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I'm supporting a small business with 4 XP desktops, 2 Windows 7 desktops and 1 Server 2008 (R1) which is the file/print server, domain controller and contains Active Directory.

I've tested regular Windows backup as well as a commercial backup program which has a Bare Metal Restore feature. I thought with Windows server backup I could virtualize the VHD in VirtualBox or VMWare if something should ever happen to the physical server but haven't been able to do it.

I guess the main question is, how do other people establish solid backups for entire environments? The desktop's My Documents are all on the server, but the desktops/favorites are not. Maybe I should redirect these folders as well, but I'm concerned about overloading the server which may be utilized as a terminal server to offset price of buying new computers as the office hires more personel (specs- 10GB RAM in a TS200V and 2 hard drives on RAID1).

Any ideas for best backup practise (preferably free)?

I should add that existing backups (incremental) are presently totalling around 300GB (server and desktops) and being stored on a 2TB NAS device.

Due to the hours of configuration going into every desktop, I'm looking for a solution that will backup the entire operating system as they use several custom apps that take quite some time to configure from scratch should I ever needed to reinstall the operating systems.

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Decisions, decisions... "not constructive", "too localised" or "exact dupe"? -- and if a dupe, which one to choose from? We really need a "did not do the research" close reason. –  womble Jul 19 '11 at 19:11
    
You have a hand full of questions there. I might break down what you're asking. To best honest, you can go with any solution that you want. Provided that A) it works and B) You know you can restore from it. –  Nixphoe Jul 19 '11 at 19:24
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up vote 2 down vote accepted

I agree with @womble and @Nixphoe: You have a bunch of questions here. I'll hit some high points, though, because a few stick out.

Should you backup more of the user's profile? That depends on whether or not it's necessary for business. (Generally I say "yes", but then I always use Roaming User Profiles anyway). Simple folder redirection of user folders won't "overload" the server computer in terms of the type of metrics (CPU, RAM, primarily) that would affect its ability to be a viable Terminal Server machine. Having said that, though, it seems like you're putting a few too many "eggs" in one basket if that server will be your DC and your Terminal Server. It's generally not a good idea (read: really bad idea) to use a DC as a Terminal Server machine.

I like to be able to completely restore the user's profile environment from backup. I think it makes for happier users.

I don't see anything about retention windows in your post. You need to figure out how the data needs backup and what kind of retention window you need. This is especially important if you're going to use physical media for an off-site storage component. (You do need an off-site storage component of some kind.)

For such a small environment you might look into the backup functionality in Windows Home Server 2011 for protecting the configuration of individual PCs. I haven't used the 2011 version of the product but the 2003 version was really pretty slick (providing a versioned, de-duplicated block-level store for client computer backups).

I've been pretty cold on the idea of "bare metal restore to VM" applications because, as of yet, I haven't seen one that really worked well. It's fundamentally a "P2V" problem and, frankly, I always find P2V'd machines to be crufty and messy (not unlike machines with "upgraded" versions of OS's).

Bringing back Active Directory, in particular, seems to be something that backup app vendors have difficulty with. I'd invest in a more "traditional" file-level backup mechanism that you know you can restore from combined with a secondary domain controller and a good System State backup of the DC to catch Active Directory.

The built-in Windows Server Backup, in terms of bare-metal restore to the same hardware, actually works very well. Restoring to unlike hardware has been and continues to be a sore point and I'd like to see Microsoft work on that in future Windows versions.

I haven't used any "free as in freedom" backup software on Windows and can't comment on it. I've found both Microsoft Data Protection Manager and Symantec Backup Exec to be good products, but there are licensing costs associated with both. Your time spent configuring and testing (you are going to do a full test restore, right?) a no-cost solution should be a factor in the selection process.

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Thanks a lot for all the feedback. I will find a way to get the backups off-site, I'm thinking of suggesting to upgrade the NAS to one with RAID and hot swappable drives to solve the off-site remedy. Will also implement the roaming profiles, great suggestions, thank you all very much! –  KP. Jul 21 '11 at 5:40
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