Small business backup for Windows

Small business backup for Windows

Summary: Apple's Time Machine one-click backup utility is the easiest and most intuitive in the industry. Does anything on Windows come close?


Apple's Time Machine one-click backup utility is the easiest and most intuitive in the industry. Does anything on Windows come close? Surprisingly there is.

The backup problem Some 40% of enterprise backups fail - even with professional sys admins and costly software. It's no wonder many small businesses don't bother.

I work with a number of small businesses here in the mountains outside Flagstaff, Arizona. Most small business people here don't know and don't care about the details of their computers, like the difference between disk and RAM. They just want them to work.

Finally, there is a Windows backup system I can recommend for these small office and home office (SOHO) folks with up to 10 PCs. It is simple, fast, low-cost and complete - nothing else to buy.

If I sound impressed, I am. My accountant wishes they were paying me, but they're not.

The product The product: Backupkey - small business backup. It comes as a USB hard drive or a flash drive with the software already installed. You plug it in, wait for the Backupkey window to open, hit Enter twice and voilà your backup begins. I tested the disk drive version.

It's that simple. Nothing to install, nothing to configure. It finds your Outlook, Outlook Express and Windows Mail files and backs them up. Along with your My Documents folder. And it restores just as simply.

How easy is it? Even my 86 year-old neighbor figured it out. She's a sharp cookie, but no nerd.

You have to see it to believe it I've looked at other, more traditional Windows backup products like Acronis True Image - an excellent product for people who know their way around Windows - but not for the computer-phobic.

Update: A commenter disparaged my research, saying:

I'm shocked that you obviously did not research on this issue. Windows Vista and Server 2003 (yes, that means also "since 2003") has VSS, where any data on Drive C: (that's the default) is backed up automatically via shadow copies. . . .

So in fact Apple choosed to copy the long-known Windows feature . . . and found a more compelling name. . . . even well-known bloggers at ZDnet do fully believe the stories from Apple's marketing group. That's sad.

It's also wrong. VSS is not a substitute for backup, as Microsoft's excellent Introduction to Shadow Copies of Shared Folders states:

Shadow copies cannot replace the current backup, archive or business recovery system, but they can help to simplify restore procedures.

For example, shadow copies cannot protect against data loss due to media failures

A ideal backup solution for small business must be simple, fast, low-cost and use external media - not the C: drive. Time Machine and Backupkey meet these needs. End update.

Is it perfect? No. Some nits.

  • The interface could be even simpler. The non-standard progress bar takes a while to locate. And there is a progress bar for each section of the backup, rather than for the backup as a whole.
  • The hard drive cable has 2 USB plugs on one end to ensure sufficient power for the disk. But on several PCs a single plug was sufficient, and the dual-plugs confused some folks. Backupkey should get a really low-power disk and lose the extra USB plug.
  • After the backup is done - and it moves fast since it only backs up user data - the interface says the backup is done and then, after a few minutes, switches back to the pre-back up window. Odd.

Compared to the complexity of standard backup packages, these are tiny issues. You could talk your mother-in-law through the process over the phone. Try that with True Image!

The Storage Bits take If you or a loved one uses a PC and is too clueless or busy to backup - Backupkey is the product for you. It was a Best of RetailVision "Best New Technology" nominee and I can see why.

In a world where only Apple seems to get ease-of-use, it is good to see a Windows product that comes close to Time Machine's simplicity. Check it out and see if you don't agree.

Comments welcome, as always. Why can't Microsoft or Symantec do stuff like this?

Topics: Storage, Apple, Data Management, Windows, SMBs

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  • Microsoft has it's own time machine

    I'm shocked that you obviously did not research on this issue. Windows Vista and Server 2003 (yes, that means also "since 2003") has VSS, where any data on Drive C: (that's the default) is backed up automatically via shadow copies. Vista let's you choose one the available previous states of any folder with 2-3 clicks (where in Server 2003 it was intended only to be used by Admins and therefore required more steps).
    The new Windows Server Backup is built completely upon this technology, I believe this is because Microsoft now has a over 5-year experience with VSS and thinks it might work.
    So in fact Apple choosed to copy the long-known Windows feature and they did successfully (OK, data could be corrupted until the first patch rollup, but that's OK if technology gets copied quick & dirty) and found a more compelling name. they did this so successful that even well-known bloggers at ZDnet do fully believe the stories from Apple's marketing group. That's sad.
    • Not quite . . .

      Microsoft has some very smart file and storage people who
      really want to make Windows storage and NTFS better, but
      it just isn't a priority for top management.

      But I responded to your comment in the main body of the
      post to head off similar comments from others.

      Thanks for writing.

      R Harris
      • Could it be the same issue they had

        with doing their own antivirus? Where companies that make their money off of antivirus software started shouting "anti-competitive" and "bundling"?

        I imagine it is not worth it to include a "great" backup feature when so many others exist (plus there is the scaled down backup software that comes with XP Pro and Windows Server that does work well) only to have it used to get dragged thru court again with shouts of "anti-competitive and "bundling" from the companies that make their money off of third party backup software.
        John Zern
      • Your update is disingenuous

        While you are correct that VSS by itself is not a complete backup solution, it is only because you are looking at a single cog and ignoring the machine. Vista has VSS for very short term revision tracking but it also has easily configurable backup functionality for long term revision backups. VSS is on by default so there is nothing that a user needs to do to enable this. Backup requires a location, be it an attached drive or a network location, that's it. I've used this solution and it takes seconds to setup, it just works, and is more than flexible enough for any small business, no matter how your organization is setup.

        The beautiful thing about VSS + Vista backup is the restore functionality. When you right click on a file or a folder and choose "Restore previous versions", you see [b]ALL[/b] of your revisions, whether they are local on VSS or backed up to an attached drive, or backed up on the network. The user doesn't need to know where the revision is in order to restore it. Of course, more traditional restore is also available if you choose. The other nice thing about this VSS + Backup integration is that there is no extra client to run. When you click "Restore previous versions" and you choose the version you want to look at, it opens that version in a standard Windows Explorer window. There is [b]no[/b] special client to learn. If you can use Windows Explorer, you can use VSS + Backup. Nothing could be simpler or require less of a learning curve.

        While Time Machine might be acceptable if you have 1 computer, it was pretty much useless for any organization that had more than 1 since Time Machine didn't support network backups. That has been somewhat mitigated with Apple's expensive, proprietary, and locked Time Capsule but it requires special hardware that can only be purchased from Apple and you [b]must[/b] buy a router, even if you already have a perfectly good network infrastructure in place. Vista's solution will work with any file share, even my Linux SAMBA network file share which is what I actually use. I can just imagine the outcry if Vista's backup would only work with Windows Home Server file shares. Apple would be on the phone with the EC within seconds! We'll also ignore the fact that Apple [b]lied[/b] to all of its customers when it said that Time Machine would work with Airport! Hmm, come to think of it, that is Data Storage related yet you chose to comment on the Vista Capable confusion story, a story that has nothing to do with Data Storage! Interesting! :)
        • Time Machine is bad with laptops

          Another HUGE problem with Time Machine is that you can't restore [b]any[/b] version unless you are connected to your external Time Machine drive and even then, you lose all incremental versions you make during road trips.

          Take your OS X laptop out of the office for the day (or a week), make a few revisions, and you won't be able to go back in time to any version you created while out of the office. When you get back to the office and connect your laptop, Time Machine will simply store the difference between when you left the office and when you came back to the office.
          [url=] Mounting frustrations with Time Machine [/url]
          This is especially egregious considering the MBA, a laptop Apple swears is perfect for the road warrior!

          VSS works [b]always[/b]. You can restore any version you made while on the road and when you bring your laptop back to the office, backup will take care of saving those versions on the external drive/network share. Folks with laptops may want to consider dumping OS X in favor of an OS that actually works while on the road. :)
  • Single computer/home use only

    Sounds like a great option for a single computer. But plugging/unplugging an external drive around the office seems clumsy and it's likely that folks will forget to use it. A networked backup system would be better for multiple computers.

    Easy and simple is great, but you still have to rely on people to remember to use it.
    • I think it could handle up to 4 or 5 systems

      Yes, they do say up to 10 systems, including a server, and
      that would be a stretch. <br>
      Because they do incrementals on user data only, once the
      initial backup is done the following backups are fast. In a
      small business that could be a Friday afternoon task.<br>
      Network backup is "better" only if a business implements
      it. Out here in the real world of small business, I can tell
      you most don't.
      R Harris
    • Network backups

      Excellent point, that offices with many users need a network backup. That?s why we are in the process of developing a network version of BackupKey. After having surveyed the existing systems on the market, I believe it will be the world?s easiest network backup system both in terms of management and use.

      Another point to consider: shouldn't backups be rotated and stored off-site? That's incredibly easy to do with BackupKey; not as easy with a network backup system.

      Tom Fair
      Turnkey Technology Solutions
    • RE: Small business backup for Windows

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  • RE: Small business backup for Windows

    Agreed, jshaw. This is a nice solution for a very specific segment, but it is a segment that has been ignored since the dawn of data. Generally the small businesses i consult with are at least sharing hosted data from a single peer machine. In these cases, the plug and play solution would be nice if it's just a bit configurable to handler shared document folders as well. With the rash of 3-4 year old drive failures I've seen lately, easier backup is a welcome trend.
    • Configurability

      BackupKey can easily be configured to back up (or not to back up) any data on your computer. It can also back up network drives with a few clicks of the mouse. The only requirement is that they be mapped to a drive letter.

      Tom Fair
      Turnkey Technology Solutions
  • Explanations

    NIT 2: USB cables
    2.5" external drives need 2 cables because of the USB specification. USB ports are rated to deliver 0.5 amp of current to attached devices. All major-brand 2.5??? laptop drives require (according to their specifications) 1 amp of current to spin up properly. After that, they can run on 0.5 amp. Moving to a lower-power drive would mean perhaps a 1-inch drive, such as those found in IPods. The result would be a noticeably higher price and reduced capacity.

    NIT 3: display switched back to the home page
    After 5 minutes of inactivity, BackupKey checks for new software updates, then automatically downloads and installs them. What you witnessed was a software update. Notice that the entire process was completely automatic!

    Thanks for a great article!

    Tom Fair
    Turnkey Technology Solutions
  • RE: Small business backup for Windows

    That sounds fine for backing up user data but is it able to do full crash recovery? i.e. to install the OS and all applications on a brand new drive (after the old one died)? I suspect the answer is no.

    That's where Ghost, Tru image, Drive Image and similar utilities come to the fore. You can restore an entire drive/partition in 15-20 min and bring a completely dead PC back to life.
  • Redundancy

    Like you said, backups fail, and unfortunately we may not know that they have failed until we need them. For this very reason, I generally insist that critical data be backed up redundantly. By this, I mean that there must be at least two different types of backups. For example, on a small workgroup server, I might employ an external hard drive for daily backups, and optical storage for weekly copies. The optical discs also serve the purpose of having a recent backup stored off site, which has proven a life saver many times. Tape drives and NAS are also excellent backup devices, as are backup servers. With storage as cheap as it is today, there is no reason not to have redundancy.
  • Drive imaging

    Yes, drive imaging is incredibly useful tool, but not as a data backup! Consider: as Norton Ghost or TrueImage updates your image, it adds all of the corruptions, incompatibilities and infections that have occurred to your computer (Why is this computer so slow? It was fast when I bought it!). So when you restore you computer after a disaster, what do you get? A faulty computer.

    The correct use of an imaging utility, IMHO, is to create and store a "perfect" image when everything is new and works correctly. Then you restore your data - from your DATA backup!
  • Windows Time Machine!

    If you're looking for a similar solution for Windowd in which you're too busy to backup or simply did not know how, you should check out:
    Genie Timeline -
    The software has not yet been released, but judging the site, I believe itl be amazing.. and if it does just half as it says, then I really cant wait to get my hands on it!
  • STrange link

    the link for The product: Backupkey - small business backup takes you to i found it starnge