Saturday, September 18, 2010

Technician's toolbox - backup tools

Backup. That most important task in the modern age of computers. Whether it's personal data (family photos, videos, documents) or corporate data there's always something somebody absolutely can't miss. Yet the average user doesn't bother to setup even a simple backup routine. I should know, I'm one of them.

That's why I've been thinking of getting an external drive for purely backup purposes. Terabyte-sized disks are cheap enough nowadays to provide ample storage space while not burning too deeply into your pockets.

Having an external drive for backup is one thing, but there also needs to be a system for ensuring backup copies can be easily restored to their original state with minimal hassle. Lots of users simply dump their files willy nilly making things difficult for themselves (or the technician they task). I'm not one of those.

A simple system for organising personal file helps keep things manageable so even a manual backup is pretty simple. Just copy and paste! Of course, there's no reason to do that when there's backup tools to do all the hard work for you. Especially if you have thousands of files that need tracking. No matter your system for organising files, manual backup doesn't scale to large amounts of files.

So here I have two tools that seem decently simple to use. These are not all there is, neither are they the absolute best tools. I'm sure there's better out there, but for now these are the best I've found. Numerous other tools I've tried are too slow or too much of a resource hog during operation. Sometimes it's both.

DriveImage XML – For drive imaging purposes DriveImage XML provides a nice balance of speed and utility. Imaging entire partitions are done quickly and it even uses Windows' built-in Volume Shadow Copy service for imaging busy partitions (usually the C: drive). Add in image browsing and individual file extraction features, and you'll soon see just how useful this free tool can be. The only downside is there's no incremental backup feature – at least I didn't find any.

Windows Easy Transfer, or File and Settings Transfer Wizard – For Windows-to-Windows migration of files and settings nothing beats Microsoft's own proprietary tools. Anything from data files (documents, spreadsheets, videos, music, etc) to email settings to program settings can be transferred with a few clicks. Strictly speaking this isn't a backup tool but a user profile migration tool for when you buy a new computer and wish to retain all your old settings without too much hassle.

The downside is that not all programs are supported and – at least for Files and Settings Transfer Wizard – you are required to use the exact version when performing a transfer. For instance, if you backed up using Windows XP SP1's wizard then you need to use the same one to restore. Even when using a newer version of the tool it'll complain and refuse to continue with the restore process. When using Microsoft's proprietary migration tool, it's best to stick to the one that's on the setup disc.

Related posts: