Unhelpful backup software

Anecdotal evidence suggests it must be very difficult to write decent backup software, given that I’ve never found anything that works very well. For the past couple of years I’ve been using Acronis True Image, and it’s proven invaluable when creating disk images and is great for transferring data around generally. Its backup feature, however, leaves something to be desired.

A while ago I set it up on a client’s server and configured it to create a ‘full’ backup drive image once a week, plus a nightly incremental backup with just the day’s changed files. Using these seven files I would be able to restore any file from the past week, and the entire drive image if necessary. It worked well until last week when the main hard drive started to report bad sectors.

Trueimage popped up a question at the first sign of a bad sector. It was having trouble reading the data, did I want to retry, ignore, ignore all or cancel? I’m glad it made me aware of the problem, but I can’t find an option to always set ‘ignore all’, and every night’s backup therefore stopped after five minutes, requiring manual intervention at midnight1. There’s also no way, as far as I can see, to set a timeout on the sector failures, and as more areas died the backup progressed less and less even with ‘ignore all’ manually clicked2.

This was irritating, but shouldn’t have been much of a problem. My original plan was to grab the seven backup files and use a different machine to restore the last successfully backed-up drive image onto a replacement drive (the important and daily-changing data files are backed up independently, and I could restore them at the same time). This way I could quickly swap the replacement drive into the server with only a few minutes of downtime. However, the last weekly ‘full’ backup failed to complete due to sector errors, but True Image had already deleted the last successful one. Without the full backup the incremental files aren’t much use, and most of them failed anyway. So I’m left with seven completely useless backup files, and no data.

All the important files are safe, but having to reinstall and reconfigure Windows turns a half-hour job into the better part of a day. Since dying hard drives are a major reason for having backups in the first place, it’s a shame True Image failed to cope. I should say this is True Image version 9 – it’s possible version 10 copes better, but I’m not paying to find out.

I hear good things about SyncBack. I’ll have to take a look.

  1. accountants are up late working on tax returns throughout January, so it couldn’t be set to an earlier time []
  2. It would also be friendly to let me know which file(s) is having problems, but it’s possible their architecture doesn’t work this way, so I’ll let them off []