Do You Have A Backup Ready?

I have talked about the importance of backups before. With YackTrack, I had a planned maintenance outage extend due to database issues. Because I had a database backup, I was more willing to try “something risky”. Magnolia had backups but did not realize that the backups were corrupt or unusable. Prior to the holiday season, my wife’s PC crashed and was beyond my abilities to restore. Disappointingly, I did not have backups of her PC (yeah, I know I should have), but people with better tools than I have were able to restore her PC to a working condition.

Given the importance of backups, I thought a dedicated post was required. First, some words of advice. From my post-mortem on the YackTrack maintenance:

If you are working with code or a database, backup everything before starting. I try to take regular backups, and I did have a database backup prior to starting the maintenance. This also gives you a rollback point in case something catastrophic occurs.

When the Magnolia problems occurred, many people commented on the poor state of internet services. There were many rants regarding this, but I took a slightly different stance on this:

If you have your important information on an internet service, you should back up that information to your hard drive. However, this only matters if you actually back up your hard drive as well.

The last piece of advice comes from Robert Scoble via a simple comment on FriendFeed:

To properly back up you need three copies. One on your local drive in case something gets corrupted. One on an external hard drive or other media in case your hard drive dies. One on an external hard drive or other media or storage service that you store someplace else in case your house or office burns down.

One last item of note, you may have the recommended three copies of your backup, but have you tested that you can restore your backups? Do not be fooled into believing that taking a backup is all that is needed, regularly test your backups to make sure they do not get corrupted. I am not a backup or system administration expert, but sometimes we all forget simple things like the importance of backups of important data. Of course, words are just words, so I have compiled a list of some free backup packages for your review. Some of these are more targeted towards Linux and network backups and others are Windows focused. This is not an endorsement of any of these packages, it is just a list of some free software that have gained some good comments on the web.

A comment from one linux software forum, “Amanda is totally free and works fine however it is very difficult to set up (at least in my experience).” This is not a good way to start a search for backup software. They have a good quick start explanation, but if you are not a system administrator beware. This is a hard-core linux installation with a daemon server and client installations as well. Even a quick read of the “quick start” tells me that this is not for a new linux user. However, if you have a linux network of machines, it sounds like a good option.

This is another linux-based package, and I want to recommend Bacula just because of their tagline, “It comes by night and sucks the vital essence from your computers. ” They also have a good explanation of the software, but do caution the potential user:

If you are new to Unix systems or do not have offsetting experience with a sophisticated backup package, the Bacula project does not recommend using Bacula as it is much more difficult to setup and use than tar or dump.

Given their warning, you can expect more linux based server and client install and config nastiness. However, their documentation looks to be somewhat helpful.


This is a windows package that looks fairly simple to use. They have a very quick tutorial on how to use the software that should help you get started quickly. The tutorial is not too detailed, and it made me wonder how much more functionality was really available. They also have a PDF user manual if you are looking for a more detailed explanation of the features.

Comodo Backup

Comodo is an interesting option as it is one of the few free backup software companies that offer more than just backups. There was no online documentation, or at least none that I could find. They do have a PDF manual which explains things in detail. They have a typical point-and-click interface, which is nice for a backup package, but fairly standard for the windows packages listed here. Overall, it looks fairly simple to use, and if you like to use one provider for your PC utility needs, they have a bunch of packages.

Of the free packages, SyncBack is one of the few that offers tiered packages. SyncBack has a free version which looks rather feature-complete, as well as SE ($30) and Pro ($50) versions. A comparison of features shows the difference between versions. This looks like another easy to use package for windows users, and they also have a PDF manual. If you are looking for a package that you can give you basic features now and expand upon later, SyncBack would be a good option.

Cobian Backup
There own product description says more than I can about the package:

Cobian Backup is not an usual backup application: it only copies your files and folders in original or compressed mode to other destination, creating a security copy as a result. So Cobian Backup can be better described as a “Scheduler for security copies”. Cobian Backup supports several methods of compression and strong encryption.

Areca is interesting because it is a windows package, open source and has a very good tutorial. It looks like a good and simple option for windows users. Definitely comparable to the other packages listed here.

SyncToy 2.0
From the Microsoft download site itself:

SyncToy 2.0 for Windows is available as a free download from the Microsoft Download Center. The easy to use, customizable application helps you copy, move, rename, and delete files between folders and computers.

Granted, SyncToy is not a true backup package, but having a tool that can simply sync files between windows computers is immensely useful for most families.

So, that is the list. I would recommend that you determine what requirements you have and select the appropriate package. For some people, archival is all that is needed. For others, sync between machines is more important. For me, I need to backup multiple machines to an external drive and copy that backup to an FTP site for off-site storage. Are there any other free packages for windows that I should look at?

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