Alternative Backup Solutions for Windows Home Server
History of the Windows Home Server Built-in backup Utility (Or the lack there of)
Since the inception of Windows Home Server back when it was 1st released in 2007 the product sported allot of cool features that makes it invaluable like Remote Web Access, A one stop place to access your data from files to media, Heck it will even backup your homes client Personal Computers so you could recover your entire PC if the worst happened. But Microsoft in their infinite wisdom forgot one major aspect that’s important in any operating system and that is when the 1st version of Windows Home Server initially came out it had no Built-in Backup Utility. That’s right; your precious Data had almost zero chance of recovery if your server had a critical disaster befall on it. But what am I thinking, nothing bad ever happens (I wish!). So after doing some heavy thinking (and taking allot of flack in the pie hole) a year later Microsoft released Power Pack 1 (also known as PP1) the home server equivalent to a Service Pack. In this Power Pack was Microsoft’s solution to the problem of backing up Windows Home Server and to their credit it did perform the function of backing up your Data off the Home Server However; that is all it did and nothing more. Meaning no scheduling of either full or incremental backups, No Making different backup jobs, No backing up crucial system files (other than the data files from its share folders), and most importantly No automation of any of these functions of any kind to keep your backup current. In all fairness it at least offered a way to backup the data (Albeit Manually) on Home Server and if the worst happen you had at least you could read from those backups from another PC if you needed to recover something but has I stated earlier since there is no automation in these backups so they will most likely not be very current if the need arises to restore them.
Now we move forward in time to the next release of Windows Home Server version called Windows Home Server 2011 (I know how original), Microsoft promises how much better the built-in backup solution was going to be (This of course after telling the general public they were no longer supporting their ground breaking redundancy technology better known as drive extender from the previous version of Windows Home Server) and how easy it is to use. While it did succeed in providing a much better built-in backup utility than its predecessor upon release (Which as I stated earlier provided none), especially for backing up and restoring itself, Windows Home Server 2011 still left a lot of holes in their backup utility and also created new ones. For example, Even through you can add multiple External Drives to your WHS 2011 Server the built-in-application is not smart enough to switch to the next drive once it becomes full. Since Microsoft is using their VSS copy technology to employ their backups you cannot view the backups of your Server Data using Windows Explorer. This also means that you cannot plug the External Drive into another PC to view your data if your WHS 2011 Server takes a complete Dump. The only way to view the Backup Data from a WHS 2011 Server is to Use the Restore Option Part of the Windows Home Server 2011 Server Backup. At least with the WHSV1 Server Backup Tool was you could at least still view the data in Windows Explorer or detach the external drive to another PC if your server was unusable. The Built-in Home Server Backup Utility cannot create more than 1 backup job. So you are now stuck in having both the system files (OS and other apps) combined along with your Data on the Same Backup Job. If you disconnect the external drive from the Home server and try to reconnect it at a later date the backup wizard will try to reformat that same drive even through it had been part of that same pool before. Now here is the nuts and cherries of the Windows Home Server 2011 Backup Utility, once your Backups have reached 2TB/2040MB (Does not matter if the external drive you have is bigger than this) you can NO LONGER back up any new data. As mentioned previously this is due to Microsoft incorporating their Virtual Technology which as of this writing has a 2TB/2040MB limit. So short term and with depending if your combined data that you back up is under the 2TB/2040MB barrier this can be doable. However long term, this is totally unacceptable especially since more than half the Home Server market have data that exceeds 2TB/2040MB, so what do we do?
What are My Alternatives?
For those of us that are true harden Microsoft Veterans we do what we have always done to fill the gaps in Microsoft Operating Systems, namely we start looking at 3rd party alternatives. 3rd Party alternatives can consist of software vendors or even open source (Free) solutions that can help us fill the hole in an otherwise great Operating system. I am going to go over a couple products that I have found to be great backup alternatives that I feel meets all the necessary requirements for the type of backups needed in your home server environment. While some are free there are Vendors I recommend that do charge a small nominal fee after a 30 day trial. Remember, at the end the day there is no price tag for lost data.
Disclaimer and Recommendation before using the following mentioned 3rd party products
While having used and recommended the following 3rd party backup software/freeware it is completely the users responsibility for any consequences that may inadvertently happen while using the products in this article. Before trying any of the mentioned software I strongly advise using it first on a non production machine before deploying it on your production machine. Not all features and functions may perform to the user’s satisfaction and should be tested 1st before purchasing and/or deploying.
AutoHotKey (For Windows Home Server Version 1 Only)
AutoHotKey is not actually a backup application utility but an Open Source Macro Recorder than combines the Windows Task Scheduler and the existing built-in Windows Home Server Version 1 Backup Utility that will allow you to make automatic and incremental backups of your Windows Home Server Version 1 Data. The person who actually came up with this effective backup solution over at MediaSmartServer.net was one of their Moderator’s by the name of Cougar, For the Direct How to just go to MediaSmartServer’s.net Wiki for More Details.
this is a great Commercial/Free to try Backup application in backing up your data off your WHSV1 that I used previously before I had made the switch to WHS 2011. Second Copy let me do all the things that the Built-In Backup app in WHSV1 does not (at least in Incremental and timed backups, the only thing it does not do is a System Image). It’s free to try for 30 days (Fully functional) and $29.95 to buy a single user license, if you owned a previous version of second copy you only pay a $15 dollar upgrade fee, If you are upgrading from a previous version (Version Seven to Version Eight). Incremental upgrades within the same version (Version 7.1 to Version 7.2) are free.
Their current Version (Version Eight) supports Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 7, Windows Server 2003 (R2) and Windows Server 2008 (R2) (Along with Windows Home Server Version 1 & 2011, Windows Storage Server 2008 R2 Essentials, and Small Business 2011 Essentials).
The Only small minor negative on this particular Backup application is there in no built-in service for this app if you are Using Windows Vista, Windows 7, Windows 2008 (R2), Windows Home Server 2011 (Meaning you have to log into your PC/Server for the automatic backup jobs to work) a service can be added for Windows XP, Windows Server 2003 (R2), Windows Home Sever Version 1. You can get around this by simply setting your login to Auto login (The Directions for the Auto Login process will work on Windows 2000, Windows XP, or Windows Server 2003 in which WHSV1 is based on) and for Windows Home Server 2011 or even Windows Storage Server 2008 R2 you can use this Auto login method (It says for Windows Vista or 7 but will work just the same on Home Server) so if you need to reboot the server for any reason. Of course the only security wise drawback is does pose security vulnerability. However, to me this is not a deal breaker since this will be at home and not at work. You can also set a screen saver to lock your server almost as soon as it logs in.
There are 4 different versions that HandyBackup has to offer but the only Two you will need to consider for backing up your data off of your Home Server is the following. The First is there Free Edition that is perfect solution to backup a local copy of important files and folders to a local hard drive (Internal or External) or their on-line backup service. It provides an easy way to select important documents and schedule automatic backup jobs that will keep them protected from loss or corruption. The Second is their Home Standard Edition which not only meets all my requirements for backing up my Data (Docs, Pictures, Streamed Video & Movies, ISO’s, etc…), the backup data can be accessed at any time from your home server or another PC. The data can be backed up to the usual suspects (CD/DVD/BLU-Ray, External Drives, FTP, LAN), and offers a cloud backup solution service for backing up off site (extra fee). The best thing of all is it will start as a service (Meaning you do not have to start the application yourself).
The Current Version of HandyBackup (Version 7) works on the following Windows Operating Systems. Windows 2000 Professional and Server, Windows XP (All Versions 32 & 64 bit), Windows Server 2003 (All Versions including R2 32 & 64 bit), Windows Vista (All Versions 32 & 64 bit), Windows 7 (All Versions 32 & 64 bit), Windows Server 2008 (All Versions including R2 32 & 64 bit), Windows Home Server Version 1, Windows Home Server 2011, Windows Storage Server 2008 R2 Essentials, Small Business Server 2011 Essentials, and Small Business Server 2011 Standard.
You can try it for free for 30 days (Full working evaluation), after that its $39.95 to buy for the Home Standard edition. The Version I originally brought was the next one up which was the professional edition (This cost $99.95), primarily because it offered Disk Image Backup since at the time I was using WHSV1 which does not offer that capability natively since it’s based off of the Windows Server 2003 Code. However for the purpose of Data backup the Free Edition or Home Standard version will more than suffice for the average Home/Small Office User. Like Second Copy if you are upgrading from a previous version (Version 6.x to Version 7.x) there is a $10 dollar upgrade fee, Incremental upgrades within the same version (Version 7.1 to Version 7.2) are free.
Acknowledgements – I want to thank Dave Merchant for finding that article from MediaSmartServer.net in automating the built-in backup solution on Windows Home Server Version1.