"Backup How-To's": Pros and Cons of Backup Software

By: Alexander Rassokhin

The previous articles of the "Backup How-To's" series told about most frequent troubles accompanying data loss and three types of data that require three different approaches to be backed up. Now as we learned about the importance of making regular backups, it is necessary to understand if the use of specialized backup software is a must or it is possible to organize everything by your own.

A simple Internet search reveals a lot of free and commercial software
designed specifically for backup. Although the price of such programs may reach hundreds of dollars, they are often thought to perform "simple copying on a schedule" and aren't paid much attention. To see if they are worth the money, let's briefly run through particular components of the backup process.

Backup Scheduling

One of the most important parts of any backup plan is automation of copying and related procedures (compression, encryption, etc.). The basic idea is to set up a task only once, and then leave it to backup software. Can this be done manually? Yes, if you can write a proper script (batch file). Its automatic performance can be easily configured through Windows Task Scheduler. The one significant thing you need to remember is that automation assumes controllability, i.e. the script must provide logs and notifications about backup results.

Selecting Data for Backup

The main principle of data protection suggests that backups should be made regularly. When it comes to practice, it is not always clear how to filter new and modified files from the whole set of data that is backed up. While this question is successfully resolved in backup software, writing an appropriate code for comparing data already backed up to current situation on the disk is much more difficult.

Another problem is the lack of disk imaging function in Windows. Files-based backup doesn't allow backing up operating system, boot records and other data not represented as files. Without image-based backup, recovering after major failures means reinstallation of OS and applications which takes a lot of time and efforts. On the other hand, implementation of disk imaging in backup software raises its price at least by $20, and there are no good freeware programs for this.

Backup Storage

Then, it is important to define where your backups will be kept. If you are not planning to store your files on external media, this won't be of any trouble for you. But recording your backup to DVD disc or transferring it to a remote FTP server will require much bigger efforts. Built-in disc burning engine, FTP client, as well as support for other storage media make up a very important part of backup software. At the same time mere integration of a third-party DVD burning application in a backup script is a non-trivial task.

Let's summarize the features that our script a potential substitute for a backup program needs to have so far. With each execution, it must start with determining files that are not backed up yet. Then these files should be compressed and, if necessary, encrypted (both most likely require the use of external solutions). The script should preferably cooperate with some FTP client, so you can store backups with maximum security. Finally, it should log all operations and notify about results, so you can always be sure that your data is backed up.

Let's see what we can conclude from that. Writing a script and automating backups through built-in Windows tools is not a problem if you have certain programming skills and know what you want to achieve. But if you want your backups to be a little bit more complex, there is no choice: use specialized backup software. Writing and debugging a script of your own is much more unprofitable in terms of time and efforts than paying for a finished, well-thought out product.

In the next article: Free Backup Software vs. Commercial Backup Software

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"Backup How-To's" is a series of articles by Alexander Rassokhin discussing methods and strategies of organizing computer data protection. These articles will be of great interest and use for PC users of all levels, from those who use computers at home to system administrators in large commercial enterprises. Alexander Rassokhin is an IT-expert and technical writer of Novosoft which is a developer of its own backup software.
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