Small business backup for Windows

Apple's Time Machine one-click backup utility is the easiest and most intuitive in the industry. Does anything on Windows come close?
Written by Robin Harris, Contributor

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?

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