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If you have read my Guidelines for Home / SOHO Computers  you know that I really care about backing up my systems! I recently had a defective SATA-II cable that caused disk corruption on my Vista system. In frustration I went back to WindowsXP Pro on a new 10,000 rpm disk and still had the problems before I discovered the bad cable. Only time will tell if the new cables fixed the problem.

The 4 or 5 corrupted disks and the necessary Nero8 BackItUp3 restore or Windows reinstall and restoring of my user files has provided much better testing of my backup/recovery strategy than I had ever done before!

First of all, let me say that I didn't lose any data, only lots of time. I did discover some things about Nero8's BackItUp3 that I wished that I had known when I selected the product:

  1. While running BackItUp3 on Windows, you have the option of creating a Disaster Recovery Disk. This an image backup of your disk.  If the disk that you choose to save an image copy of is your system disk (usually C:\) you will get a warning after several minutes that it can't lock the drive. Then BackItUp3 will explain that you can't ever lock your system disk and allow you continue with the backup.  This should have been a red flag that I might have problems during the restore! I missed this possibility, because Vista Ultimate's Image Backup, Norton's Ghost and some other vendors take advantage of the capabilities of Windows' NTSF log-based file system and are able to save a consistent snapshot of the disk while running under the operating system.

    The end result was with BackItUp3, on both Vista and WindowsXP Pro, was that my restored disk, had errors that were detected by chkdisk. This meant that some files were missing or corrupted!. Ultimately I had to do a complete reinstall of Windows to get a stable system.

    What I believe that I should have done was boot the BackItUp3 Standalone Restore Disk, which runs Linux, and done the original backup from it. This should give me a copy with no errors.  This might work IF the CD version of BackItUp3 supported writing to NTFS disks, or Firewire attached disks!
  2. Windows assigns a unique security identifier to each user. This id is associated with each file and/or directory. If you use WindowsXP Pro's Backup one of the restore options you have is to keep the original security id's or use the user's current ones. If you have done a fresh install and are trying to restore your user files you MUST use the current security ids if you want to be able to read your files on a fresh install!

    When I went to restore my user files including some huge Outlook files with BackItUp3, I discovered that it doesn't have this option. So I was missing some files. The files that I was missing included my Outlook mail and contacts, Favorites etc.  Not very a useful restore.

  3. Fortunately I didn't violate the PRIMARY rule of never overwriting my old disk until I have the new one running for a few weeks and was able to copy the required files from the old disk to the new one.  I always have at least one spare disk laying around for such an emergency.

 

I began looking for a new backup program and settled on Norton's Ghost 14. At this time I have it set up to automatically:

  • Sunday at 11PM on the first Sunday of the month to do a Fresh Image Backup of the C:\.  It is set to keep the last 2 months of these files. 
  • The the other Sundays it does an Incremental Image Backup. Just saving the files that have changed since the beginning of the month. Depending on the disk space used by this, I may drop back to 0 to 2 Incremental Image Backups per month.
  • On the first Monday of the month it does a Fresh Backup of "Documents and Settings". Every day of the month it does Incremental Backup of "Documents and Settings". It is setup to keep two months of these backups.  Depending on the disk space used by this, I may alter the frequency to every other day or the number of incremental backups to keep to 1 month.

Ghost comes with a Bootable WindowsXP CD that contains a copy of the restore software. This means that I could boot the CD and restore to a brand new disk. It even supports network devices, so that if I was really crazy I could restore over my WiFi network, if I had a 80 hours to kill

There are still are areas that I have to test, so that I know exactly what is being backed up and how to restore the data:If iy

  1. Outlook keeps all of its data in two "pst" files that are open for writing whenever Outlook is open. QuickBooks behaves in the same way. The  important question is: If I start these programs at 8 AM and make several entries, edits, additions and deletions, then backup at 11 PM, which data is saved. The original or the ending data?  I MAY have to insure that I exit Outlook and QuickBooks on a regular basis to insure that my data is writI didten to the disk, so that it may be correctly backed up.  Today I normally do this with QuickBooks but not Outlook.
  2. There are other features of Ghost such as copying disks, and turning backups into Virtual Images that might be useful.
  3. Ghost supports Offsite Backups using FTP.  It would be interesting to see if there is an FTP interface to Amazon's S3, and how many hours it would take to do an offsite backup of "Documents and Settings" using mt 10Mb/2Mb fiber obtic network connection.  I know that an image backup would not be practical given that it takes 5 hours over my local 16Mb 802.11G WiFi network.
  4. I also have to test what a restore of "Documents and Settings" onto a fresh installation of Windows does.
  5. I am about to do a fresh install on my wife's system by cloning my system disk, adding the few unique drivers for her system and then restoring her "Documents and Settings."  I'll have some fix-up to do such as changing the system name, IP address, shared and mounted disks, tweaking a few license keys, etc. However, it should be much quicker than a fresh install of WindowXP Pro and the dozen applications that she uses.
  6. Creation of a DVD backup for my laptop.  The laptop has 40 GB on the system disk and nothing on D:\. Ghost nicely created an image backup on D:, using only 20 GB. It would not create a DVD backup. I tried BackItUp3's stand-alone tool to create an image backup on DVDs. It died creating the 8th DVD and was unsuccessful.

 

I thought that I should make this post to document the problems, issues, and solutions as I see them today with backing and restoring the data on PC's

/Dave Snow

 Updates:

9/17/09 --- Ghost has a few issues that I have seen. I am still using it, but I have to watch it status icon every day!

  • Its automatic pruning of old backup data to help manage disk space seems not to be 100% reliable.
  • I have had my "files and docs" backup left in a "locked" state and there is no tool to unlock it. I had to delete all backups.

 

3/15/10 --- I had to update to Ghost 15 when I updated my computer to Windows 7 64bit.

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