Inexpensive Set & Forget Workstation Backup

As a small business / home user tech support provider, I would say nearly every computer I see has either no backup or a very minimal backup consisting basically of the My Documents folder contents.  I would like to put together a simple, very inexpensive, highly reliable, set-and-forget backup system I can recommend to these people.  I know set-and-forget is not ideal, but many of these people don't pay for any tech services unless the machine is basically useless and set-and-forget is better than nothing at all.  

I am currently thinking of coupling a 1TB - 2TB dedicated external HDD ($69 - $99) with Paragon Backup & Recovery 2013 Free.  However, I would like the advice of this community regarding the reliability of this software and other backup programs that might be a better option.

At a minimum I want the backup software to 1) be very inexpensive ($0 - $40), 2)transparently backup the entire partition / drive / computer to that dedicated backup disk, 3) automatically manage the space on that drive, and 4) be able to recover individual files or the entire system to a new disk.  An ideal solution would include online backup for specified files / folders, backup to NAS / server shares, bare metal restore, notification for failed backups, and restoration to different hardware as either part of the base package or as an upgrade option for those who need / want those features.

Is there something else I should look as a viable alternative to Paragon Backup & Recovery?
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TelNetSystemsAsked:
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KrasziCommented:
Hi!

There are several free backup solutions.

I personally use Syncback free edition for local backups.
http://www.2brightsparks.com/freeware/freeware-hub.html

The problem with external disks theat they are voulnerable to a lot of things (especially cleaning, they tend to fell off wherever you place them and all of your backup will be destroyed).

I put a simple linux box on the internet and all my computers do they backup there over ssh. This solution uses notifications as well after a sucessfull/failed backup.
Look at this link: http://sqlbackupandftp.com/features/

Regards,
Kraszi
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Fred MarshallPrincipalCommented:
Considering all the effort that goes into setup, configuration and maintenance, Carbonite (or equivalent) is pretty painless.  It may seem like more money but likely is NOT.  You can get the slightly higher-priced version to image the hard drive as well.  Do the math and you'll find that it's cheap.

I do both approaches and can pretty much guarantee that if you build it then you will maintain it.  Either you are going to be conscientious or not thereafter.  If you're at all conscientious then there's maintenance cost.  

Even with Carbonite (or equivalent) these questions remain:
- Is the backup working?
- Are the needed things being backed up?
- Have you proven that you can do a restore?
- Have you proven that you can do a restore today?
I have seen too many backups that were "working" only to find that they could not restore at all because of a failure of the restore elements in the system.  This is not the same as a backup verification.
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TelNetSystemsAuthor Commented:
Kraszi:  I looked at the Syncback products you mentioned, but they appear to be similar to the backup software that is included with many external hard drives than a full partition / disk backup like I am looking for.  That kind of program is great for backing up specific file types and folders, and they make it easy to access those backup files, but I find them lacking in cases where the hard drive fails completely and you want to restore the entire system and not just the data.  

The other issue I have with that type of backup program is that I have seen situations where the client wants to restore lost data, but I discover that they use an unusual line of business app (say Calyx Point), it uses an unusual data extension (.brw), and the default data location is not in My Documents (C:\PNTDATA\).  The standard "Back up my data" settings usually don't locate that stuff since it falls outside of the common data file types and normal data storage locations.  Unfortunately, I don't think those products are going to  meet the, "transparently backup the entire partition / drive / computer" requirement.
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TelNetSystemsAuthor Commented:
fmarshall:  I took another look at Carbonite before responding to your post, and I discovered two things I thought I knew about them were not accurate.  My first thought was that Carbonite doesn't do full drive backups, but it turns out they do with the $99/yr and $149/yr home plans.  My second thought was that even if they did, the storage space needed to do full drive backups would be absurdly expensive since they charge $229/yr for 250GB, but it turns out that only applies to business accounts and residential accounts claim "unlimited" data backup.  Other than the $99 cost being per year instead of for the life of the computer, Carbonite is actually a much better match for my other criteria than I thought.

"I do both approaches and can pretty much guarantee that if you build it then you will maintain it.  Either you are going to be conscientious or not thereafter.  If you're at all conscientious then there's maintenance cost."

Yes, and that is the entire issue I am trying to address with this question.  I have clients that are interested in paying for maintenance as well as repair services, and for those people this much easier to address since there is a willingness not only to spend money to implement solutions but also to monitor and maintain them.  RMM agent monitoring, periodic verification of essential security and backup functioning, redundant local and cloud backups, etc. all become part of the available toolkit for protecting these clients.  

However, I also see plenty of small businesses and homeowners that don't feel the need to pay $60 to $90 an hour for "maintenance" on a $499 computer.  These are the people who I only see when something is so bad they can't function anymore without service.  Heck, I'm thinking of one client right now who changed the password on her only user account three weeks ago and can't figure out what it is... she has been locked out of her computer entirely for three weeks and is still debating the service call to have me come out and strip the password so she can use her computer again.  I'd bet money that when she eventually decides to pay me to unlock her computer for her the antivirus software subscription will be expired since they didn't pay to renew it either.  I have no faith that these people will stick with and maintain a backup solution that is going to require them to continue paying $99+ a year for "just in case".

Thinking along the same lines as you, I have mostly tried to stay out of it with these people.  It was broken, I fixed what they asked, and I was afraid to go into security or backup territory with them as it is not reliable without maintenance, and they are almost certainly not going to do the maintenance, so why associate myself with a doomed solution.  Better to just fix what they asked and stay away from associating myself with blame for their almost certain future backup and security disasters.

However, with the availability of non-subscription options like Microsoft Security Essentials and Malwarebytes PRO, I have started to take a different tack with these people and take a "better than the alternative" approach with these people.  Your paid security product has been expired for 9 months?  Obviously you aren't someone who is going to stay on top of subscription services... while I'm here why don't we consider switching to MSE and MalwareBytes PRO for a one time $29 purchase instead of subscription products.  I've seen better future results for those people than the ones who just kept letting their security software subscriptions expire.  

My experience with Small Business Server 2008 and 2011 backup has make me consider if a similar backup solution could be deployed for these people.  SBS backup is dead simple... plug in an external HDD, tell SBS backup to use it, and watch the Backup icon turn green and stay green.  SBS backup takes total control of the backup drive, does full system backups, can be used for individual file restore or full system bare metal recovery, and manages everything automatically.  As long as the drive is connected it just works.  If I could put together a similar solution for those no-maintenance clients, they might actually have a chance of surviving a HDD crash.  I'm looking now for the software component of that possible solution, but the "low cost, dead simple, fully automatic, no subscription" kind of software needed to give it a chance of success is something I'm finding difficult to satisfy.

Those Carbonite home plans look much better than I thought, and I'm thinking of a few clients I should have take a look at them, but I don't think they are a good fit for these "no-maintenance" problem people.
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Thomas RushCommented:
Here's a potential solution that lets you be the Carbonite/Mozy:

http://web.synametrics.com/Syncrify.htm
It's a program (single server license $49) that lets your clients back up to a private cloud, one server to another, where you control the source and destination machines.  Perhaps you have customers where this would be useful.  It certainly would be a valuable service for you to sell.
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TelNetSystemsAuthor Commented:
This was the only answer that addressed the full drive/partition requirement of the original question.  I went with Rebit software for a couple people since asking this question as it was the closest I found to meeting my requirements.
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