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Can I improve my backup strategy with an external drive?

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February 23, 2007 4:21:23 AM

I have 2 internal drives in my current computer. The main drive has a C partition for the OS and programs, and a D partition for data. Every night Acronis True Image makes an image of my D partition and saves it to my 2nd internal drive. Once a week it does the same for my C partition.

I'm getting ready to buy a new computer and I'm trying to figure out if I'm doing these backups correctly, or if there is a better way. Obviously with my current setup if I ever got some kind of bad virus or something, it could theoretically wipe out my "backup" drive since it's internal and always on.

I always see people talking about and recommending external drives for backups. So I must be missing something here. Is there some way to set things up so that the external drive is generally always turned off, and it "wakes up" only so True Image can save backup images to it, then it turns back off again? Is that why people use them for backups?

The other thing I do is automatically backup the image of my D partition using a web-based backup service called Carbonite. This seems to work pretty well and it gives me an off-site backup really easily and it's only like $50 a year I think. This works well since the image of my D drive is only about 250 megs (just important business stuff), but wouldn't be realistic for the image of my C partition which is about 8 gigs.

Either way, how could I improve upon what I'm doing now? I plan to get a RAID 1 setup on my new computer, but obviously I will continue to use True Image to make backup images. Would I be better off saving these images to a networked computer, or "network attached storage" device I have read about? I assume a virus etc. couldn't get to these??
February 23, 2007 4:56:20 AM

Some advantages to using a portable drive:

I backup once in a while and the drive is off the rest of the time - one issue with RAID1 is that one drive getting garbage written to it means the other will too. With a backup that is turned off, a virus or other issue will not affect it and if you suspect you have an issue, resolve it before plugging back in the main backup (use another disk or something).

Bringing your backup with you allows you to have your data (to show your friends pictures or whatever if you save the files as files and not some massive image. Not only that, but if your place gets broken into while you are gone at least you have your backup with you in a separate location.

My safe stuff (codebase for my thesis work) is on my RAID drive for mirroring, backed up on my portable drive, flash drive and school computer (rar'd on these last 2).

Jo
February 23, 2007 5:16:16 AM

Quote:
I have 2 internal drives in my current computer. The main drive has a C partition for the OS and programs, and a D partition for data. Every night Acronis True Image makes an image of my D partition and saves it to my 2nd internal drive. Once a week it does the same for my C partition.


I recommend keeping multiple copies of your Acronis .tib files. If your system should fail while creating a backup, you might not have either your system nor the backup.

But overall doing this is fine.

Quote:
I'm getting ready to buy a new computer and I'm trying to figure out if I'm doing these backups correctly, or if there is a better way. Obviously with my current setup if I ever got some kind of bad virus or something, it could theoretically wipe out my "backup" drive since it's internal and always on.


Right. That's one of the reason for off-line backups, as on external hard drives, DVD, tape, etc.

Quote:
I always see people talking about and recommending external drives for backups. So I must be missing something here. Is there some way to set things up so that the external drive is generally always turned off, and it "wakes up" only so True Image can save backup images to it, then it turns back off again? Is that why people use them for backups?


I am not aware of any way to have the external drive turn on automatically. My backups run daily. I turn on the external hard drive for the duration of the backup, then use Windows' "safely remove" stuff and turn power off to the drive.

The advantages to using external hard drives are several. 1) They are connected only when you turn them on, preventing damage by accident. 2) you can take an external hard drive off-site, meaning your data is more secure against anything that might happen to your computer (fire, theft, mudslide, tornado, ....).

Quote:
The other thing I do is automatically backup the image of my D partition using a web-based backup service called Carbonite. This seems to work pretty well and it gives me an off-site backup really easily and it's only like $50 a year I think. This works well since the image of my D drive is only about 250 megs (just important business stuff), but wouldn't be realistic for the image of my C partition which is about 8 gigs.


I cautiously like Carbonite and used it on vacation to keep backups of all data on my laptop. It would be fine to use it for 8 GB. However, you need to be very aware that Carbonite does not back up all files; it excludes many file types that it thinks are not data, such as .exe files but lots of others too. I would never count on being able to do a complete system rebuild from Carbonite backup. But I do hope I can count on it to recover important and irreplacable files if they were lost to fire or theft of the computer, etc.

Quote:
Either way, how could I improve upon what I'm doing now? I plan to get a RAID 1 setup on my new computer, but obviously I will continue to use True Image to make backup images. Would I be better off saving these images to a networked computer, or "network attached storage" device I have read about? I assume a virus etc. couldn't get to these??

RAID1 is good for high-availability systems such as a business environment that needs to be back in operation ASAP after a hard drive fails. I've never found a use for it in either my home environment or in my SOHO environment when I ran a software development business. I always felt much safer with a backup mechanism than with a RAID redundancy approach.

If you get a virus, or accidentally delete or damage files, they will be gone from the copy on both RAID1 disks at the same time.

I have multiple backup strategies:

o I do a lot of photography. Copies of raw images are made to another computer on the network so I can protect myself against damaging my files.

o I use SecondCopy to keep one duplicate copy of most important data on another internal hard drive.

o I back up to external USB hard drive using SecondCopy, NTBackup, and Acronis True Image. I keep two to five copies of the backups on the external drive, in case I need to go back in time. Five copies of deleted or changed files in the image directories are also kept by SecondCopy.

My goal is to have backups that allow me to rebuild the entire system relatively easily or to recover individual files. I use multiple backup tools so that I don't rely 100% on any one tool in case the tool itself breaks.

Further, I have several external USB hard drives and I rotate them.

I am building a new system now and will be tinkering with my backup strategies. I'll be using an internal mobile rack that should allow me easily to insert and remove a bare SATA hard drive. That will make it easier to back up large amounts of data (it's getting to be too much for one external drive). I'm also planning on encrypting a copy of important data and backing up the encrypted copy offsite with Carbonite. (I estimate I'll back up about 5 GB of data using Carbonite.)

Hope this helps.

Guy
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February 23, 2007 5:48:00 AM

Thanks for the replies.

Good idea about keeping multiple copies of the .tib files. I guess I could use some kind of .bat file to automate the renaming/rotation of the image files. Or do you do it all manually?

What I'm really trying to accomplish is something that's automated. I would find it a real PITA if I had to turn on and off my external drive to make a backup every single day. How do you do it? Do you consciously say to yourself OK it's 4pm time to make a backup? That would never work for me.

I have absolutely no need to take my data anywhere, unless it was to hide in a secure place. This computer is used strictly to run my business. No games. No pictures. No movies. None of that.

Regarding Raid 1, I understand 100% that it's not backup. Long story short, I see it as "time insurance". Not having to worry about a drive crashing in the middle of a busy workday, and losing a days work is worth the price of the extra drive as far as I'm concerned. That's all it would be for.

Currently I only use Carbonite to backup my D drive/partition image. So it's just one big 250mb encrypted file. This is my crucial "can't lose" data that must be backed up daily. I can't imagine using Carbonite to backup gigs and gigs of data, unless it was a very infrequent thing.

But as far as I'm concerned this fully covers me as far as offsite backups go. In the event my computer melted, house burned down, etc. I think I'd have bigger problems on my end and just being able to get my critical files back from Carbonite would be cool with me as I could rebuild the rest.

What about this as an "upgrade"... I believe True Image can create a "secret" partition to store your backup images, that the rest of the OS can't touch. Seems like if you kept your .tib files in there you'd never have to worry about them deleted or messed with, right?
February 23, 2007 6:12:07 AM

Quote:
Good idea about keeping multiple copies of the .tib files. I guess I could use some kind of .bat file to automate the renaming/rotation of the image files. Or do you do it all manually?

What I'm really trying to accomplish is something that's automated. I would find it a real PITA if I had to turn on and off my external drive to make a backup every single day. How do you do it? Do you consciously say to yourself OK it's 4pm time to make a backup? That would never work for me.

I automate everything with batch files, AWK scripts, and various other tools. The backup batch file is fired off automatically at a fixed time by Windows' scheduled tasks tool. The first thing the backup does is to determine whether the external drive is powered on. If not on, it asks me to turn it on, or alternatively to cancel the backup for the day. The batch process controls running of Acronis, NTBackup, and PerfectDisk for defragmenting volumes after a successful backup. (Automation of Acronis True Image is not satisfactory at this time; I'm still assessing how to do that. It appears I need the Workstation version rather than the Home version go automate it with batch files.)

The backup batch file also implements my rules for how many copies of each backup are to be kept, how often each drive is to be backed up, etc. The batch files either embed the date and time to the NTBackup file name or rename after creation with a sequence number (tib files).

The only thing I do manually is to turn the power on to the external USB drive. Even for that I use a switch on a "power director" rather than the dinky switch on the USB drive itself. Then I have to take a couple of steps to remove the drive from Windows and turn it off afterwards (which I don't always remember to do right away--another thing to automate someday).

Quote:
Regarding Raid 1, I understand 100% that it's not backup. Long story short, I see it as "time insurance". Not having to worry about a drive crashing in the middle of a busy workday, and losing a days work is worth the price of the extra drive as far as I'm concerned. That's all it would be for.

That's certainly what RAID1 is for. In the circumstances you describe, I would probably use RAID1. (My business was active before RAID was readily available so I have never used it for business.)

Quote:
Currently I only use Carbonite to backup my D drive/partition image. So it's just one big 250mb encrypted file. This is my crucial "can't lose" data that must be backed up daily. I can't imagine using Carbonite to backup gigs and gigs of data, unless it was a very infrequent thing.

Backing up gigs and gigs works only if only a few files need to be backed up at a time. I.e., when you are backing up many files, most of which are static.

Quote:
But as far as I'm concerned this fully covers me as far as offsite backups go. In the event my computer melted, house burned down, etc. I think I'd have bigger problems on my end and just being able to get my critical files back from Carbonite would be cool with me as I could rebuild the rest.

The key is always to evaluate your need and determine what coverage you need. Sounds like you have done this well.

Quote:
What about this as an "upgrade"... I believe True Image can create a "secret" partition to store your backup images, that the rest of the OS can't touch. Seems like if you kept your .tib files in there you'd never have to worry about them deleted or messed with, right?

I've never looked into that capability, so cannot comment from my own experience. The only caveat I would have is to put that "secret" partition on a physical drive other than the one you were backing up.

Guy
February 24, 2007 4:29:17 PM

Funny little story that is relevant for you....

I use TrueImage also, and not long ago I thought I'd lost something important on my HD. I can't remember exactly what now. I had an Image that was about 4 months old, and I thought "ok, here's a chance to test my backup system". I restored the 4 month image (full system C drive), using the boot CD, etc.

It worked perfectly. I was 4 months back into the past. Plenty of updates on several things, mostly Windows and security....and a couple of hours later I was feeling nice about it.....until....I realized I'd just wiped out a couple of album purchases from Itunes! AND....the recovery was unecessary I realized later. I had not lost that info I figure out after all!

:?

but....it was a nice trial (first ever for me), and I learned it worked great, and you need to backup often (as you do), or take your time to be sure before recovering an old backup (perhaps you can copy some recent stuff or whatever first)

regarding the external backup.

Absolutely!

I keep an old drive in a closet!

That's proof against a lot of possibilites, like lightning and theft, and I could even put it in a fire safe if I thought it best.
February 24, 2007 6:13:10 PM

Personally it's easier for me to back up manually, I keep my installs on permanent backup so Im just updating data. Of course often you want automatic but its more trouble than it' sworth to me. But what I really want to say is I had my computer(desktop) stolen, with both drives in it. Internal backup does u no good there. So I suggest putting backup somewhere out of the way, just in case. backup is mostly for failure etc,
but it's also for theft.
February 25, 2007 12:16:06 AM

Yeah I absolutely have to backup daily, which is why I think I really need an automated or mostly automated system. I'm not really concerned with theft, it's just an issue with my setup.
!