Many organizations don't have a strategy for backing up their desktop computers. If your users store data files on a network volume that you back up as part of your file-server backup strategy, you might decide that you don't need to back up your workstations. When a user's desktop system crashes or dies, you can install the OS and applications from scratch or from a system image and reestablish the connection to the unharmed data on the network. For most users, this approach provides a sensible balance between manageability and data security.

However, some desktop systems might merit special attention because of a user's position in the company or the nature of his or her job. For these special cases, you can choose from a variety of backup solutions, including system imaging, local backups, and third-party remote backup agents. With Windows XP and Windows 2000, you can use Windows NT Backup (ntbackup.exe) in conjunction with a mapped network volume to implement a solid backup strategy for special desktop systems with no direct costs and minimal administration.

Win2K's Backup 5.0 introduced the ability to back up to a file without a local tape drive. This functionality offers the advantages of using a real backup application*including scheduling daily, incremental, and differential backups*without the management overhead or expense of distributed tape backup devices. You can later use your server backup mechanism to back up this file to removable media and benefit from the media rotation and offsite storage strategy you've implemented for your server backups. This type of client backup routine can range from very simple to relatively easy, depending on the level of user involvement you desire and your environment's data-protection requirements.

At the simplest end of the spectrum, you can train appropriate users to run Backup and perform complete backups to a network volume; on the opposite end of the spectrum, you can completely script and schedule backup operations so that user intervention isn't required. Let's consider a combined solution in which backups run on an automated schedule and users can conduct a manual backup when they feel that one is warranted. To implement this solution, you must have XP or Win2K clients and a mapped network volume that has adequate storage capacity. You must also have administrative authority on the client systems.

Configuring Backup Jobs
To run Backup, click Start, Programs, Accessories, System Tools, Backup. If you use XP, switch to Advanced Mode by clearing the Always start in wizard mode check box, then click the underlined Advanced Mode link. Click the Backup tab and select the System State check box and the check boxes for any drives and folders that you want to back up. System State objects include boot files, the COM+ class registration database, and the registry, all of which are necessary to recover a system. To avoid unnecessary network traffic and space consumption, select only local drives when choosing items to back up. Save the backup selections in a file to use to create additional backup jobs and manually executable shortcuts. From the Job menu, select Save Selections As and save the file in a directory that all the system users can access (e.g., Documents and Settings, All Users).

From the Tools menu, select Options, then click the General tab to set options for your environment. Because you're not concerned about removable media, you can ignore these settings. Clear the Back up the contents of mounted drives check box to avoid redundant and wasteful traffic. Click the other tabs and ensure that Backup is configured to behave appropriately for the task at hand. On the Exclude Files tab, you'll see the default list of files that the tool will ignore during the backup procedure. This list is adequate for most systems, but you can add or remove files from the list as necessary.

After you configure the options, you must specify the name and location of the backup file. Browse to and select a destination, as Figure 1 shows, or manually enter a path. Make sure the location and filename you provide don't compromise your data-protection needs. For example, choose a location on a network volume that's accessible to the user but that has enough security to thwart unauthorized access. As an added precaution, choose a location that your server backup strategy encompasses.

User home folders provide an adequate backup file location if you allot adequate space; however, if you want to be able to restore data remotely, choose a location to which you have adequate access without having to take ownership of the file. If storage space isn't abundant on your server, consider placing backup files in a compressed folder*but don't ignore the burden that this option will create for the processor on the server that hosts the folder. From the Backup tab, click Start Backup to open the Backup Job Information screen and provide a descriptive name for the backup job.

Because replacing a backup file is inherently destructive, I prefer to build in a safeguard. For example, you can use the Append this backup to the media option to create a backup file without overwriting an earlier version and then run a simple Delete command after every weekly or monthly backup of your destination server to tape. To configure additional options, click Advanced. Select the option to automatically back up system-protected files, and, unless you use Remote Storage on the client system, make sure that option is cleared. You can disable verification, but you should run at least one backup with the feature enabled to make sure that your process is working properly. From the Backup Type drop-down box, select the type of backup you want to perform. After you make your selections, click OK to return to the Backup Job Information dialog box. You have the option to start the backup or schedule it.

Scheduling Backup Tasks
On the Backup Job Information dialog box, click Schedule and specify an account under which the backup application will run. Use an account that belongs to the Administrators group or Backup Operators group. Provide a name for the backup job and click Properties to edit the schedule settings. After you click OK to approve the schedule, you'll return to the main Backup interface. Repeat this process to configure and schedule other backup jobs.

From the Job menu, select Load Selections to reload your selections. Verify the options and settings, making sure you select the proper Backup Type and Append/Replace parameters and that you specify the correct destination file.

Next, click Start, Programs, Accessories, System Tools, Scheduled Tasks and verify that operations are scheduled correctly and that they've run. Scheduled jobs run silently in the background, regardless of whether the user is logged on. The Scheduled Tasks service gives you some latitude for power management and idle time detection to ensure that backups occur consistently and without interrupting the user.

Creating User Shortcuts to Back Up Jobs
You can create a shortcut to let a user manually launch a predefined backup job. On the Scheduled Tasks window, which Figure 2 shows, right-click a task and choose Properties to view details about the task, then copy the command and arguments that appear in the Run field on the Task tab into a shortcut that's accessible to the user. Be aware, however, that the number of characters in the command string might exceed the maximum number of characters that the system permits for a shortcut. You might be able to make the string fit by moving the part of the path that points to ntbackup.exe into the Start in field. If this doesn't allow enough room, paste the entire string into a text editor such as Notepad, save the file with a .cmd or .bat extension, and point the shortcut to that file. After you create the shortcut and make it accessible, make sure that the user who will run the task has the appropriate permissions on the system. The easiest way to grant the appropriate permissions is to make the user account a member of the local Backup Operators group. Unlike backups that run through the scheduling facility, these manual backup tasks will be visible to, and under the control of, the user.

File Restoration and System Recovery
File restoration is intended to bring back lost or damaged contents, and recovery is intended for a catastrophic failure that necessitates a system rebuild. In either case, you must locate the appropriate backup file and catalog its contents before you can restore anything. To do so, run Backup, click the Restore tab, click the File icon, and choose Catalog file. Enter the location of your backup file and click OK to catalog the file. Next, select the files that you want to restore and specify the options the system should adhere to when it restores the files. By default, Backup restores files to their original locations, but you can select other options, as Figure 3 shows. The Alternate location option lets you catalog a user's backup file from your desktop computer and restore the contents to that user's system. However, be aware that the path you specify is relative and the folder structure of what you're restoring will remain intact. For example, if you restore a file that originally existed in C:\files\october\reports and you specify that directory on the user's system as the alternate location, the utility will restore that file to C:\files\october\reports\files\october\reports.

When you use Backup to perform a complete system recovery, you must perform a clean installation of the OS on the system you want to recover. You can then restore the entire contents of the backup to the system, overwriting the interim OS installation.

A Well-Suited Solution
The functionality that Ntbackup and Task Scheduler provide is well suited for backing up data on XP and Win2K clients. Backing up to a network volume affords some interesting options for bolstering data security without breaking your budget or creating an inordinate administrative burden.