Backing up Multiple PCs in a Home Environment

Backup of PCs

I have used the excellent Windows Home Server operating system to backup all my PCs at home. It can automatically take file and image backups, and in case of a disaster you can boot from a CD and perform a restore of the exact state of the last (or earlier) backup. Some time ago, however, my home server began corrupting the backup disks. (Maybe it had something to do with the fact that I was running it as a virtual machine or that I was using storage spaces.)

In addition to these problems, Windows Home Server is no longer being developed. (Which is sadly true for more excellent Microsoft products, e.g. Windows Media Center and Live Writer.) It was time to look another solution.

I tried Macrium Reflect Free, and found it simple and effective. It can do both file and image backups, so I went ahead and payed for the non-free version, which can do incremental backups (the free version only differential). An explanation of these terms are perhaps in order. From Macrium’s web site:

When Reflect creates an incremental image it only backs up the parts of your diskthat contain data that is different from the last backup you made. The advantage of this is that the resultant image file is both muchsmaller and much quicker to create than a full image. The only slight disadvantage is that when you restore your data, Reflect needs toaccess all the image files in the backup set to reconstruct the disk you want to restore. However, if the image files are stored in alocal or network directory then this operation is automatic and completely transparent.

A differential backup is similar to an incremental backup. However, rather thanbacking up the changes since the most recent backup, a differential backup will save changes made since the first/full backup.

Backup of the Backup Server

The next challange was how to backup the backup server. If that breaks, all backup breaks and no further backups or restores can be made.

The recent announcement of Azure File Storage provided me with the answer. With Azure File Storage, you can create an ordinary file share in Azure storage and use standard backup programs like e.g. Macrium Reflect (Free) or Cobian Backup. I do this to backup the system disk of the backup server, not the data disk with backups of my PC’s, because the risk of simultaneous failure of one PC and the data disk is very small.

First, you go to the new Azure portal. Then you browse your storage account and create a new file service and file share. Call it e.g. backup. The endpoint will be https://your-account-name.file.core.windows.net.

You can then mount using the following two commands:

cmdkey /add:your-account-name.file.core.windows.net /user:your-account-name /pass:your-access-key
net use Z: \\your-account-name.file.core.windows.net\backup

For more information, see https://azure.microsoft.com/en-us/documentation/articles/storage-dotnet-how-to-use-files/.