January 2015 IT Business Consulting Newsletter

Backing Up Your PCs Without a Server

By Tom K

So, you still haven't gotten that inexpensive server and your Company data is scattered across all of your PCs (and Macs).

While backing up your Company data can be much more tedious without a server, you still REALLY need to backup ALL of that data every night.

In this month's newsletter, I discuss the various means available to backup the data on your PCs and Macs if you don't have a server, and some best practices to do so.

Backup Basics

Windows includes a backup application that is actually pretty nice. The versions included with Windows 7 and Windows 8 are quite different, but they do contain the same basic feature sets once you know where to look.

Apple includes a very automated backup application. Turn it on and you are done.

In any case, you'll want to back your files up to a drive other than a drive internal to the PC/Mac being backed up. Since large capacity USB drives are so inexpensive (1000 GB for $70), hanging one off of each PC/Mac has become typical. I have seen some companies use a Network Attached Storage (NAS) device to backup all their PCs on one big device, but if you are considering this option you may as well spend just a little more and reap the many advantages of a small server (see "Consider a Server to Manage Your Environment").

Windows 7 Backup

Windows 7 provides backup functionality via "Backup and Restore". This application includes backing up some or all of the data from the PC, creating a System Image (the complete contents of the PC, used to perform a "bare metal" rebuild of the PC), scheduling these operations, restoring data and, if necessary, rebuilding the whole PC including data. The application also includes creating a System Repair Disk, which creates a bootable repair disk with the Operating System and all necessary drivers to rebuild the base system.

The operation of each function is pretty intuitive, and reasonably good help is available while in the application. The application can be launched from: Start/Control Panel/Backup and Restore

I recommend you create a System Repair disk when you first set up the PC (or now if you haven't done so already) and schedule backups of all the PC data and the System Image nightly.

Windows 8 Backup

Windows 8 provides backup functionality via "File History". This application includes backing up data from the PC (but only from Libraries, the Desktop, Contacts, and Favorites), creating a System Image, scheduling these operations, restoring data, and rebuilding the whole PC. One significant difference between Win 7's Backup and Restore and Win 8's File History is the backup frequency. File History can run every 10 minutes (default is every hour), while Backup and Restore can run no more often than every 24 hrs.

As with Backup and Restore in Win 7, the operation of each function in File History is pretty intuitive, and reasonably good help is available while in the application. Note there are variations between Win 8 and Win 8.1 on how the screens are structured, and how you get to specific functions.

The application can be launched from:
Win 8:      Control Panel/System and Security/File History
Win 8.1:    Control Panel/File History

I recommend you create a System Repair disk when you first set up the PC (or now if you haven't do so already) and schedule backups of all the PC Data Libraries and the System Image hourly.

While Microsoft would like all Win 8 users to utilize the new File History backup application, they did leave the previous Win 7 Backup and Restore application in Win 8 (for the time being). If you prefer this tool, or a sub-function that is not included in File History, you can get to it via a link in the lower-left corner of the File History window. In Win 8 it is "Windows 7 File Recovery", in Win 8.1 "Recovery".

Mac OS X Backup

Apple provides similar backup functionality via "Time Machine". As with most Mac tools, everything is quite automatic. Just make sure your external drive has enough space, plug it in, and answer a few prompts. Once installed, the Time Machine icon appears in the Menu Bar from which you can access the application.

You can create a disk image of your Mac on an external (or network) drive using "Disk Utility" located on the Mac OS X Install DVD.

As with any PC, I recommend you create a Disk Image and set up Time Machine on your Macs.

Off Site Backups

So you've got your System Repair disks locked up. Your System Images and backups of all the data from all your PCs are on the USB drives. But what is wrong with this picture?!?

If your office experiences a disaster (fire, flood, lightning strike, etc) that kills your USB drives as well as your PCs, you are out of business!

Off Site backup systems are convenient and inexpensive. And while I disdain the phrase "no brainer", this is THE no brainer! The product I use has an easy to use GUI, is encrypted, runs every night, requires no management once it is set up, and 500 GB of storage only costs $100/yr. You can put all your PCs on one account, and they share the total amount of space you've purchased.

This product also has a Mac version, as do similar products. An existing iCloud account is another option.

PC Restore Utility

Most PC manufacturers include an application to create System Repair disks and System Images, rather than shipping Windows and Drivers DVDs. The disks created by the manufacturer's application may differ from those created by Windows by including files from special disk partitions. If your PCs include a manufacturer's application to create a restore disk, it is recommended that you do so.

Home PCs and Macs

Your home PC/Mac usually stores data that is as important to you as your corporate PCs... your personal financials, precious pictures of a lost loved one, the video of your daughter's first steps. You need to protect this personal data via regular backups as well.

Use the same techniques discussed above, using both the built-in Windows or Mac backups and an on-line Cloud backup service. As noted, my product of choice works great and only costs $100/yr for 500 GB of storage. Very inexpensive peace of mind.

And check in with your older family members. Your Mom (and other relatives) probably keeps those really important pictures of the grandkids on her PC/Mac... help her back them up! Set up Windows backups for her, and if you've got unused space in your on-line backup account you can easily set up her PC/Mac to send her data to your on-line data vault.

If you have any questions about any of the info in this article, or if there is anything I can do to help you better prepare for a potentially business crippling disaster, please don’t hesitate to contact me at TomK@TomKConsulting.com, or via my cell 443.310.5110.

Next month I’ll discuss another potential security hole in your environment: Vendor access to your systems.