On backups

In my previous post I mentioned that I’d been using CrashPlan for making backups on our Windows PC. Like many, I prefer to get a feel for the software before I pay for a copy, so I installed the free version. It all seemed to set up OK, I didn’t immediately come across any missing features and so I left it alone to do its thing.

And in the absence of any error messages I believed that it was working just fine. Alas, that was not the case.

In checking out my backup drive when dealing with our Trojan infection, I found out that CrashPlan had filled its allotted hard drive and in fact hadn’t backed up anything in weeks. And in the process had utterly failed to alert me to that fact. Hey CrashPlan – how about using the Windows notification area for alerts? I mean, a backup failing is a major error and the user should be told about it as soon as possible.

One of the reasons I installed CrashPlan in the first place was that I wanted something that was more intelligent backup than Windows’ own. However, the free version of CrashPlan has a set of default settings for the backup frequency and number/age of versions that runs the risk of filling your backup hard drive then nothing more will be backed up because nothing will be old enough to delete. CrashPlan’s official advice on solving this problem? Get a bigger hard drive. Okaaay….

OK I could solve this problem by paying for the basic version, which includes unlimited online backups too. After all, $60 a year isn’t that much to pay for peace of mind is it? Normally I’d argue that is cheap, but in this case all I wanted was a local fire-and-forget backup of our primary documents directories that didn’t rely on me remembering to run rsync. And $60 was too much for just that.

Enter Windows FileHistory. I hadn’t heard of it until I searched again for Windows backup solutions. After a bit of fiddling about (tip: don’t include any folders that have a frequently-updated cache, like that for a web browser!) I seem to have it working just fine. It’s been going for a few days now, and is updating only what it needs to update which is pretty much all I want in a backup program!

However, I’m not entirely convinced that it’s a long-term solution as it seems a bit fragile. When configuring FileHistory, it seemed to get itself into a state where I couldn’t add new folders to the backup, and remove one would remove them all. A round of disabling it, reboot, and re-enabling FileHistory fixed it, but I shouldn’t have to do that every time. (I shouldn’t have to do it at all, of course…)

So we’ll see how it goes. I didn’t like the fact that CrashPlan forced me to create yet another account even to use the free version – my Windows 10 box uses local logins, so no additional accounts needed to use FileHistory. Plus I’ll keep doing my rsync backups to the Linux box, so at least I’ll always have a second copy. Mind you, even that backup drive is filling up…

Postscript: I should admit some fallibility here. My initial backup plan included a directory tree that mistakenly contained our web browser caches, which of course tend to a) be large and b) change frequently. (Not to mention that they are pointless to back up!) That meant every time the backup ran, it saw that a few GB of files had changed and duly did exactly what I’d asked it to do. Alas, this resulted in my paltry 160 GB drive filling up way sooner than expected. So one of the things to make sure when you set up a backup is to make sure it really is only backing up the files that you wish to keep! I know this now… 🙂

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