A good Windows desktop backup plan is absolutely integral to a well-secured network. Often, it's the only way to restore business operations after a security breach or other disaster. Whether you are dealing with a physical issue like a power outage or a malicious network attack, archiving and restoring your company's data can mean the difference between business continuity and business failure (and, from a more personal standpoint, the difference between emerging from a disaster recovery scenario with a bonus or a pink slip).

Most offices that have more than one or two PCs will issue a corporate policy dictating that all mission-critical data should be stored on central servers. These policies tend to focus exclusively on backing up data on network and enterprise servers; client workstations are often a secondary consideration. However, if you're working in a smaller workgroup environment where users store their files locally rather than on a network server, or if you're dealing with extremely detailed client configurations, it's essential that you back up your Windows XP desktop clients. And even in the largest environment, uneducated users or simple internal politics call for a client backup plan, even with the existence of central file servers.

There are a number of different hardware and software backup options you can pursue when creating an overall Windows XP backup strategy. Let's look at a few of these options, so you have the groundwork to make an informed

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decision for your organization.

The client backup plan that's simplest to roll out is simply slapping a backup device, like a tape drive, CD-RW or Zip drive, on each client workstation, allowing users to archive their local data files in this way. Some backup devices will even allow an administrator or user to create recurring tasks to automatically back up certain files or directories on a nightly or weekly basis.

The weaknesses of this strategy, however, should be readily apparent. Hardware and support costs will increase exponentially if you're dealing with more than a handful of users, and not all of your employees or clients will be PC savvy enough to understand the importance of media rotation. This brings to mind the apocryphal tale of the administrative assistant who tried to save the company money by saving his files using the same Zip disk night after night, overwriting as he went.

This solution -- attaching a backup device to each PC -- is most suitable for a small company made up entirely of "power users." A small Web design office, for example, could potentially rely on its designers and engineers to manage their own backup processes. And the cost of adding CD-RW or Zip drives to a handful of workstations would be fairly low.

When dealing with a larger office, or one in which employees have varying levels of computer literacy, you'll definitely want to investigate a centralized backup solution for your client data. Luckily, the most recent releases of Windows client and server operating systems have made centralized client management much simpler than in years past. On the server side, with Active Directory and the group policy feature, you can easily configure all of your client workstations to redirect the local storage on their workstations (typically, the "My Documents" directory) to a central server without any end-user intervention whatsoever. And once data files are redirected to a server, it becomes a simple matter to include them in your existing server backup and restore plans. Click here for a Microsoft checklist describing how to implement folder redirection.

From a client standpoint, the offline files feature in Windows 2000 and Windows XP Professional will allow your mobile users to automatically cache a copy of a network file on their local hard drives. This can also defuse the "I store my files on my hard drive so that I can work in case the network goes down" argument, which sometimes crops up from users who are unfamiliar or uncomfortable with working in a LAN environment.

Copies of any files configured for offline files use will be automatically downloaded from your network share (like the one you configured through group policy) and stored on the local hard drive. This way, even if users are disconnected from the network, their files will be available. When they reconnect to the network, any changes to their documents will be synchronized with the files on the network share, adding any changes, additions or deletions that were made while the file was offline. Even if another network user was making changes to the same file, your user will have the option to save his version, keep the other user's version, or save both for review. Here are step-by-step instructions on how to set up offline files for an individual workstation.

Offline files settings can also be centrally configured through Active Directory and the use of group policies. While this particular technology does not directly provide any backup protection for your client data, it provides the necessary usability to allow remote and mobile users to back up their local data without losing productivity or needing to manage their backup processes themselves. You can see how offline files functionality integrates with group policy in the Windows Server 2003 Deployment Guide.


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This was first published in August 2003

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