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Backing-Up My Computer

Copyright © 2017 by David E. Ross

I have had too many occasions when I found it appropriate or even necessary to describe my strategy for backing-up my PC. I thus decided to document my strategy formally for future use.

The Environment and Context

In the following description, I refer to drives C, E, and H. E and H are not the actual drive letters, which I prefer to keep private.

My PC uses Windows 7 Ultimate. The hardware includes a solid-state drive (SSD) that is partitioned into drives C and E with a combined capacity of approximately 110 GB and a "spinner" drive having the single partition for drive H with a capacity of approximately 1 TB.

For performing backups, I use Acronis True Image 2015. There are good other backup applications available, but I received a recommendation for Acronis from the person who setup my PC. He installed it and covered the cost.

Preparing for Backups

Although backups can be scheduled to run automatically and even continuously, I much prefer to run my backups manually for two reasons:

Thus, I run my backups only when I have no urgent tasks to run and I am not creating any important results. The calendar on my PC reminds me — nags me — to do backups, so I never forget them.

In preparation for the backups, I delete temporary and cache files, compress SQLite databases, compact Thunderbird mail folders, disconnect from the Internet (from my local router), and finally disable my anti-virus application. I offload onto a flash drive any software installer files that I have accumulated. All this reduces the sizes of the backups and slightly speeds the process.

In Acronis True Image, I have set options to exclude certain files from the backups, especially existing backup files (.tib files) and FTP log files (generated when I upload Web pages to my Web site).

The Weekly Backup Cycles

Each drive is involved in a three-week cycle of backups. For each drive, a cycle begins with a full backup. In the following two weeks, each drive is then incrementally backed-up, capturing any changes since the prior backup. This is illustrated in the table below.

Two Three-Week Cycles of Backups
Week Backup Type
Drive C Drive E Drive H
#1 full incremental incremental
#2 incremental full incremental
#3 incremental incremental full
#4 full incremental incremental
#5 incremental full incremental
#6 incremental incremental full

Note that, just before doing a full backup of a drive, the full and two incremental backups of that drive from two cycles earlier are erased. After completing my backup task, I thus have two full backups of each drive. I use a strong file erasing application that overwrites the backups twice each. Also note that when backing-up drive H, I exclude the folder containing photos.

Additional Backups

As I indicate above, I exclude the folder containing photos when backing-up drive H. When I accumulate what I subjectively think are a sufficient number of new photos, I back them up. I also backup the contents of the flash drive containing my archived software installers when I subjectively think there are a sufficient number of new installers. These are backed-up — not necessarily weekly — in cycles of four instead of three: full, incremental, incremental, incremental. Again, the full and three incremental backups of those files from two cycles earlier are deleted (not erased) when a new full backup is to be generated. Thus, backups of photos and software installers are not aligned with the backups of the C, E, and H drives.

After Backing-Up

The C, E, and H drives are all backed-up to folders on the H drive. Using PGP, I then create encrypted copies of the backups, which are then moved to an external hard-drive that is stored away from my house. The folder of photos is also backed-up to the H drive; I copy that backup to that same external hard-drive but without encryption. When I backup my archived software installers, I have Acronis True Image operate directly from the flash drive to the external hard-drive, again without encryption. As I place backups on the external hard-drive, I delete any backups that I already deleted from my H-drive.

Additional Comments

During backing-up, I have Acronis True image give the resulting files names that reflect the source drives, type of backup, and date of backup. Thus, I might have files such as

where the _inc_b2_s3_v1 and _b2_s1_v1 are automatically generated by Acronis True Image to indicate an incremental update and a full update respectively. The file extension for a backup file is .tib for "true image backup".

The backup files output onto my H drive are kept there. They are not encrypted because, if someone breaks into my home to access my PC and those files, I have much worse problems than exposed sensitive data. (I do encrypt certain files on my PC, which I will not characterize here.) I can open the backup .tib files and navigate down to the source folders and files that were backed-up. This allows me to recover individual files that I might have destroyed or otherwise mangled beyond recovery.

4 January 2017

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