Backup regimes and synchronizing folders across your network

David Meego - Click for blog homepageOn my computers at home I have a backup and synchronization regime to ensure that each computer has access to the files I want (even when offline) and that there is no chance of losing any data in the event of a disaster.

In this post, I will explain my regime and some of the tools and tricks I have learnt. While I am sure others will have their own systems and might not agree with what I am doing. I hope you find this information helpful and maybe something in this post will save your data one day.

Note: This system was set up when I was running Winthrop Dexterity Consultants from home and is probably a little over the top. After you lose data a few times, it does not seem over the top anymore.


My Configuration

Basically, I store all my data in 4 folders:

  1. C:\Backups
    This folder contains backups of any content created by me that is not a document. For example: Development projects, Exchange/Outlook files, Websites, etc.
  2. C:\CD_Temp
    This folder contains all the install files for tools and utilities that I like to use as well as drivers for my machines: Files I want to be able to access, but not created by me.
    Its name is a legacy of the fact that I used to burn each sub folder to a CD, so I could carry it around with me. Now I just carry the files and folders I want on a USB Drive.
  3. C:\My Documents
    This is where all my documents are created. I don't use the default user folders as they cannot be shared so easily across users and machines.
    In Office options, I change the application's default save folder from C:\Users\David\Documents to C:\My Documents.
  4. C:\Media
    This folder has sub folders for Music, Pictures and Videos and contains all my media files. I don't use the default user folders as they cannot be shared so easily across users and machines.
    I manually add the appropriate folders to the Windows Libraries so the windows apps can find my media.
    Hint: On my Surface Pro tablet, I have added a micro SD card which I use to store the Media folder on. It is drive D: on the machine. However, I created a blank folder C:\Media and then using the Disk Manager (Computer Management >> Storage >> Disk Management), I right click on the drive and select Change Drive Letters and Paths and Add the C:\Media path to mount drive D: as though it is the C:\Media folder.  This is a great way to expand storage on a tablet for files which are write once, read many (WORM) times files. 

Now that you know how I have my data stored, we can discuss how I back it up.


My Hardware 

Each of my computers has an extra drive. In a couple, that is a secondary internal drive and in the others it is a USB external drive. Note that this drive needs to be a separate physical drive and not a partition on the same drive. If it was a partition and the drive failed, you would lose both the original and the backup.

I also have a NAS (Network Attached Storage) drive, which is the central storage and the link between each of the machines on my network. This is a NetGear 4 bay NAS device which currently has two mirrored 2TB Drives in it. With two free bays, I have room to expand when I need it. It you don't have a NAS, select a machine which is always at home and share the folders so it can become the central link.


My Synchronizing Regime

Using the wonderful SyncToy 2.1 free tool from Microsoft, on each machine I set up synchronization for the four folders (above) between the matching shares on the NAS and to the local extra drive on the machine.

By running SyncToy on each machine every week or so, any changes made on any machine are synchronized up to the NAS and onto the extra drive. To get all machines and drives synchronized normally takes running SyncToy once on every machine to move all changes to the NAS and then running it twice more on each machine to bring the changes from the NAS to the local drive and then from the local drive to the external drive. While this is a manual process, it does not take long.

On one of my machines I have an extra external drive which is also synchronized with SyncToy. This drive is swapped regularly with an identical drive that lives at my Mother-in-law's house. She backs up her system with a similar SyncToy arrangement I set up for her. This means that my data is offsite and her data is also backed up and offsite. I would highly recommend buying two large external drives so you can set up a swapping arrangement with a good friend or family member.

Using this arrangement, you will never lose much data, even if you have drives fail, machines fail or worse a disaster hits your house.


So here is a summary of the tips:

  • You can add other folders to your Libraries for Music, Pictures, Videos so you are not limited to the default user folders.
  • You can mount flash drive storage so it appears as part of your main C: drive.
  • Backup or synchronize your data to a separate physical drive.
  • Use a central machine or NAS drive to allow all machine to synchronize to a central location.
  • Take a backup offsite. Swap an external drive with a friend or family member.
  • Use SyncToy to only copy the changes made. 


Hope you found this information useful.