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Using the Backup and Restore Center (part 2) - Performing File Backups

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3/24/2011 10:09:40 PM

Using the Backup and Restore Center

The primary data protection tool in Windows Vista is the Backup and Restore Center. You can launch it from the Start menu by searching for the name of the program, or you can click the Backup And Restore Center link from within the System And Maintenance section in Control Panel. Figure 1 shows an example of the main screen of the Backup and Restore Center utility.

Figure 1. Using the Backup and Restore Center

The two main sections of the program divide the functionality into backup and restore operations. Windows Vista automatically keeps track of which backups have been performed and reports on the details. The main approaches to performing are either to back up specific files or to perform a Complete PC backup. In the following sections, you’ll learn how to create file-based backups. 

Performing File Backups

The process of backing up files and folders involves making a copy of users’ data and other types of information. This information is stored in a backup location and can later be used to recover information, if necessary. The primary goal of this approach is to enable users to identify easily which information is important. A file backup does not, however, include operating system files.

Defining and Scheduling a New Backup

To start the creation of a new backup process, in the Backup and Restore Center window, click Back Up Files. The first step asks you to specify the destination location for the backup (see Figure 2).

Figure 2. Choosing a backup destination

The first option displays a drop-down list that includes all of the available local backup destinations. This includes local hard disk volumes, removable memory devices, external hard disks, and writable CD- and DVD-based devices. The Windows Vista operating system hard disk does not appear in the list, because it is not possible to back up system-related information to this disk. The list also shows how much space is available on each of these devices.

The second option allows you to specify a network location to which the backups will be stored. You can enter the information by typing a Universal Naming Convention (UNC) path name to the destination folder or by using the Browse button.

The second step of the backup process involves selecting which disks should be backed up (see Figure 3). By default, all of the disks that are available for backup purposes are listed. If you selected a specific volume or disk in the previous step, it does not appear here because Windows Vista does not enable performing a backup to the same disk. The operating system disk is automatically added to the backup set, and you cannot remove it. You can specify which additional storage devices should be backed up by selecting or clearing the check boxes for each item.

Figure 3. Selecting which disks should be backed up

The next step involves specifying which types of files should be backed up (see Figure 4). Table 1 lists the available options and the associated category details as listed in the Backup and Restore Center.

Figure 4. Determining which types of files to back up

Table 1. Backup File Categories and Their Descriptions
CategoryCategory Details
PicturesDigital photographs, clip art, drawings, scanned pictures, faxes, and other image files, including .jpeg and .png files.
MusicMusic, play lists, CD tracks, and other audio files, including Windows Media Audio and MP3 files.
VideosVideos and movies, including Windows Media Video, .mpeg, and .avi files.
E-mailE-mail messages and contact lists, including .pst and .eml files. E-mail that is stored online only will not be backed up.
DocumentsDocuments, such as work processing files, spreadsheets, and presentations, including .pdf and .xps files.
TV ShowsTV shows recorded from Windows Media Center.
Compressed FilesCompressed, image, and archive format files that contain other files, such as .zip, .cab, .iso, .wim, and .vhd. This category also includes compressed folders.
Additional FilesAny files that do not fit in the other categories. System files, program files, and temporary files are never backed up.

Assuming that the backup destination has sufficient space, it is ideal to select the check boxes for all of these types of files. In many cases, however, the backup destination might not have enough space to store all of the file types. In that case, users can choose to exclude some file types. For example, TV shows recorded by Windows Media Center can be large and might not be considered critical from a backup and restore standpoint.

The next step is to specify the schedule for the backup process (see Figure 5). The main option is the frequency of the backup operation. The settings include Daily, Weekly, and Monthly. Based on this selection, the other options specify the details for when the backup process begins.

Figure 5. Specifying a backup schedule

If you have not yet created a backup of the system, you see a notice at the bottom of the screen specifying that a new full backup will be created immediately. Click Save Settings And Start Backup to begin the operation. Figure 6 shows the progress information display for a backup.

Figure 6. Viewing progress for a backup job

While the backup is running, users can continue to access the computer and can even make changes to files. Windows Vista uses a file system feature known as shadow copy to access files while they are in use. Files that are modified during the backup process are copied during the next backup operation. The backup job is also scheduled to run based on the settings that were chosen.

Performing Manual Backups

After you create a scheduled backup process, you can view details about it in the Backup and Restore Center. As shown in Figure 7, the details include the date and time of the last backup and the scheduled time for the next backup operation.

Figure 7. Viewing details related to a scheduled backup job

The Change Settings link enables you to launch the Backup Status And Configuration window (see Figure 8). You use this window to verify settings and locations for backup operations and to perform several different operations.

Figure 8. Using the Backup Status and Configuration utility

You can click Change Backup Settings to make modifications to the current backup job. This is useful if you want to change the backup destination, which files are copied, or the backup schedule. You also have the ability to turn off automatic backups altogether.

In general, users should create and schedule a regular backup process. In some situations, however, it is useful to perform a manual backup. This might be important, for example, when a large number of files has been created or modified on the system, and the user does not want to wait until the next scheduled backup operation to protect those files. Clicking Back Up Files in the Backup and Restore Center launches this process. Files are automatically copied to the destination location. You can view the progress of the backup by clicking the backup system tray icon.

One approach to performing a new backup would be to copy all of the selected data files. The drawback, however, is that this would require a lot of time and a significant amount of disk space. Usually, only a few files will have changed since the last backup operation. Windows Vista automatically tracks which files have been backed up and can detect which files have been created or modified since the last backup operation. When performing subsequent backup operations, only changed and added files are copied to the destination location. This makes the process significantly faster than performing a full backup and uses a much smaller amount of backup space.

Managing Backup Files

The Backup and Restore features in Windows Vista are designed to create backup-related files and folders automatically as needed. Over time, however, you might want to delete older backups or move backups to a different storage location. You might want to move a set of backups to another computer to restore the data there.

The standard folder structure that is used in the backup location begins with a folder name based on the name of the computer that is backed up. Within this folder, there is a backup set subfolder that is named based on the date and time at which the backup was run (for example, Backup Set 2007-06-09 132923). Each Backup Set folder also includes one or more folders that start with the name Backup Files. Figure 9 shows an example.

Figure 9. Viewing backup-related files

Subsequent backup operations include new folders within the Backup Set folder. The backed up data itself is stored within a compressed (zipped) folder. Its contents can be accessed manually to restore specific files. In addition, there is a Catalogs folder that includes an index of all of the files that have been backed up. This information is used by the Windows Vista restore utilities to find files quickly without searching through all of the data.

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