After working over 20 years in high-reliability space and medical software development, I’ve come to appreciate the importance the KISS (Keep it Simple, Stupid) principle. With regards to backups, high-reliability is crucial and I’ve seen too many proprietary backup tools fail when they’re needed most (during a critical restoration). We do use proprietary backup tools, but we almost always combine them with a low tech system of simply copying files to a backup destination (typically an external or NAS hard drive). These file copies do not require proprietary software to view or restore, and thus can be easily opened on almost any system.
Although the core technology is low tech (simple file copies), behind the scenes we utilize high tech tools to improve the reliability further, increase efficiency, and to support flexible scheduling. Microsoft’s “shadowcopy” technology allows us to take a snapshot of files at an instant in time, often supporting the backup of open files (such as Outlook email files). We also use Microsoft software which copies multiple files at the same time and which only copies files that have changed, thus allowing backups to run much faster (this becomes critical when backing up Gigabytes of files, particularly when these are going over a slow VPN!). Finally, custom scripts allow us to save to any combination of daily, weekly and monthly backups, and to maintain detailed backup logs that tell us exactly how well the backup is functioning.
Using simple file copies for backups is only one component of our backup strategy, but it’s the one that’s almost always present, simply because it’s so bullet-proof. Sometimes, low-tech paves the way to simpler, more flexible and in the end, more reliable systems.