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Windows 7 Backup and Restore Center a critical data protection tool

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

Having a reliable backup or restore mechanism is critical to the confidentiality and availability of data stored in systems, and in avoiding the nightmare of unrecoverable data. A backup solution should allow for timely and effective restoration of systems, programs and data in the event of software or hardware corruption, or user error. Without an appropriate backup strategy, when files or systems become corrupted, users are often forced to restore the system to its factory fresh state or reproduce work they have already completed. The result can be more devastating to a business than an actual external hacker attack.

One of the main headaches from a system administration point of view is identifying a tool to provide reliable backup or restore functionality. In part one of this tech tip, we will look at the latest functional changes to Windows 7 Backup and Restore Center, and in part two, we will examine its practical use cases.

Microsoft has worked on improving the tool's user interface, its ability to schedule regular backups, its restore process and more. In my experience, Backup and Restore works well in smaller IT environments where:

  • There are a limited number of systems; fewer than 20.
  • You need basic backup and restore functionality; requiring simple functions such as system restore or file restore from the previous day (not say the previous hour).
  • The cost of a more comprehensive backup and restore system is not justified based on the two bullets above.

Thus, the corollary, if you have a large number of systems or require flexible backup and restore functions, then WBRC will leave you disappointed.

Understanding Windows 7 Backup and Restore Center capabilities
I want to talk about the "What, When, How and Where" of Windows 7 Backup and Restore Center to give you a more robust understanding of the tool and its capabilities.

What: You can use it to back up and restore system and data files on a Windows 7 system. You can use it to perform full system restores, as well as individual files. The image-based full system backup option (i.e., system image backup) allows you to create an image of the system (effectively an image containing the entire contents of your system at the time you created it). You can use this image to perform a bare-metal restore without first installing Windows.

When: The tool allows you to back up on a daily, weekly or monthly schedule. It does not allow for hourly or other intraday scheduled backups. However, you can always initiate a backup manually at any time.

How: The tool uses Microsoft Volume Shadow Copy Service technology to perform the backup and restores. At the file level, the tool does not store incremental block-level changes, but stores entire files. However, when using the full system image backup, the tool does use the block-level backup features to perform differential backups of only the blocks that have changed since the last backup. This copy allows the tool to use disk space and network bandwidth (where applicable) more efficiently.

A cool feature is that the system image backup is stored in Virtual Hard Disk (VHD) format. The VHD allows for a number of useful recovery options: You can mount it to extract individual files, or boot it (using Windows 7 Enterprise and Ultimate) after the full system image backup is complete.

Where: The tool allows you to store backups on internal or external hard drives, CD or DVD RW, USB flash drives or network shares. Some caveats:

  • You cannot save backups to tape.
  • You cannot save a system image on an external USB flash or CD/DVD RW.
  • You can only save backups on a network location on Windows 7 Professional, Ultimate and Enterprise.
  • You can only save incremental system image backups to local or removable storage, not a network location.

In part two, we will look at typical use cases for Windows 7 Backup and Restore Center.

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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