Remote Backup Fail and How to Silently Copy Files

Recently I’ve run into frustrations with Iron Mountain Connected Backup so I’ve been looking for alternatives.

Alternatives: I’ve been running Jungle Disk at home and really like it. I could use that at work except I have not set up an Amazon or RackSpace account with my work credit card. But I am in Chicago and my database server/ file server is in Dallas TX. So I decided to just create a mirror on my laptop onto a shared drive on my server. There’s lots of ways to do this, but the path I chose was to use RoboCopy, a command line copy tool from Microsoft that is part of the Windows Server 2003 Resource Kit. I’m running XP and I wanted the mirroring of my machine to be invisible, silent, and scheduled. To do this I found I needed to take the following steps:

  1. Install RoboCopy
  2. Create a batch file to mirror the directory I wanted
  3. Create a windows script to call the batch silently
  4. Schedule the windows script to run automagically

Install RoboCopy: Download the Windows Server 2003 Resource Kit and install it. Very easy.

Create a batch file to run RoboCopy: I named mine c:/backup.bat and it looks something like this:

Set Source=”C:\Documents and Settings\jdlong”
Set Dest=”\\myDallasServer\backup\jdlong”
Robocopy %Source% %Dest% /MIR /Z /R:0  >nul

This simply sets the source and destination and then runs RoboCopy with the /MIR (mirror) and /Z (restartable) switches invoked

Create a windows script: The problem with the batch file is that it is noisy when it runs. Even piping the output to nul it still produces a CMD window that stays up until it finishes running. That’s where the Windows Script file comes into play. It calls the batch file but hides the CMD window. I created a file called c:\runBackup.vbs that has this in it:

Set WshShell = CreateObject(“WScript.Shell”)
WshShell.Run chr(34) & “C:\backup.bat” & Chr(34), 0
Set WshShell = Nothing

Schedule the windows script: Control Panel -> Scheduled Tasks. Then I created a new task that runs  c:\runBackup.vbs every night at 11PM. The only down side is that when I change my password I have to remember to change the password associated with the scheduled task or it will fail.
The only upside is that I figured out that Iron Mountain sucks prior to having data loss. I got lucky. Next week I am going to test my backup. And then test it every quarter after that. And I won’t depend on my corporate IT do to my backups.

12 Comments

  1. Boris Shor says:

    Does RoboCopy do compression on-the-fly, or differential copies (eg transfering only the part of the file that changed)? Rsync/Unison do both, and Windows Live Sync does the former. But Live Sync is cool in that it updates/syncs dynamically, as files are changed. Obviously that won’t work for databases or PST files. And it needs a client application on either end.

  2. JD Long says:

    RoboCopy is not at all a “real” backup solution. It’s really just an robust copy tool.

    For our use case I decided (for a number of reasons too long to list here) that we just wanted simply file mirroring. The downsides of using RoboCopy for mirroring are:

    1) no binary delta, ie it copies any file that has changed even if that change is simply one bit.

    2) I have to do the *.vbs calling *.bat to make it totally silent.

    3) No compression.

    4) No GUI to set which files get copied (yes, that might be a pro, not a con)

    The big reasons why I went with simple mirroring are:

    1) Already using version control for most files which I might want to “roll back” in time

    2) Needed to make a decision and get it implemented on 2-3 user laptops in 1 day. Not much time to tinker.

    3) Need to be easy to validate backups. A copy has very few moving parts and a user can just look in a directory and see if the latest backed up files are there. No need for client software or other abstractions.

    I like Rsync, but since the machines are Windows I was concerned about the hassle of installing Cygwin, then getting the scripts right and then getting them to execute silently. Plus I’d have to get an rsync server running on my server (it’s also Win). So I went the easy route.

  3. Boris Shor says:

    Cheap, easy, fast does the trick, of course!

    You can install Unison without Cygwin, though, on Windows. And you don’t need a remote server either, just a mapped drive, which you have.

  4. Phil Rack says:

    I laugh out loud at some of your word choices… You’re writing style is great. I have my own website that is hosted by iPower. As part of the annual fee I have access to Carbonite (2GB version) for backups. I just started using this two days ago so I don’t have a lot to say about it yet. I only backup certain directories (source code and docs) so 2GB works right now. If this proves successful, I may just bite the bullet and buy the $50 plan for unlimited storage.

  5. JD Long says:

    Boris, I am going to research Unison. It sounds like a really good possible solution. Thank you for letting me know about it!

    Phil, I’ve recommended Carbonite to others. I think it’s a really good solution. For my personal use I prefer Jungle Disk. For work I didn’t go that direction because of the fees. I’d have to deal with paying for it with my work CC and then expensing it. For personal use, it sounds like a very good way to go.

  6. We’ve replaced countless (more than 100,000, less than 1 million) installations of Iron Mountain. While I can’t get specific on where, I can safely say you’d be shocked by how many of the worlds leading technology companies run our software on every desktop.

    Best of all – It’s free for personal use. Give it a shot.. or.. if you want a permanent IT friend for life, recommend our CrashPlan PRO product to your IT department. They’ll keep you flush with high technology for the remainder of your life as thanks. :)

  7. Boris Shor says:

    One more thing: RichCopy is apparently a superset of RoboCopy. I’ve used it, and it works real well on a local network.

    http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/magazine/2009.04.utilityspotlight.aspx

  8. Hi J.D. I in no way represent Iron Mountain but have had extensive experience with their backup solutions (both Live Vault and connected). I can assure you that Iron Mountain’s Connected Technology can and does backup all files: open and closed and has no restriction when it comes to Microsoft Office. Allow me to elaborate:

    Iron Mountain supply their software to their Partners via two main options: Subscription and licence. Subscription based Partners use very latest technology and source their data centres directly from Iron Mountain therefore receiving updates and hot fixes when any issues arise. This means that their customers will always have the most recent versions of the software which in this case is capable of backing up and restoring the widest range of file types.

    Your experience suggests your desktop support company are in fact using a licensed version of the connected software which will be limited to the software they purchased and may be some years old. By choosing a vendor that scrimps on technology you’ve unfortunately been left with a bitter taste of the connected product. I would advise you take this up with your provider and find out what version they are running. Alternatively, going straight to Iron Mountain themselves and asking for a referral to a trusted partner and trialling it, or even buying directly from IM will ensure you can always receive the latest version.

    Glad you’re still looking into Online Backup though, Hope you find something that works!

  9. JD Long says:

    Boris, it looks like RichCopy is also a GUI. RoboCopy is a command line tool but MS does offer up a RoboCopy GUI which is a different product. I’ll have to check out RichCopy. After a few weeks I’m happy with my RoboCopy script, however ;)

  10. JD Long says:

    Jennifer, thanks for your comments. I am going to investigate and see what’s going on. Thanks for hipping me to the different licensing issues.

  11. ESR says:

    Another PC Backup product that recently got some press from Gartner is the ‘Datacastle’ product. From what I read on the website (www.datacastlecorp.com), they do some unique things in the way of data deduplication, key management, automation, and transparency.

    They apparently are focused on B2B and not consumer as they make a big deal about being centrally managed and all that….

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