Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Backup, backup, backup!

In this modern era of computers and tablets, it's very easy to become complacent, and expect them to perform their duties without fail. Which, as anyone who has ever used a computer knows isn't actually the case! Sure, when they work, they are great, but when things go wrong, what do you do?

A couple of months ago, I had a catastrophic drive failure, which lost all of my data. Through the use of a product called R-Tools, I was able to recover everything. Every last item, in its original file structure. As someone with an enormous collection of audiobooks, all lovingly sorted into their various categories, you have no idea how much time that saved! 

In light of this, I decided I needed to be more diligent in prevention, rather than cure. I have always relied on the Windows Backup utility to back up my spreadsheets, and important documents, and I now mirror my audiobooks on two drives (and a second computer!). Not making that mistake again! I think, for the occasional small file, Windows Backup may well be absolutely find, although, ironically, the backup SD card I use had packed up, and Windows hadn't actually bothered to inform me, so had I relied upon that, it would have been utterly useless. Needless to say, I now use two external hard drives for backing up!

I decided that proper backuo software was really the only sensible way to go, and so downloaded three. Aoemi Backup, Comodo, and a trial of Macrium Reflect. I took full backups with all three, and set Comodo as my primary incremental backup tool. 

Having done the backups, I turned my attention to my Windows installation, which had numerous file errors, which sfc /scannow was unable to fix. Explorer had been crashing for a pastime, so a format and reinstall seemed the sensible option. After all, I had all my backups..

Drive wiped, Windows reinstalled, updates done (which took an eternity), all that remained was restoring my precious data. All three backup facilities have "restore" options. As Comodo was my primary, I chose "My files" backup and hit restore. Which promptly failed. Aoemi was more successful, restoring several items, however wasn't entirely successful. The problem with the free backup facilities seems to lie predominately in permissions. Neither Comodo or Aoemi would allow to access my own data! There were certain files I was able to drag and drop, using a third party file manager, and then gain access, however anything in users/my username was completely off limits, no matter what I tried.

Mounting a backup as an additional hard drive is an excellent idea, provided it works. If, however, you can't gain access to the majority of your files in doing so, it really serves no purpose whatsoever. Enter Macrium...

Before starting any of this, I had taken a full image of my hard drive with Macrium Reflect V6 trial edition. It was evident from first using the product that it was superior, however, I was looking for a free solution. And therein lies a lesson. Free is good. Functional is considerably better!

Using Macrium Reflect, I was able to mount my entire backup image, AND (and this is the important part!) set permissions to access otherwise "off limits" files. I gained access to My Documents with ease, which I had anticipated from a premium product. However, the real test was in restoring six YEARS worth of emails. Thunderbird squirrels away emails in users/app data/roaming. Yes. You've probably never heard of it, unless you happen to be particularly tech savvy. I had used a backup program dedicated to Thunderbird, which took four hours to restore absolutely nothing. Sure, it had put the files into the Thunderbird folder, but beyond that, they were inaccessible.

This is where Reflect really comes into its own. These files are often protected in a normal Windows environment. In a backup environment, using the two free programs, they are completely off limits. Using Macrium, I was able to copy the folder, drop it in the appropriate place, and within 10 minutes, all my emails were back. 

As well as recovering all my emails, I was able to recover EVERY SINGLE FILE that I needed, from the Macrium Backup image. Completely painless, hassle free and simple to use.

Having needed to fall back on backups twice, now, I can't stress enough the importance of using a GOOD backup utility. One which will actually RESTORE your files, and grant you access to the more difficult folders which are created by many programs. For me, there really is only one option, and that is Macrium. It's an outstanding piece of software. It has a clean, concise interface, but packs a lot of power behind the simple design. It's a very capable product without which I would be waving goodbye to a vast amount of data that I generally don't think about backing up.

If you value your data, back it up! And, I might add, it's well worth backing up your system after doing areinstallation. Get the Windows Updates done, install your programs like Office, and then use Reflect to take an image. In the event of a hard drive failure, cloning the image back is a breeze, and you've got all your programs and updates (to the date of the image), ready and waiting. FAR easier than a complete reinstall. Set another, incremental system backup, once a week, or, if you don't change much on your system, once a month, and you have a true fallback.

Macrium also allows individual files and folders to be backed up, so a daily incremental is equally easy. 15 minutes spent choosing folders etc, can be worth its weight in hard drives. Once they are set and scheduled, forget about them. Macrium takes care of everything, with no intervention needed. It's worth checking your backups periodically, regardless of how good any product is, but I'm confident Macrium is doing exactly what it is meant to be doing. Protecting my data. 

If you value yours, invest in a decent backup utility. Freebies are fine for the odd file here and there, but if you want to be confident, I cannot recommend Macrium Reflect highly enough. It is rare I give product endorsements, but in their case, I am mor than happy to make an exception.

Macrium offer a free version, as well as a paid option, supporting incremental backup. The latter is well worth investing in. With precious memories all consigned to the digital era nowadays, protecting those memories has never been more important. Just consider what you have on your hard drive.. Family photos? Books? Emails? Copies of letters? Accounts? You can't put a price on those. Do the sensible thing. Back them up!


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