GFI Backup Home Edition is a free backup tool for desktops and laptops which can also be useful in a corporate environment. The number of and laptop workers who only stop by the office every now and then to synchronize their data with corporate servers is constantly growing, as is the number of workers who telecommute. As such, the need for a good desktop backup tool is increasing. Windows XP has a nice backup tool, but it is hopelessly outdated, while Vista's backup tool is probably the weakest component of that otherwise great operating system. Windows 7 has an improved backup tool, but it is certainly no match for GFI Backup, a newly-developed backup and recovery software.
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The number of features included is astonishing for a free program. Wizards help users to configure backup jobs, but some settings may be difficult to understand for the non computer savvy. I therefore recommend specifically configuring this tool for your end-users. Although this may be a little labor-intensive at first, it will pay off in the long run, as GFI Backup has features that can help reduce the number of support calls and simplify the work of a help desk.
Application specific backups ^
This backup tool is not only able to secure data, but can also save settings for Windows and applications. I counted 41 common applications it supports, as well as five email programs. On my own laptop, there is only one unsupported application whose settings I would like to save. Of course, it is quite likely that you will also have some applications in your environment that are not supported. However, since GFI Backup can also backup the registry, you can restore most applications' configurations anyway.
The advantage of these application-specific backups is that end users can restore settings themselves if configurations get messed up. This also applies to common Windows settings. Users can take advantage of GFI Backup's interface to restore data and settings, although I recommend using Windows Explorer for this purpose instead. Settings for applications, as well as for Windows, are stored in .REG files, and can be restored with a double-click, even with standard user rights. GFI Backup preserves the folder structure of the backup source, so users can easily find their files and then simply copy their files with Windows Explorer.
Backup destinations ^
There are two other features that make GFI Backup useful in corporate environments. One is that users can backup their data to a network share or FTP server. It is also possible to synchronize data, so if they are in the office, they can work with the files on the server and when they are on the run, they can use the data on their laptop. Other possible backup destinations are removable devices (like a USB stick or memory stick) or CD/DVD. Another nice feature is that the backup tool can send email notifications if problems occur. This way admins can be informed whenever backups are not working properly.
Backup strategy ^
Using the right backup strategy is essential when it comes to securing data. Backing up data is NOT just creating a copy. It is essential to keep several versions of user data. I encountered a typical case myself recently. My home banking software’s database somehow got messed up, so I restored an older version of the database. I lost a few days’ data, but it was not a big deal, because I could download this data from my bank accounts. Without an older version of the database I would have lost years of information.
GFI Backup allows for different backup strategies. It can keep a configurable number of copies of your data (stack backup) and can replace backed-up files with newer file versions (incremental/differential). I recommend working with both options. I would create a backup task for daily backups using the latter method, which can be used to restore the latest version of a file. The stack backup is useful for weekly backups. If you configure GFI backup to keep four copies of your data, then the oldest version of all your files will be one month old.
GFI Backup supports all common scheduling methods, and gives the user the ability to run backups whenever their computer starts up or shuts down. What I like is that the tool can reschedule missed tasks. So if the computer is off at the scheduled time, GFI Backup will just run the backup when the computer next boots up. If you backup data to an external drive (which I recommend), then the tool will warn you if the device is not connected. You can then connect the drive, and GFI Backup will run its task. If you are on the run, and didn't bring your backup device, you can just cancel the job.
I've used GFI Backup for a few days for my own backups, and everything has worked fine so far. Thanks to the support of Volume Shadow Copy backups I was able to secure all important open files, including my Outlook database and settings.
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I haven’t covered all of GFI Backup's features in this article. However, if you are looking for a free backup tool, you definitely should have a look at it. As for me, I have decided to continue using it as my backup tool.