Software solutions for a mobile world

With the current situation of many people working from home, securing your work becomes even more important.

I have had to rebuild a system due to failures a couple of times, and the last was a real pain as I struggled with the performance of my backup. I am documenting what I currently do, as it may help other people recover there machines. I use some third party tools, but most of them are free.

1) Backup - Backup - Backup

I backup every night, full backup every week followed by incremental backups. I backup to my Synology NAS drive, which has 3TB of space, with full raid. I love Synology NAS drives - they come with a host of features and packages, including a VPN. As I mentioned, my previous backup product let me down, on more than one occasion. I won't name them in public but I wouldn't use them again. 

I started to use AOMEI Backupper which I am very pleased with. It is pretty fast, and allows you to mount your backup as a drive, and then just drag and drop files from the backup . That is very fast, one of the failures of my last product. Restore is very flexible. 

I have not yet had to recover my system, but I have prepared by creating a bootable USB which in turn will allow me to restore my backup image.

I also make use of the 'Windows 10 History Drive'. I have an external drive attached to my NAS using USB 3. By default, the history backup will backup your 'users' folder, giving you access to Documents and Downloads etc. 

I have configured the history backup to include several other folders, such as my source code and a couple of other folders. My selected files are backed up every hour (default) and are retained for 6 months. This means if I cock something up, I can quickly restore the file without resort to my backup. Currently the space taken up is around 450gb. 

 2) What's on my PC? 

As storage becomes cheaper, laptop drives seem to become bigger. I have a 1TB SSD on my current laptop. I use a couple of tools to keep track of my software inventory. Belarc Advisor (free for Personal use) is a great help. 

I run it as a scheduled batch file every morning. It gives full details of my PC, what's installed on it, mapped drives, network information and licence information where possible. This also gets backed up to my history drive. It creates an HTML file. 

If you want to do the same, add it as a scheduled job and in the actions add an action of 'Start a Program' and enter 

"C:\Program Files (x86)\Belarc\BelarcAdvisor\BelarcAdvisor.exe" 
with the optional arguments set to
-uac -d "C:\Program Files (x86)\Belarc\BelarcAdvisor\System\local" -a True -hHKLM -kAdvisor -p60 -b"C:\PROGRA~2\Belarc\BELARC~1\System\Security\Advisor.bcx" 

I have a batch file copy the HTML page which is stored at "c:\program files (x86)\Belarc\BelarcAdvisor\System\tmp\" and copies the HTML file to my backup drive. This way I have a daily inventory of what is on my PC. 

Like most developers, I have lots of software that helps me in my day to day work. These include NotePad++, Paint.Net, FileZilla and others. I use Ninite - you can choose which software you want to install, and Ninite prepares a downloadable file, which you can then run and it will drag down and install your the latest versions of the software you have chosen. 

The NiNite file is also backed up to my history file. 

If anything I install is not covered by Ninite, again I back it up so I have most of my software handy to re-install. 

3) Bitlocker 

If you use BitLocker on your drive - make sure you keep it safe. This really screwed me over as I had a relatively new system and hadn't backed up my recovery key. That IS a nightmare! is your friend - provided you have backed up your recovery key. 

4) Re-Install - if needed

Although I have several machines, and could download it if I needed it, I keep an up to date USB drive, containing the latest Windows 10 ISO. I create a new version every month or so, usually after 'patch Tuesday'. More information about this can be found here. I have used eWallet from Illium software, from when it was a product for Windows Phone. As well as keeping all my passwords, I keep the serial numbers of the software that need serial codes, which makes re-installation much easier.

5) Conclusion

Unfortunately I had to rebuild my machine in July, after installing a driver for a midi-keyboard caused a crash, and my machine refused to reboot. I struggled with the backup and their tech support, and finally decided to re-install from scratch and then restore all the software I thought I needed. As usual, I missed a couple of things, which is why I decided to create a strategy.

Hopefully I never have to use this, but I should be prepared, and should be able to recover my system fairly quickly.

Hope this may help someone in the future.


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