Software and hardware solution for automatic backup to external USB hard drive

Posted on 2011-05-04
Last Modified: 2012-05-11

We have a couple of computers in our lab which are deliberately not networked because they run sensitive CPU-intensive real-time data-collections with the potential to be disturbed by random background processes, which naturally tend to increase if the computers are networked. We need a better backup solution for the computers (running Windows XP) that manual copying onto USB sticks (current solution).

I would like USB hard drives which are constantly plugged in, with automatic overnight backups. The backups should have some kind of versioning system, which basically just fill up the USB drives with the latest versions of data files and delete the old ones when the drive is getting full. It is important that this software is reliable, and that nothing of this causes busy extra processes to run during the day time.

Can anyone recommend a specific software and hardware solution? Extrernal hard drives bundled with appropriate software appeal most, because of the simplicity of just making one purchase decision. I know there are free software tools that can in theory do this kind of thing but I don't know if they are reliable.


Question by:amorphia78
    LVL 12

    Expert Comment

    Hi Amorphia78

    You are asking how long is a piece of string there are a million and one ways you can go about it, depending on how much you have to spend and the size of data required to be backed up. If for example is 60GB or above it would be hard to be transfered and verified using USB 2.0 overnight. when you say overnight what times do you mean? Over night for my organisation is between 01:00 and 04:00. We have some great experts here that can help you but we need more info please.

    Author Comment

    Hi, thanks for the clarification request. It won't be more than a couple gigs max generated per day, an at that rate, a terrabyte drive would be plenty (even half that) for holding enough versions back in time.


    LVL 70

    Accepted Solution

    There are a variety of ways to do this, but I'd go with a simple scheduled task.

    From your description, I assume the following are true:

    (a)  The data is all stored in the same folder;
    (b)  The amount of data is modest (just a few gig);
    (c)   A different backup for each day of the month would be plenty of "versions"

    Assuming that's all true, I'd use SyncBack SE  (or possibly just the free SyncBack)

    The freeware version would actually work fine;  but SE has a couple nice additional features that I think are easily worth the modest cost.

    To use this, I'd install an external drive;  assign it an out-of-the-way drive letter to ensure the letter never changes if it happens to get unplugged/replugged (I'd use "X" for external);  and then set up 31 different "profiles" in Syncback -- one for each day of the month.

    As an example, if your data is in C:\MyCapturedData, then I'd set up a profile named "Backup for 1st" with the source set to C:\MyCapturedData" and the destination as "X:\Backups 01".

    Then repeat that with a profile named "Backup for 2nd" with a destination of "X:\Backups 02"


    Schedule each of the backups to run monthly at 2:30AM on the appropriate day (1st, 2nd, etc.)

    This is more manual than a versioning backup system, but doesn't require any background tasks to run, and keeps every backup independent, so there's no processing required to recover any specific day.

    If a week's worth of "versions" is okay, you could do the same thing with just 7 backups instead of 31 ... obviously scheduling one for each day of the week.

    Author Closing Comment

    Thanks for the ideas, sounds like a reasonable way to do it.

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