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.

Create a new scheduled task

1. In Windows 7, open Task Scheduler by going to Start | All Programs | Accessories | System Tools | Task Scheduler (Figure F).
Figure F

Click the image to enlarge.

2. In the Actions menu, click Create Basic Task (Figure G).
Figure G

Click the image to enlarge.

3. Enter the basic task’s name (such as SyncToy Operation) within the Name field, provide a description (such as Automated Desktop and My Documents backup operation to server’s user share), and click Next.

4. Specify a Trigger value to indicate how often the task runs, such as Daily, and then click Next (Figure H).
Figure H

Click the image to enlarge.

5. Specify the start date and time of day when the automated task should run, and then click Next (Figure I).
Figure I

Click the image to enlarge.

6. In the Action page, specify Start A Program, and then click Next (Figure J).
Figure J

Click the image to enlarge.

7. Within the Program/script: field, browse to the SyncToy directory and specify the SyncToyCmd.exe file (C:\Program Files\SyncToy 2.1\SyncToyCmd.exe) (Figure K).
Figure K

Click the image to enlarge.

8. Enter -R within the Add Arguments (optional) field, and then click Next.

9. Review the settings to confirm they are configured as intended, and then click Finish (Figure L).
Figure L

Click the image to enlarge.

Test the new SyncToy task

  1. Highlight the Task Scheduler Library within the Task Scheduler left window pane.
  2. Select the new SyncToy task within the right window pane.
  3. Click Run within the Select Item pane on the far right.
  4. When the operation completes, log in to the server share or connect to the external hard disk to confirm the backup files are present in the proper location.