Windows 7 backup tool: Three Windows 7 Backup and Restore use cases

Windows 7's built-in backup tool is a reliable options for smaller organizations wanting to preserve the confidentiality and availability of stored data.

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In part one of this two-part tech tip, we looked at the latest functional changes in Windows 7 backup tool, Backup and Restore Center. Remember, a backup solution should allow for timely and effective restoration of systems, programs and data in the event of software/hardware corruption or user error. They are critical to the confidentiality and availability of corporate and customer data.

Here, we're going to look at the most common use cases and critical functions you have when it comes to Backup and Restore:

  • Data backup only
  • Full-system backup
  • System image with selective data backup

Assuming we're working in a corporate environment using Professional, Ultimate or Enterprise versions of Windows 7, along with local USB drive and backup file share, it's important to understand that Windows Backup and Restore Center is the only interface available to manage the different data recovery scenarios we're going to cover. You can access the Backup and Restore Center in one of three ways:

  • Start Menu->All Programs->Maintenance->Backup and Restore
  • Start Menu->Control Panel->System and Security->Backup and Restore
  • Start Menu->Search->Type backup and press Enter

Once the Backup and Restore Center is open, you will likely use one of the scenarios we listed above.

Data Backup Only: From the Backup and Restore Center, you can select "Set up a backup." The wizard will walk you through the setup options:

  • Choose a location to store the backup. I recommend a network share if doing a data-only backup.
  • Choose what to backup. You can let Windows choose for you, or you can choose what you want. Again, for a data-only backup, I recommend choosing yourself. In addition, for a data-only backup, make sure the "create a system image" selection is not checked.
  • Set a schedule. Assuming you want to schedule the backup, which you should, you have that option at this point. I recommend a daily schedule for data-only backups.

You will likely use a data-only backup scenario in situations where you are only concerned about restoring user data. An example of this would be an organization that has a standard system built to restore the underlying operating system. Once you restore the operating system, you could use the data backup to restore the user's data.

Full system backup: Again, from the Backup and Restore Center, you can select "Set up a backup." The wizard will walk you through the setup options as previously, except you will want to make a couple different selections:

  • Choose a location to store the backup. I personally recommend a local disk for full system backups.
  • Choose what to back up. You will want to let Windows choose and you will want to make sure that the "create a system image" selection is checked this time.
  • Set a schedule. I recommend a weekly schedule for full system backups.

You will likely use the full system backup scenario in situations where you are concerned about restoring an entire system, as well as user data. An example of this would be an organization that does not have the ability to restore the underlying operating system and programs from a standard build. This would allow a complete restoration of the system and data files as of the last backup.

A combination: System image and selective data backup: Using the Backup and Restore Center, you would create two separate backups. The first would be a manual "system image" and the second would be a scheduled data backup. In this scenario, you would:

  • Manually create a "system image" and store it on a locally connected disk. You would create a reminder to perform this on a periodic basis, depending on how often your system changed. This would give you the ability to restore the system if it ever crashed.
  • Next, you would perform the steps outlined in the data-only backup above. This would give you the ability to restore a recent (within the last 24 hours) copy your data after restoring the underlying system. You would schedule the backup daily.

You will likely use this scenario in lieu of the full system backup scenario above. This gives you the same system restore capability, but provides a more recent data backup. The only downside to this is that you have to remember to perform the system image backup, whereas it was automated in the previous scenario.

Maintenance: Managing space
One other item you will need to address is managing the space used by the Windows 7 backup tool. There two areas to manage: data backups and system images. You must manually manage the space used by data backups, but you can allow Windows to manage the space used by system images.

For data backups, you can use the Backup and Restore Center to "Manage space." Using the "View backups" link off this page, you can delete older backups, and thus clear space in the backup location. Note that this will delete files contained in the backup period, but will not affect files in other backups. Remember, files are backed up only if they have changed since the last backup. Here is a "gotcha" scenario to illustrate how that can bit you if you delete backups:

You create a full system image as well as create a scheduled daily data backup on July 1. On July 2, you create a flyer, which is then included in the daily backup on the 2nd. You never change the file again. In September, you view the space used by the tool, and see multiple backup sets. You delete the oldest, labeled "7/1/2010 to 7/12/2010". Later, a user asks you to restore the flyer. Guess what? You can't, as it did not change, so it was never backed up in any of the subsequent backups.

For system images, you can use the Backup and Restore Center to "Manage space." Using the "Change settings" link off this page, you can:

  • Keep only the latest system image and minimize space used by backup: Keep the latest and delete the older ones. I recommend using this setting.
  • Let Windows manage the space used for backup history: Windows will store older system images up to 30% of the storage area.

Note that the system image options are only available only if you are storing to local hard disk, not a network share. If you use a network share, only the latest image is stored.

Phil Cox is a principal consultant of SystemExperts Corp., a consulting firm that specializes in system security and management. He is a well-known authority in the areas of system integration and security.

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This was first published in October 2010

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