Windows Backup sucks. This is just a fact. For years we have come up with creative solutions to get around the buggy mess that used to be called NT Backup and is now in Windows 7 as Windows Backup and Restore. If you have a fresh install of Windows 7 or Server 2008 and are enjoying the temporary bliss that is a working backup routine I’m about to ruin your day. If you are lucky enough to have it complete without an 0x81000037 or 0x80070002 error be aware that may not last long.
These convoluted backup archives are not only virtually impossible to easily traverse for individual files. They are prone to corruption themselves, and despite their claims that “they” (the magical little fairies flying around inside of Microsoft Windows’ source code) manage your disk space for you, you’ll be lucky to go a few months before it announces that your backup drive is out of space. Then you may discover the most irritating part of all! You cannot delete older backups (easily) without deleting the new ones too. Why? Because those little magical fairies decide on when to split the backup sets and under normal use you can go months without them deciding to favor you with a new “backup set”.
So, what can you do? Well, if you are technically savvy let me suggest http://www.xxcopy.com/. XXCopy is an ultra-powerful copy utility that can be scheduled to mirror files in a way that you control. This is a “techie” solution, but if you are reading this you probably are a “techie”. The beauty of this is that you don’t mess with silly archive files and convoluted restore processes. For some clients we implemented this on their main network data drive and had a fantastic system where they could find a backup mirror of all of their critical network files at an admin share almost exactly the same as the source share. eg: “\\corpData\data” = share that everyone uses, “\\corpData\dataBU$” = last night’s mirror. It even copies NTFS permissions, the powerful hierarchy that makes NTFS still the most popular file system for networks. Spending a few extra bucks on some extra hardware and you can cycle out the data$ drive and store it off site. Voila, a no-nonsense solution that has a better than 1 in 3 chance of success. (Hunt for Red October)
If you are not a techie you will need to research 3rd party backup solutions. Paragon, Acronis, Norton Ghost are all possible solutions. We cannot suggest any because we just wouldn’t use them.
What do we use? Well, we own a drive cloner. Not the software kind, prone to all kinds of hair pulling frustration, but the hardware kind. Don’t even need to connect a PC. Here’s one on Amazon for < $40 (Cloning Docking Station), then for another < $80 we just pick up a spare drive for each machine that needs backing up. In fact, we went ahead and got faster versions of the same drive, and put the new drive in our systems. Don’t be tempted to get a bigger drive, that would spoil the beauty of this simple solution. Sure you can pick up some software that claims to do the same thing, but if my hard drive dies in literally less than 1 minute I can swap out the dead one for the clone. Done, hardware and all! If there is a file I need, I can just pop the clone into the dock and pull it off, and as far as shadow copy errors or partition type incompatibilities, I’m immune!
The speed is amazing. We can clone our 500GB laptop drives with triple OS boot and 5 partitions of HFS, EXT4, NTFS, and FAT32 all on the same drive, in less than an hour. This is a full copy, no worries about the Microsoft logic fairies deciding wrongly about what is needed in an incremental backup.
If you are a PC user, especially Dell, we have yet to see one not designed for easy hard drive access. If you own a Mac, while the cloner will work perfectly, your access to your own hard drive is not usually so simple. This is not techie, for our M1710s we:
1. Shut down the computer.
2. Unplug it.
3. Remove the battery.
4. Flip it over
5. Remove the 2 screws that have the little HDD symbol next to them. Looks like a cylinder.
6. Slide out the drive using the convenient finger grips.
7. Tried to fit it in the dock with the caddy (little metal frame with the convenient finger grips) attached, but didn’t try too hard. Just take off the caddy (another 2 screws)
8. (WITH DOCK POWERED OFF) Insert the drive (check the connector, it’s like plugging in a video game) to be cloned into the “mother disc” (hilarious) port.
9. Insert the backup drive in the “son disc” (more hilarious) port.
10. Power DOCK on and press the big red button for 10 seconds.
11. Let off.
12. Press it again.
When the red status light starts flashing you know it’s doing its thing. 12 steps might seem like a lot, but it really only takes about 1 minute (including the 10 seconds to press the big red button), maybe 2 if you haven’t done it before. In about 30 minutes (I suppose this depends on your drive speed) the light should stop flashing. Voila, 2 idential drives. That is unless you’ve decided to upgrade to a 7200 or even 10000 RPM drive. You’ll be surprised at the difference that makes. One catch, you’ll have to put the drive back in without instructions.
It might seem like overkill but with a fresh clone sitting on the shelf we can fearlessly dive into the unknown, including installing OSX Lion Beta (© Apple), Ubuntu 11, or whatever we want really. Hardware is cheaper than it used to be. In fact, this cloner will even allow you to upgrade to a bigger drive very quickly. Just be aware that moving to a bigger drive means that you cannot maintain two copies unless you get another larger drive.
12 steps might seem like a lot, but they are really tiny steps and as reliable as one could hope for. Until Microsoft gets some better logic fairies we’ll stick with something that actually works.
BACKGROUND: We’ve seen all kinds of problems with Windows Backup. Most recently a colleague’s personal 10k rpm workstation drive started complaining of errors. No problem, she thought, the backup has run once a week since Windows 7 was installed. Or has it? At some point about a month ago it decided the drive was out of space (We let Windows manage the space). Upon opening Backup and Restore we discover exactly one backup set dated for the last 2 months. (Thanks again Windows) The only option for getting a fresh backup? Delete the old one. ALL OF IT. That would be brilliant, drive announces that it is failing, so step 1, delete your only backup? Thanks a lot Microsoft. We tried everything, including deleting the individual backup folders from the set (YES, WE KNOW ABOUT THAT) and what happens? Backup and Restore gets it backwards, now it only shows the date range of the files we deleted and the rest are now non-existent as far as it is concerned. We finally formatted the backup drive (yes, she had a separate drive just for backup) and immediately copied all critical files manually (painfully) and then kicked off a new backup. Guess what? 0x80070002 backup cannot complete. After investigating the 0x80070002 shadow copying errors and attempting a half dozen fixes the backup function is now dead. Perhaps due to the drive errors, but based on our research more likely due to Microsoft’s inability to deal with its own <JUNCTION>s, or its own anti-virus, or … well, who really knows. For $40she could just keep a clone since she already has a backup drive. Add that to the long list of history’s failed recoveries. Thankfully, the workstation drive is still working. Let’s get that puppy cloned.