overwrite an existing routine or backup
file when creating a second backup operation. Take care to ensure you don’t
accidentally overwrite an old backup file or mistakenly alter an existing
backup operation when configuring new backups.

When using the Backup Or Restore Wizard, the first name you specify
is for the backup file itself. This is the data file the backup operation creates.
It’s entered on the wizard’s Backup Type, Destination, And Name screen.

Scheduling a backup triggers the Job Name box, found on the
wizard’s When To Back Up menu. The name you enter there determines the job name
used to administer the backup operation.

#4: Advanced options are key

Advanced Options, accessed using the Advanced button found
on the Backup Or Restore Wizard’s summary screen (shown in Figure C) provides
access to critical settings. In addition to configuring the backup type as
described above, you use Advanced options to specify whether backups append or
replace older backups and whether a backup is scheduled to run regularly.

When scheduling backup routines, the Set Schedule button provides
access to yet another set of tabs. The Schedule tab enables configuring the
backup’s frequency, while the Settings tab (Figure D) permits
customizing Scheduled Task completion parameters, how the system should manage
idle time, and power management.

Figure D

Critical power management and idle time settings are configured using the
Settings tab reached by clicking the Set Schedule button from within Advanced
options.

#5: You needn’t overcomplicate schedules/types

Microsoft exams and practice test companies love quizzing
you on how you best recover from a disk failure if you’ve got a six-day-old Normal backup and five days of Incremental or
Differential backups. Although such practices work well in theory, they’re more
difficult to complete as intended in the real world. Office managers forget to
replace the tapes or Rev Disks in a system and copy a Tuesday Differential over
a Monday Differential. Disks get lost; tapes fail over time.

I recommend simply talking with clients or reviewing with
corporate staff how much data you can afford to lose. Can you get by without a
week’s worth of data? Then configure weekly Normal backups, ensure they complete
properly and get them offsite. Regularly recover backups to ensure all
necessary data is being properly protected.

However, some organizations need data backed up every day.
In those cases, I recommend setting Windows Backup to complete Normal backups daily. Just be sure to keep several copies
(at least a week’s worth, if not more) and rotate them. That way, if a user
accidentally deletes a needed customer file on Monday and you don’t discover
the problem until Friday, you still have a week-old backup from which you can
obtain the file.

Still other companies can’t afford to lose even a half-day’s
data. Microsoft Backup isn’t the solution for them. That’s when it’s time to
turn to high-availability data provisioning services (such as RAID arrays and online
backups).

#6: You likely need to replace–not append–backups

In most small and medium businesses, there’s no need to
obtain more than a week or two’s worth of backups. Although for some it makes
sense to keep master quarterly backup copies forever, typically just replacing Normal backups works well as part of a regular rotation.
Thus, many will elect to use the Windows Replace feature rather than the Append
feature when configuring scheduled backups.

If circumstances require, you can append backups or add them
to your media as opposed to replacing an existing backup. But more often than
not, you’ll run out of storage space quickly. Most midsize businesses and many
small businesses will be best served by maintaining fresh sets of operative
Normal backups. Therefore, these organizations can simply replace existing
backups.

Larger organizations requiring more complex data backup
regimens will be best served using a more sophisticated backup system. Because
of Windows Backup’s simplicity, it quickly becomes unwieldy when trying to
manage multiple backup sets in small organizations. And trying to scale
appending Incremental or Differential backups in addition to weekly Normal
backups simply isn’t worth the effort in large enterprises, where more
sophisticated systems help ease the tediousness of the process.

#7: Data compression is weak, so plan accordingly

If you need to back up 30GB daily, as I often do for
everyone from one- or two physician-practice health care providers (due to
patient records and x-ray images) to realty firms wishing to retain copies of
various blueprints, contracts, and show house images, your backup requires a
lot of storage space. Windows Backup works well for these businesses, but don’t
expect the backup to compress data effectively.

Third-party tools typically outperform the compression
capacities Windows Backup boasts. In larger backups I’ve configured for
clients, I see little data compression result from Windows Backup (using
standard removal hard drives, Rev Disks, and the like). Using tape technologies,
additional compression benefits emerge.

When calculating media storage required to manage backup
routines, I recommend planning at least 12 months ahead. Thus, if you’re using
Windows Backup and you must back up 12GB worth of data weekly, and the
organization adds 500MB of new data a month, I’d recommend working with at
least a 20GB tape or disk.

#8: Data verification can take forever

Windows Backup offers a data verification feature, which
helps confirm backups complete properly. Almost everyone advises that you use
it. The option should be selected with care when creating larger backups,
however, as the confirmation process can add an inordinate amount of time to
the backup operation. In one example I’ve seen in the field, a 32GB backup
regularly and consistently failed to complete in eight hours due to the
verification feature taking too long; when data verification was turned off,
the backup completed much more quickly.

If you’re completing smaller (5GB or less) backups, consider
selecting data verification (the Verify Data After Backup check box) from the
Backup Or Restore Wizard’s How To Back Up screen. For larger backups, I
recommend periodically verifying backups complete properly firsthand instead, by
opening a backup and checking its uniformity.

#9: When scheduling backups, once is the default

It’s important to note that the default setting for the
Schedule is Once. This is true even though you can set the backup to begin a
week or months in advance. As a result, it’s easy to configure a Normal backup
to occur on Friday at 11:00 p.m. and forget to select Weekly from the Scheduled
Task drop-down box. If you don’t confirm that you’ve selected the appropriate
frequency, you’ll wind up configuring a scheduled backup to run only once. When
you create a new backup routine using Windows backup, always be sure you
specify that it run Later and click Set Schedule.

#10: You need to limit Backups’ default runtime

Backups can easily suck up a system’s resources, not to
mention network bandwidth (when backing up files from network shares). Add in
the fact users are constantly making changes to files during regular business
hours, and it’s easy to see why backups are traditionally programmed to occur
during off hours.

When configuring Windows Backup, be sure to review the
timeframe Windows allots the routine to complete. The default setting (reached
by selecting Set Schedule and clicking the Settings tab from Advanced options)
is 72 hours. That’s an incredibly long time, especially in the event that a
backup routine becomes stuck, confused, or locked in an endless access, read,
or write cycle. You don’t want users rendered unable to access the server,
network data, or the network. Configure reasonable run times and make it a
habit to review backups and confirm that they’re completing within the allotted
time.