While our computer hardware may be valuable, it is our data that is truly priceless. This value is why ransomware works: These attacks keep us from our data. And deliberate actions like malware encrypting or deleting our data are just one of the things that can happen to it. Computers get dropped, slipped on, lost, etc. And if our computer is the only place that data exists, when that computer dies or disappears, so does that data!
As such, we live in an era where backing up our data isn't a luxury but a necessity. But how do we even get started? What do we need? And what are we supposed to do?
Recently we talked about how vital our network infrastructure is. However, a seminal aspect of this infrastructure is how we backup the many computers on these networks. Today, we're going to go through various backup solutions to ensure that one of our most precious resources, our data, is protected and safe. We'll start with options built into the Windows operating system, look at other software solutions, visit the cloud, and then explore how managed service providers (MSPs) backup their clients' data.
First and foremost, data backup and recovery are encoded into our operating systems. In Windows 10, there is even a tab for it. Just click on the Start button, and then go to Settings > Update & Security > Backup.
Here you will find the Back up using File History option. This feature is fantastic, and everyone should have this enabled. All that you need is an external drive, such as a second internal hard drive (or second hard drive patrician), an external hard drive, USB flash drive, etc. Once that is plugged in, just toggle this feature from off to on.
As this feature says, "Back up your files to another drive and restore them if the originals are lost, damaged, or deleted." We can even get very specific about what files and folders we want to have backed up and what we want to be excluded. This granularity is great for little things. Say you accidentally trashed an image you really wanted, or you got rid of a part of a document that you now regret deleting. These can be restored from File History.
The problem is that this nuance isn't really what I think of as a backup. This specificity feels more like file and folder recovery. Because if our hard drive was to die, you can't restore your operating system and everything from a FILE History.
Underneath Back up using File History is an interesting question: Looking for an older backup? One of the strangest things in Windows 10—especially as we are going to Windows 11—is this carryover from Windows 7. But this feature is awesome!
If we click on the Go to Backup and Restore (Windows 7), we find ourselves in the Control Panel. Although I know what I said about not using the administrative account, for this option to work, we are going to have to be the admin.
We have a few options here: So long as we have either an internal or external hard drive, we can Set up backup. This option will schedule an initial full backup of our system. This full backup will then be followed by incremental backups of any changes at specific times.
Now, this is a backup! Should our computer die a horrible death, we can resurrect it using the restore option here. In this way, we get everything back, just the way we left it (more or less).
But let's say we want something else instead of a full backup needing to be constantly updated and maintained. Let's say we only want a snapshot of this computer right now. Well, on the left, there is a nifty little option to Create a system image.
To make this work, we need one of three things:
Once we've selected our backup location, we create our system image. System images can do some really neat things. However, it is important to remember that these images are frozen in time. It is a backup snapshot of this exact computer at this exact moment. This cannot be updated or changed. So, if we want it updated, we have to once again Create a system image.
File History, Backup (Windows 7), and System Image (Windows 7) are all solid options baked into the Windows operating system. However, there are effective alternatives available online. Heads up: the vast majority of these do have a cost associated with them—especially if these backup solutions are being used for commercial computers. That said, there are at least a couple of good free options if you want to try out this technology at home:
When many of us think about backup, our minds nowadays turn to the cloud. This notion makes a lot of sense as a core aspect of the cloud is a safe and secure place to store our data. We put our data into Dropbox, OneDrive, Google Drive, etc., and we should be good to go.
On a Windows machine, OneDrive (and the other cloud offerings) as a backup operates much like the File History option on Windows (discussed above). OneDrive saves specific files and folders and tracks these over time rather than offer a full backup or system image. Each file can then be recovered to an earlier iteration using Version History.
The problem with using clouds like these is that they are synchronization solutions—not backup solutions. The purpose of these clouds is to give us ease of access to our data and to foster collaboration on files across multiple machines. But this goal of continuous synchronization and the durability of backup are goals at odds with one another. Synchronization wants files to be updated to the latest version, while a backup is focused on a past version that can be recovered.
A perfect example of this is renaming a file. If we rename a file on a cloud service, it deletes the Version History of this file. This limitation is something that hackers take advantage of with ransomware. This malware not only encrypts the data but also renames the file. Always wanting to be up to date, these cloud services copy the encrypted files—and deletes their Version History! These steps make recovery all the more difficult.
So many of us turn to the cloud as a sort of backup. EaseUS, AOMEI, and others are even better as they are actual backup solutions. However, arguably the greatest name in backup is Datto. And by arguable, I mean that Datto again has won top awards in the industry, such as the ChannelPro Readers' Choice Awards 2021 for Best Backup and Disaster Recovery Vendor. While Datto has many offerings nowadays, it is foremost the authority on backup solutions.
Datto offers so many of the best attributes discussed above: folder and file recovery, full backups and system images, both onsite and online. And Datto has the coolest toys! For small businesses, there's the ALTO. This device seamlessly copies everything from any computer with the Datto agent. And it does this all the time, in real-time. It then stores a copy locally—and sends another copy to Datto's cloud. The ALTO even constantly tests its backups to ensure that all of these are ready at any moment to restore this data.
For medium and larger companies, Datto gets SIRIS. This device takes the ALTO to the next level. It too is constantly backing up everything on protected computers and testing these to ensure restoration. However, one of SIRIS's most incredible features is the ability to spin up a virtual machine from a backup. This means that should our server die, we can spin up a VM of it in seconds! And we're back online just like that. Our websites are back up. Our databases are back online. Running in the cloud, this VM functions just like our deceased server until we can get it repaired or replaced.
Datto offers everything we'd want in backup and disaster recovery. The problem with Datto is that they work exclusively with MSPs like NexgenTec. So, if you want to ensure your business gets the best in backups, you are going to have to go through your MSP.
As we saw, backup solutions come in many options. There are backup utilities built into operating systems such as File History and the Backup and Restore (Windows 7). There are backup software options from companies like EaseUs and AOMEI. And for many of us, a cloud such as OneDrive, Dropbox, etc. offers something sort of like a backup.
However, for businesses who need a server option that will continuously backup all the files on the network and ensure that these are ready for recovery—including the ability to resurrect a dead computer in the cloud in seconds—then Datto is the best option. To make a Datto ALTO or SIRIS a fundamental part of your network infrastructure, just reach out to us. We're here for you. And we want to ensure your data stays safe no matter what gets thrown at it.
 The ENTIRE hard drive, not just the space we are using.
 Yes, this is still a thing.
 While Windows cannot back up the entire computer, a Mac can be fully backed up to iCloud using Time Machine.