If you’re part of a family with changing computing needs, or if you run a small business where employees and computers come and go, it’s quite likely that your backup strategy is a bit of a hodge-podge. You probably also rely on your users to pay attention to whether their data is actually being safely backed up. A recent experience of mine, where we realized that one of our business laptops hadn’t run a successful backup for a month, motivated me to dig in and implement a centrally managed backup system so that we could easily manage and monitor our computer backups. I actually did it two different ways, using one NAS-centric approach, and another more traditional backup suite, so we can compare them in this article.
How Centrally Managed Backups Work
A typical, centrally managed backup solution consists of at least three pieces. First, there is a backup server, which keeps the database of clients, tasks, and storage locations. Along with it are one or more console applications. Some systems offer one management console for administrators and a separate one for users to allow them to do some self-service operations like file recovery. Finally, there needs to be some type of client software (often called an agent) that can respond to requests from the server and initiate backups. With Windows clients, this is often a custom application installed on each client. But existing system utilities like rsync may also work as an agent, depending on the product.
In all cases, either a new account with administrator privileges needs to be created on each client, or the credentials for an existing account need to be supplied. Once a server and client(s) are in place, then the console (which might be an application or simply a web interface to the server) can be used to create backup tasks and deploy them to clients as appropriate. Most packages include some pre-defined templates that can be used as a starting point. For example, if you have a number of laptops that have a simple configuration, you can have a template that just does a System backup of the OS and boot drive.
Backing Up PCs With Easeus Todo Backup
There are many backup products for Windows PCs, but for this project, we wanted ones where we could upgrade from the typical entry-level standalone offering to a centrally managed, business-class solution inexpensively. So for our first solution, we chose Easeus Todo Backup Workstation, since the desktop software and management console are quite inexpensive, and we were already using it standalone on several machines. However, currently, Easeus can only centrally manage Windows client machines. Acronis offers a much broader range of solutions, but at a much higher price point for its business products.
You can start with the management console, which Easeus calls Backup Center, and install and deploy from there, or take a more incremental approach and install Backup Workstation on your client computers and make sure they work to your satisfaction first. When you install the clients, you can create a backup user that’s separate from other users of the system. That’s handy for creating a single credential to use for backup tasks. When you install Backup Center, you’ll want to make sure you also select the option to install the server on a machine of your choice. Unfortunately, Easeus Backup doesn’t support a NAS package for its server, which would be a nice option.
Once the clients and the Backup Center console are installed, you can use the console to create, customize, and deploy template backup tasks to some or all of your clients. You can even put them in groups. In our case, we created a simple template for most of our laptops, which only have a System (“C”) drive, and then a couple of other templates for more complex desktops that also have data drives. It was simple to create a schedule for each template and deploy them. I wish the software offered an easier way to combine Full and Incremental backup schedules, but you can choose the type of backup(s) you want, the schedules, and the retention policies.
Backing Up Your Network With Synology’s Active Backup for Business
If you own a NAS, you may already have access to all the software you need to back up your network. Most NAS vendors bundle at least one backup solution with their hardware and may offer add-on options. Synology did something pretty sweet last year, by including its Active Backup for Business (ABB) software with many of its units. It includes the server package, an active client for Windows, a user portal for self-service recovery, and the ability to back up other types of specialized hardware and virtual machines. I’ve been using ABB with both the Windows client and with my Jetson Nano Linux box with rsync as the agent.
One area where ABB goes beyond many of the other backup solutions bundled with network servers is the capability to do a bare metal restore — as you’d expect with a separate cost backup package. You simply create and boot to a recovery drive and then restore your full system image. Alternatively, you can do the expected set of drive, partition, and file backups to take more complete control of your system. There are even additional packages for specifically backing up G Suite and Office 365, although I haven’t used them.
Consider a Belt and Suspenders
Next to not noticing that backups are failing to run properly, not realizing that they’re corrupt is the next biggest problem with backups. While major corporations have policies in place for regularly testing the integrity and utility of their backups, most small business and families don’t. So in our case, we back all our machines up two different ways, to two different servers.
Five-bay NAS units are very convenient for this, as shared data can be stored on a three drive RAID array, and backups can go on a separate, mirrored, two-drive array. We use a Synology DS1517+ as our primary data store — since it supports 10Gbps — and destination for system backups generated by Active Backup for Business. Then we also have a DS1019+ where we can keep a clone of our most important shared data on the first three drives, and our Easeus backups on the other two. Or if you have room to keep your data and backups on the first three drives, the other two are ideal for mirrored security footage archives. Of course, just having two systems locally isn’t a perfect solution either, so you’ll want to have some type of off-site backup as well.