Tasks you should automate: Backup and archiving

Backup and archiving should be an automatic task. This tip explains what the vital criteria are so you can choose a tool to automate this process.

What you will learn from this tip: Serdar Yegulalp explains why backup and archiving should be automated on your desktop.


Backups are like flossing: everyone needs to do it, but nobody wants to do it. And yet, without an adequate backup of both data and system state information, what would we do if things went south?

Thankfully, backup products have evolved to the point where they are nearly invisible -- they do their work automatically and silently in the background as we work. I'll be focusing on such tools here, as well as the degrees of automation you can expect to get from various packages that are currently available.

Everyone running 32- or 64-bit Windows has a free built-in backup application available -- Microsoft's own NTBACKUP tool. It works with the Windows Task Scheduler to launch the program at a pre-designated interval and start a backup process -- typically to another hard drive or maybe a network folder, since, unlike tape or DVDs, those don't require user intervention to be available.

NTBACKUP is still terribly limited, though: When a scheduled backup runs, the program pops up a window right in front of you. If you're in the middle of typing, it might even wind up canceling the job by mistake. (It would be possible to run NTBACKUP in a separate user account via Fast User Switching, but that would have to be set up by hand -- which doesn't make it very automated!)

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This brings out two key criteria that need to be satisfied when using any kind of backup tool in an automated way. One, it has to be able to run non-interactively so it doesn't disrupt ongoing work (i.e., use the Volume Shadow Copy service in Windows). Two, it has to be able to back up to any available device. (Some of the consumer-level backup products, for instance, don't even allow backup from one hard drive to another, only to tape or CD/DVD.)

A program like SyncBackSE can do both of these things at a very low cost for desktops -- even if it has no support for tape devices. But tape backups are difficult to automate without becoming very costly anyway).

A third and increasingly important option is automatic incremental backup -- i.e., changes to files are replicated to the backup more or less in real time. Norton Ghost does this for the desktop; Symantec/Veritas' Replication Exec or LiveState Recovery products do this sort of thing for servers.

Other solutions might not even involve a backup product per se. One such product is Altiris Client Management Suite 6.0 -- nominally an enterprise desktop management program, but it can also be used to maintain passive backups of all the clients in a network. Consequently, it may be overkill for some applications (especially given the cost), but perfect for others since it doesn't even require any user intervention at all.

This tip originally appeared on SearchWinSystems.com.


Serdar Yegulalp is editor of the Windows Power Users Newsletter.

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