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Looking for best backup and synchronization software for external media and remote/online

Posted on 2011-02-21
Last Modified: 2012-05-11
Hi please can someone help me?

I am looking to implement a good backup and synchronization solution for my data on my network. I have some specific needs / considerations that I believe make this operation a bit unusual and as such I would like some expert advice. I have looked online and in forums about things like rsync and unison etc., but there are so many out there, and some are free, some expensive I feel a little lost with it all.

My network comprises of 4-5 computers (all now Windows 7, one of which is Ultimate, rest are Home Premium). The computers are part of a Homegroup and appear to see each other fine.
The Win 7 Ultimate PC has a 1tb external drive connected via USB that holds all my business data.

The network is served by a linksys WAG320N router, and the Win7 Ultimate PC with the USB data drive is wired into this.

The network also has a PogoPlug Pro connected with a wired connection into the router. This PogoPlug has connected an identical drive to the 1tb data drive on my main computer.

Originally I had wanted to use the PogoPlug as a local network fileserver but I found it too slow to be effective. Additionally I was unable to map the drives and as such some of my programs that expected/needed files in certain locations would not work. It is possible that with better knowledge and more research I could have improved all of this, but I did not have time and my gut feeling was that it was better to connect the drive up to a PC.

There is a need for the Pogoplug and I am very happy with it. I need to be able to access the data files when I am away from my network and also to allow users/clients to login to specific folders to access files. Based on this, I want the data drive to backup or synch to this drive (ideally as close to simultaneous as possible) so I have access to the most up to date data available. I also like the idea of having the data drive backed up to another drive to protect my data.

I have a reseller account with unlimited online storage and my plan is to have my data backed up to this too. This does not have to happen simultaneously, it could be nightly or weekly or whatever you advise.

Ideally I would like to use synchronization technology over standard backup, like rsync or similar. If my research is correct it is more efficient as it only modifies the bit of the file that has changed rather than updasting the whole lot.

I'd prefer a solution with a GUI over command-line as I am a little daunted about a command-line solution and other people in my team will be totally freaked and are almost certainly not going to adopt this. If there is a free solution that is great, but I am equally happy to buy software (ideally not much more than $100 if we can avoid it).

Kind regards and thank you for your time,
Question by:arasburn
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LVL 31

Expert Comment

ID: 34941913
Hi Ady,

An ideal setup that I would aim to do if I were you:

1) Ditch the pogo-plug entirely. Sounds like an underpowered NAS with too many bells and whistles that is targeted at the inexperienced home user. It is not going to serve you very well in an office environment and as you already discovered, it is slow.

2) Sign up for a free account and and install the free edition of LogMeIn on your office computers, this will enable you to access their desktops remotely while you are away  (http://www.logmein.com)

3) Use Windows 7's built in backup tool to schedule complete backups of your computer, and also of your external hard drive. Have the backups be made to your second external hard drive. This will give you an immediate backup of your main system which you can restore from quickly if necessary.

4) For offsite, internet based backups, get yourself the free version of CrashPlan Home Edition (www.crashplan.com), and sign up for a family license to their unlimited storage "Crashplan Online" service for a bit less than $100/year. This will let you backup all your systems (including your win7 ultimate + external HD) to Crashplan's Online Servers. You can later login to www.crashplan.com via a web browser and download your backed up files. You can also restore directly using the Crashplan Desktop application. With appropriate licenses (you probably want a "Family" license to Crashplan Online) you can put Crashplan on ALL your computers and have it back them up so that when your users inevitably put important files on their Desktop or in their My Documents, it gets backed up as well.

Setting up a setup like this will give you a few advantages:

    a) You have remote access to your computers, which ultimately will be far superior to just remote access to your files. Files are big, and transferring them over the internet when you need them will take a long time. Nice, clean access to your desktop computer remotely is a lot better.

     b) You still get direct internet-based access to your files, which is what you said you wanted in your post. You get this via Crashplan Online's web interface and will let you download your latest backup (probably about 1 day old) off Crashplan's servers if you really need it

     c) You have an immediate, local onsite backup which you can use to quickly restore if anything bad happens to your Windows 7 Ultimate machine. It will be your main backup.

     d) You have offsite internet based backup which will cover your data in the event of a disaster, theft, etc

LVL 31

Expert Comment

ID: 34941934
Just rereading my comment, and I realize that #3 is a bit confusing. I'll rewrite it:

3) On your Windows 7 ultimate machine, have BOTH external hard drives connected to it. One external hard drive is your main disk that you said had all your files on it, and the other is your backup hard drive. Configure Win7's built in backup tool to backup the entire computer + the main external hard drive's contents over to the secondary external hard drive. Put this on a schedule so it happens nightly.

In addition, my personal opinion is that you should purchase a 1TB SATA internal hard drive and put it into your Win7 ultimate computer, move all your data onto the new disk, and use both of your external hard drives for backups only. The internal disk couldn't cost more than $100 and will run much faster than the external hard drive. You can then basically think of your data as being "on the win7 ultimate computer", and your other two external hard drives become backup disks only.

Author Comment

ID: 34949138

Thank you so much for your reply, really appreciated.

I am definitely going to get an internal 1TB drive and do many of the things you suggested. One of the advantages of the Pogoplug, that was not covered by the solution, was the ability to allow users (clients) to securely access certain folders on my network to download files. I know I can use services like mailbigfile.com to achieve this, but that would require these large files to be uploaded to such a service before the client could download them which would double the time / our effort. If we can simply put them on a local HD and have the client access them from there we remove the delay of the upload.

We use TeamViewer (assume very similar to logmein) already to access our computers when not on the network and I totally agree it makes things easier, cleaner and more efficient as we are only dealing with the live files as opposed to duplicates.

As to whether it is faster to manipulate a remote computer to use a file, or to download/access the file on a remote computer I suspect depends on the size of the file and the nature of the task, I suspect both routes have their advantages.

I will look at Crashplan it sounds fantastic thank you.

Do you have any thoughts / suggestions on file synch software? I am still keen to keep certain files and folders synched on my system.

If you don't, I am still happy to award full points.

Kind regards and thanks again,
LVL 31

Accepted Solution

Frosty555 earned 500 total points
ID: 34953520
I have some experience with file syncing tools. I didn't go into any of it since my solution that I suggested basically involved avoiding file syncing altogether :).

RSync is pretty much the standard in file syncing, and for mac and unix environments it is the best thing you can use.

However, to take advantage of rsync's real power (the block-by-block differential copying of only the changed data) you need to have an rsync SERVER running on the other end. A typical scenario would be two linux machines - one runs rsync daemon as a server, the other uses the rsync client to sync data across, if you do it this way you get very fast synchronization of extremely large files, and it works really good.

In your case you do not have an rsync server - your pogoplug doesn't support it. As a result, the rsync client will just examine the dates of the files on the remote media, and copy the files that have changed. It would take rsync just as much effort to determine what bytes have changed as it would to just copy everything, so it doesn't bother trying to do any further optimization.

Nevertheless, rsync is a pretty decent tool for syncing and works extremely well on mac and most variants of linux.

For windows there is no traditional rsync client or server implementation. The rsync implementation for Windows is called DeltaCopy. It is supposedly a real rsync implementation, but I believe it has a GUI as well. I haven't actually used it that much but it seems pretty straightforward, it is effectively a windows based rsync client.

The pay version of DeltaCopy is called Syncrify, which has some neat additional features and is designed for a specifically windows environment, but again I didn't want to purchase the full version as it was a bit expensive.

Lastly I have also had good experiences just using ROBOCOPY, which is a command line based file copy tool for Windows that you can get as part of the Windows Server 2003 Resource Toolkit (which you can download for free), but it also comes as a standard tool with any installation of Windows 7. You can configure Robocopy to copy to network locations and also skip files that have not changed. The /MIR option lets you "mirror" the source to the destination, which amounts to deleting files off the destination that do not exist in the source (basically a normal sync, but the source is treated as the master for any collisions/discrepancies, which is pretty much exactly what you want)

Other tools that I've used for syncing are SyncBackLE by TwoBrightSparks, which worked pretty good for me as well, but I didn't want to buy the full version and the lite version was a bit crippled for my use.

Author Closing Comment

ID: 35008657
Huge thanks to Frosty555, truly excellent. Really appreciate your time in helping me sort this.

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