The Best Data Backup and Imaging Software For 2018
Disaster strikes without notice, whether it comes in the form of power shortages, disk errors, hackers, physical destruction or accidental deletion. Data loss can occur in the workplace for any number of reasons, so it's prudent to back up your vital data consistently. Data backup is your first line of defense against data loss. Data recovery is always possible when it comes to drive failures or accidental loss, but it can be expensive and is not always guaranteed to recover all your data. At least 90 percent of businesses that suffer major data loss and don't have a backup system in place close their doors within two years, according to Cloudwards.
Businesses have two main routes for data backup: on-site or off-site backup storage and outsourcing to cloud backup servers. The method this article focuses on is on-site backup software, which that automatically backs up your important files to your own servers. Many of these software solutions allow for both on-premise and cloud backup, giving you multiple options and flexibility.
Developed by NovaStor, NovaBACKUP is designed to be the "backup for the rest of us." This slogan clearly harkens to the sentiment that a lot of data backup software is so complicated that only IT experts can effectively use it. This is not the case with NovaBACKUP, which is among the all-around easiest data backup apps for PCs. While the data compression and CPU usage were mediocre, the backup and restore speeds were the fastest in our tests.
NovaBACKUP is simple and elegant in its design, but that doesn't mean it's not flexible. The advanced features packed into this app make it an ideal solution, even for IT managers. It features all the backup schemes – full, incremental and differential. You can create rescue media to get your computer up and running in the event that it won't boot. You can also create full system images, disk images and partition images. In addition, you can back up to the cloud, which ensures your data is protected off-site.
Paragon offers a specialized solution for copying your hard drive for backup, recovery or migration purposes. Its interface is simple to navigate and doesn't take any specialized knowledge to use. There is a backup wizard to walk you through the disk imaging process, as well as scheduled backups; however, there are still plenty of advanced features for technical users. Paragon uses its pVHD (Paragon Virtual Hard Drive) format for increased speed and efficient use of disk space. This feature also allows you to encrypt your backup and password-protect it for additional security. Technical features include detailed disk mapping and an image mounter. This is one of the best tools for imaging and backup for any level of user.
EaseUS earned the highest grade in our Ease of Use tests, which makes it one of the most valuable apps for a novice user. The backup speed was also among the highest, and it's one of the most affordable options on our list. The home edition or business workstation edition are both great options when you only have one computer with a small amount of data that you need to back up to the storage device of your choice.
You can easily specify what files and folders you want regularly backed up, including the entire system or specific file types. The Outlook Email Backup feature will automatically secure and back up your business emails. This software comes with bootable media that lets you start your computer and restore your OS and files in the event of a complete system crash.
When you need to create a backup of your computer for the purpose of moving it to a new operating system, new machine or virtual workstation, Laplink's PCmover is the only one we reviewed that lets you determine every file, folder, setting and user account you take with you to your new system.
Laplink offers several versions of PCmover, so you have options to fit your specific situation. The Professional version covers a wide range of old and new Windows operating systems and migration scenarios. The Enterprise version is best for moving multiple systems, such as if you're upgrading your entire office's workstations. There are also discounts for buying multiple licenses.
Below are all of our reviews for server backup and imaging and related categories. Our coverage includes reviews of the best server backup, partition manager, data backup, disk imaging, Windows Server backup, Mac backup, PC backup and PC migration software. See all of our reviews below.
With new cybersecurity threats arising every year, there's no excuse not to have a robust backup system. For those who prefer to control their data backup system as well as the physical location of the backup servers, software that can efficiently manage this daily task is essential.
According to a survey by Varonis and the Information Security Media Group, 76 percent of security leaders say they see ransomware as a significant threat to their businesses; however, only 56 percent say they have a solid response plan. Beyond anti-malware and endpoint security solutions, 78 percent of prepared businesses say data backup and recovery are part of their response plan.
The industry is moving more toward cloud solutions, while growth for traditional, on-site backup solutions is slowing down, according to an analysis by the International Data Corporation, with sales of stand-alone disk systems for backup in decline. However, that's not to say on-premises backup is becoming extinct. Cloud storage is still a growing field and still not the most efficient solution for consistently backing up vast amounts of data, not to mention handling the also-growing field of virtualization. With your own server, you are the master of your domain. You control the data. You control the costs. You control the security.
The data backup industry needs to keep up with exponential growth of data that companies output. In 2017, there was a 54 percent growth of companies that needed to protect 100TB of data, according to a study by Unitrends. Companies in crisis not only need to recover bigger amounts of data – they need it recovered faster.
When looking for the right data backup software for your office, keep in mind the scale and comprehensiveness of the backup solution you want. Otherwise, you may end up with a system that costs too much or is inefficient. These are some things to look for and consider:
Ease of use: Will the software be easy for employees without much technical knowledge to learn and use? It shouldn't be complicated for someone with basic computer skills to set up a continuous backup schedule and then recover data if the occasion arises.
Performance: Not all software solutions are equal when it comes to speed and CPU usage. You want software that will back up and recover quickly, and not drag down your computer or server's performance as it works.
Compression: If you need to back up data to a device with limited storage, then data compression is an important feature to look for, as well as how much the software can compress and recover without damaging the data.
Encryption: If cybersecurity is your main concern, then encryption options for your backed-up data are a must. Different software comes with various security and encryption options. A 256-bit level of encryption is among the highest that the best software products provide.
For regularly backing up individual computers, high-quality backup software normally requires a yearly license. These licenses can cost $50 to $100 per computer per year, with potential discounts for renewal. In addition, you'll need a reliable, external storage device with the necessary storage space to transfer your backup data. Most of these programs are disk-imaging, meaning they make an exact copy of your hard drive and transfer it to your external storage. Solutions and pricing for PCs are similartor Mac computers. Backup for servers is also a similar solution, but pricing is significantly higher.
Owning and maintaining a server ecosystem isn't just a luxury for big companies that can afford IT departments and office space for floor-to-ceiling servers. You can build your own server from an old desktop. All you need is a server operating system and client software, and you can have a server for backing up all of your employees' computers or simply hosting a website.
However, maintaining your own servers isn't without its challenges. Most servers need to run 24/7. Even the highest-quality components wear out and need replacing, like lightbulbs and batteries. As such, data loss is an inevitable reality you have to plan for.
Backup software for servers will cost much more, as will the physical server backup devices. Expect to pay upward of $200 for the annual license of most server backup software.
Finding Your Data Backup Strategy
There are a countless number of ways you can back up your computer. You don’t even need data backup software to do it either. You can literally backup files by copy and pasting them onto an external drive. However, since files often change, especially documents and spreadsheets, this simple method can get out of hand really quickly.
The most common backup strategy used by IT experts is the 3-2-1 strategy. It's the most common strategy because it’s both simple and effective. You can customize your own strategy so that it fits your needs, but if you follow these principles, your data has the best chance of never being lost. The strategy is as follows:
Three: You should have at least three copies of every file you want to protect. Obviously, you can create as many copies as you want, and certainly, the more copies you have of a file, the more difficult it is to ever lose. However, three copies is the minimum number. The best way to think about it is this: You have the main file on your computer, a backup of that file and a backup of the backup. This way, if anything should happen to your backup, you have an additional backup.
Two: Always store the files on at least two formats. You should never store all the backed up copies on the same computer. This is often referred to as the “all eggs” scenario, which is based on the principle that if you keep all of your eggs in one basket, you put yourself at a greater risk of losing all your eggs. If your computer crashes, dies or is stolen and you keep your backed up data on the same computer as your primary files, then you lose everything. So it’s critical that you keep at least one of the three copies on a second device, though it’s preferred that you keep each copy you make on a separate device. The device can be an external hard drive, a burnable DVD or CD, network attached drives, private servers, or an online cloud service.
One: Store one of the two formats off site. This principle protects against physical threats like fire, flood, etc. If you store both formats in one place and something catastrophic occurs, then both formats are lost.
Data backup software helps you achieve the first two steps, but it doesn’t ensure that you’ll store one format off site. You have to decide how to do this yourself. You can choose an online backup service, which is the easiest way to store your data off site. However, many people have concerns with the security of the cloud and don’t want to pay a monthly subscription. If you count yourself among this group, then you should keep the second format at a friend or relative’s house.
With most of the data backup software apps we reviewed, you can even back up to a remote computer via an internet connection. Similar in principle to backing up to the cloud, you direct the backed up data over your internet to a remote computer, which you can have set up at your office or a friend’s house.
To Back Up or Not: Prioritizing Your Files
With the best data backup software, you can choose to back up everything, including the operating system. In these instances, you are actually cloning your hard drive, allowing you to restore all your installed software and data on a different computer. However, these clone backup sets can take a long time to complete, and they can be tricky to restore. For most users, this is an advanced feature that will never be used. If you do, you’ll likely only use it once a year.
For most users, backing up commonly accessed files is the most important aspect of protecting data, rather than backing up esoteric system files. As such, you may want to consider which files are the most important to you before you complete your first backup set. In addition, since backup sets can take some time to complete, you want to protect your most important files first. Imagine your house is on fire and you only have a minute to save whatever you can – what are the files you would save first?
Sentimental: These are any files that hold sentimental value – photos of your children, home videos, journals, creative projects, etc. For most users, these are the types of files that hold the greatest priority, but this may not be the case for you. Sentimental files are irreplaceable. You can’t go back in time to take home videos of your son or daughter’s first steps.
Practical: These are files that hold practical value – tax returns, banking info, budget details, etc. You need these files to help with your day-to-day life. Losing them will create a major headache and can complicate your financial well-being, but you can recover from the loss.
Professional: These are past and present files that are connected to your career in some way – documents, spreadsheets, resumes and CVs, portfolios, networking connections, etc. You might very well rely on many of these files for your income, which means they hold actual financial value.
Entertainment: Entertainment files include movies, music, podcasts, etc. These are the files you use simply for entertainment. Losing these types of files is usually only temporary because they exist independently of your computer. You may have to repurchase the file, but it is replaceable.
System & Registry: These are the files that your installed software and operating system rely on. You never consciously open and use these files. If you back up these files and your computer crashes, you can restore the operating system and your installed apps with all the settings. In this way, you don’t have reinstalled all your apps one by one. However, restoring these files can be tricky and complicated, so backing them up is generally only recommended for advanced users.
Data Backup Software: What We Tested, What We Found
PC backup software can be loaded with features, most of which are superfluous to the average user, or they can offer little more beyond backing up your computer. Regardless of whether the app is loaded with features or not, the best PC backup software apps perform well in several categories – backup speed, restore speed, data compression, CPU usage and ease of use.
Testing Environment To ensure that each product in our review was tested in the same environment, we installed and tested each program on the same test computer. In this way, the results produced by each backup app were recorded on the same computer, with the same processor, RAM and hard drive. We also backed up to the same external hard drive and used the same data with each backup set we ran.
It’s important to note that your computer has different components with different specifications. You also have different data with varying potential for compression. As such, you’re not likely to have similar speeds or compression rates as we found. Because of this, we graded our results to reflect the relative comparison of the software performing on the same computer with the same data.
Ease of Use Backing up data is something that everyone with a computer should do. It doesn’t matter if you’re a first-time computer user or an IT manager with a master’s degree in computer science. Nobody should be excluded from protecting their data because they lack the technical experience. As such, the backup software you use for your home computer should not cater to the advanced user. It needs to be easy and intuitive to use for people of every experience level.
We acknowledge that ease of use is an inherently subjective measurement. Your learning curve will depend on your level of experience. That said, we evaluated and graded the ease of use from the perspective of a novice user. We counted the number of steps it took with each app to initiate a backup and restore set. We evaluated how well the app was designed and how the interface directs a user from one step to the next.
The best backup software is clearly designed for a novice user. Many of the apps in our review, however, had overly technical interfaces that make it easy for such users to get lost. These apps are not inherently worse than the easier apps. They are simply designed for a user with a higher technical level of experience – one who wants to have more control than a standard novice. Still, our review focuses on the novice user, which is why these products have lower grades.
Backup Speed The first full backup set you perform can take many hours, especially if you have a 1TB hard drive that is nearly full. Every file in the backup set has to be read, processed, compressed, encrypted and written to the destination device. This is the most important factor with backup software performance. The best backup software is capable of processing data quickly so your computer’s resources aren’t hogged for long.
We ran multiple backup sets to determine average speeds. We ran backup sets with full compression, and we ran sets with no compression. Some sets had encryption, and some sets had none.
After nearly thirty hours of testing and after all the data was collected, we were able to compare the speeds and grade the data backup software accordingly. Products with a C grade were average, with higher grades being much faster and lower grades being much slower. If the speeds were applied to 1TB of data, then the fastest product in our review would complete the backup in about 10 hours, while the slowest product in our review would complete the same backup set in about two and a half days.
Restore Speed The restore speed is very similar to the backup speed but in reverse. The software has to convert the processed backup data and write it to a new device. This process can involve decompression and de-encryption. As with the backup process, you should expect it to take a significant about of time when restoring large amounts of data. In addition, we graded the average speed, and products with an average speed received a C grade. The difference between the fastest speed and the slowest speed was similar to the backup speed tests.
One product, O&O AutoBackup, has no restore feature. It simply copies data from one device to another. This means you have to manually move files from the backup location to your computer when you need to restore them. The process isn’t difficult and doesn’t take a long time. However, the app still received a failing grade for this criteria because it doesn’t actually involve itself with the restoring process.
CPU Usage The best backup software doesn’t hog your resources and runs in the background while you use other apps. To test this, we monitored the CPU usage throughout the backup and restore tests. We recorded the average CPU usage for each backup and restore set we performed and then averaged the data and graded the results.
Products with an average grade used between 16 and 20 percent of our CPU, which is a quad-core processor. If your computer only has a dual-core or single-core processor, you can expect much higher CPU usages that can result in a significantly slower computer when you’re running backup and restore sets.
Business.com seeks, whenever possible, to evaluate all products and services in hands-on tests that simulate as closely as possible the experiences of a typical consumer. We obtained the PC backup apps in our comparison through retail purchase. The software developers had no input or influence over our test methodology, nor was the methodology provided to any of them in more detail than is available through reading our reviews. The results of our evaluation were not provided to the companies in advance of publication.
PC Migration Software: What to Look For
When it comes time to choose which PC migration software to use, you'll want to make sure it has the tools and options you need to work with. You'll want software built to fit your migration situation, whether that's transferring data from an old PC to a new PC, from an old operating system to a new one or from an old hard drive to a new computer. Because every computer and system is different, look for a company that will provide thorough and quick help and support.
Transfer Tools Good PC transfer software will be able to move more than just your documents and files. You'll also want to take your programs to save you the hassle of reinstallation, and you'll likely want to keep many of your settings. The best software will give you varying levels of selectivity to make the move easier, such as the ability to choose which file types or sizes you want to transfer.
Migration Options The right PC migration software for you will vary depending on what sort of transfer you want to do. You could be looking to move from an old to new computer or to upgrade from one operating system to a new one. Some transfer software packages also provide the option of hard-drive restoration, so you can restore the contents of a hard drive from an old, non-working computer and transfer them to a new PC. Different software also offers different types of migration. Native migration integrates your old and new systems completely, while virtualization migrates your old system to a separate, virtual machine you use alongside your new system. Some data transfer tools only handle specific types of migrations, while the best will fit into any situation.
Additional Features A good data migration tool will have an easy-to-use interface that walks you through each step. If for some reason the result isn't what you wanted, the software should have an easy way to undo the migration. When you transfer programs to a new computer, sometimes the applications won't work due to compatibility issues. If you have such programs you absolutely must have, you'll want to look for migration software that helps preserve application compatibility. You'll also want to take into consideration whether you've used partitions on your old system, as some programs won't work with such setups.
Help & Support Not every migration is successful the first time, so many PC migration software companies offer technical support through phone, email or live chat. Some offer online forums where you can troubleshoot problems on your own. You should also be able to find an online setup guide that can help lead you step by step through the process as well as provide you FAQs for common issues.
The right PC migration software can alleviate the stress of upgrading to a new PC. While it's possible to accomplish the migration process manually, data transfer tools can save you time and the headache of sifting through files and product keys.
Disk Imaging Software: What We Tested, What We Learned
We tested disk imaging software to verify whether or not it could create a usable image of a targeted file, folder or entire hard drive. In our testing, we put each application through the tasks of imaging and restoring the system of our test computer, ensuring with each software that was done properly and thoroughly. We also evaluated the virtualization options to see how easy it was to get information to and from a virtual machine, as well as to create a virtual disk. The best software packages in our evaluations are the ones that perform well, are easy to use and have a wide variety of storage options. Below are takeaways we learned from our testing.
Imaging & Storage: Customize, Verify and Backup Your Backups The best disk cloning software offers incremental and differential update options, so you have control over what exactly gets imaged each time the software runs a backup. Good imaging software also provides backup verification, which double checks that every part of the file or folder image you just created was set up properly and will run correctly whenever you need it, such as when your computer crashes.
Though computers are generally reliable, like people, they can have a bad day and completely crash. If your computer crashes, disk imaging software can come to the rescue, provided you previously created an image. Most programs allow you to create boot media, typically on a CD or DVD, with which you can access the software and your backup in a pre-operating system (pre-OS) environment, mount the image and get back to work as if the crash never happened.
If you’ve adopted a purely digital lifestyle and don’t want to store all your important data on a CD or DVD that can get scratched or lost, opt for a program that allows you to store your data on a different type of external storage, such as an external hard drive or cloud server. Typically, these mediums make it easier to share your image or distribute it to other computers if needed. If you’re worried about someone viewing or altering your image without your permission, you can choose a program that automatically encrypts your data and lets you put a password on it.
You can opt to compress any data you create with the software, which essentially squeezes your data in order to take up less space, making it great for storage on a smaller hard drive or for emailing or uploading it to a cloud server for mass deployment. If you don’t want to spend time compressing your files, you can instead split your image across multiple files or storage devices. This can potentially be a hassle, but it’s nice to have options.
Software with all of these features can clone images to your precise specifications. Most of the programs we ranked lower in this category generally work equally well at imaging a disk but aren’t as feature rich, meaning they may require more time, attention or even hard drive space to accomplish the same tasks.
Restoration & Mounting: Access Your Backup Whenever and Wherever You Need It Using disk imaging software for its backup utility is almost a no-brainer, since one of the best features of an image file is its ability to run in a pre-OS state. It’s perfect for boot-time recovery operations, as it’s the tool that works when your computer refuses to. Some disk imaging programs even offer their own Linux-based mini-OS or work with WinPE – the Windows Pre-Installation Environment – which makes it easier to navigate through your cloned images when you need to restore or mount them.
Some programs simply won’t restore an image file to a hard drive having a different size, which presents a challenge if you’re restoring to dissimilar hardware. Most do, though, and many even allow you to restore individual files and folders, giving you full control over what’s imaged or restored. Good software can also resize your image as it restores it, eliminating extra space between images for accuracy and time-saving.
All of the programs we’ve reviewed here allow you to mount an image – either manually or automatically – to a virtual machine or drive. A virtual machine is essentially just a software computer, which can run programs just like a normal computer but isn’t backed by any physical components until you access it on a physical computer. Using a virtual machine is a convenient way to try out old or risky software or to go online without having to worry about your physical computer getting hacked. A virtual drive emulates a physical drive, like one within your computer.
Functionality: Ease of Use and Customization Are Critical The software you choose should be easy to use, with an intuitive interface and a wide variety of task options – from creating a simple file image to merging incremental images or mapping a network drive. All tabs and options should be clearly labeled. The best applications have help and technical support built directly into the software so you won’t have to stop the program to open a webpage and track down solutions. Most of the programs we tested feature the ability to schedule certain tasks to run automatically, saving you time and effort.
If you opt to mount your image to a virtual machine or drive, certain programs allow you to set a limit on how much memory that virtual drive can use at any given time. This feature helps save some memory so you can continue using other programs on your actual computer at the same time. Similarly, you can also set a limit – either static or dynamic, depending on the specific program – of how much of your computer’s internal hard drive storage the virtual machine or drive can access. Again, this reserves space for both your virtual computer and physical computer, which is a must for multi-taskers.
For advanced users, consider an imaging program that has command line functionality. With this feature, anyone who understands how scripts work and how to write them can tell the software to run certain actions. It’s an especially powerful way to automate many of the common processes this kind of software can run.
Help & Support: Solutions and Customer Service Are Top Maintaining a backup drive image in case of disaster – or simply to set up new hard drives – is both critical and time-consuming, and any confusion or trouble with the software can be frustrating. We looked for companies that offer direct telephone, email and chat support, along with online user guides, FAQs and knowledgebase materials. Video tutorials and online communities are excellent support options as well, and are something that you can rely on with most manufacturers of this kind of software. The best options offer a large selection of direct and indirect informational resources to you.
Backup Software: Speaking the Lingo
As with any niche industry, there are specific terms the data-backup world uses that may be unfamiliar to novice users. If you’re unfamiliar with the lingo, you might find the product has a significant learning curve. Here are some common backup terms that you should familiarize yourself with:
Backup Set: This is any set of files you’re backing up at one time. Before you back up any file, you can customize which files you want to include. Once you’ve hit the Backup button, you’ve created a backup set. This helps maintain backups within the backup log, allowing you to track your backup sets.
Full Backup: The first time you back up your computer is the full backup. It doesn’t have to comprise of the entire computer. Your first full backup could be just your photos – you’re setting the foundation for additional backups, which are discussed below.
Incremental Backup: The data on your computer changes frequently. You might change a document, for example, a dozen times in an hour. These changes are addressed by the incremental backup, which is when the software only backs up the changes that you made since the last incremental backup. To restore an incrementally backed up file, the software needs the first full backup and all the incremental backups, like putting together a puzzle with one big piece and many small pieces.
The advantage of the incremental backup is that it’s fast. In addition, since you’re only backing up the changes since the last incremental backup, it barely impacts CPU resources. These backup sets also provide greater control over which file version you can control. Most automatic backup sets are incremental. However, since incremental backups consist of many parts, there’s a greater chance of failure when restoring the file. If any of the incremental backups are damaged or missing, you can’t restore the file.
Differential Backup: This differs from an incremental backup in that it backs up all the changes made to a file since the last full backup. So instead of many small backup sets, it consists of a full backup and one differential backup – the original backup plus the changes made to the file since.
The advantage of a differential backup is the restore process is more reliable and faster because it only consists of two parts. However, since differential backup sets are bigger incremental backup sets, it can hog your CPU resources, and it takes much longer to complete. Many users choose to do a differential backup once a month while using the incremental backup daily.
Cloud Backup: The cloud is term that’s become popular in recent years. Generally, a cloud backup is made over the internet to a server owned by an online backup service. The servers store backed up data from hundreds of thousands of users at a time. Data is constantly moving in and out of the cloud.
You can also create a private cloud by backing up to a private server or network-attached storage. When you back up to a private cloud, you can access the data from all of your devices.
Automatic Backup: An automatic backup is a feature where the data backup software runs backup sets automatically. How often the automatic backup runs vary with the software. Some run every fifteen minutes, relying on incremental backup sets, while others run automatically once a day. The important thing is that you don’t have to think about running backup sets with this feature.
Full Image Backup: This is a backup set where you create an image of the hard drive and make a copy. You perform this type of backup set when you want to be able to restore your operating system and installed software.
Data Migration: This is a feature that comes with most data backup software. The principle is very simple – you’re moving data from one computer or to another computer. Imagine buying a new computer. Data migration moves the operating system, apps and data from the old computer to the new computer.
Common Server Backup and Imaging Software Questions & Answers
Have a server backup or imaging software question of your own?
Google Drive itself is utilized as a backup. It is cloudbased, if you are loosing data it is in the use of google tools not kept on or working in symbiosis with google drive. Google Keep for example and Google DOCS are not kept on Google Drive. but installing extensions which function is the transfer of files images and information into google drive. Effective Secure Time Tested Proven Methods available to all and at no cost.
My database tracks client interactions back to 1994--almost the beginning of my business. (This has nothing to do with tax records.) Every once in a while somebody I haven't talked with for years will contact me. They are very impressed when I can quickly check my DB and say, "Oh yeah, we talked back in 2002 about your management issues. How has your business grown since then?"
Why would any business ever get rid of such customer records? I've never had anybody threaten to subpoena my old...
Speaking as a guy who spent a decade in the hosting industry, unless security and privacy are core services you provide that your customers pay you for, I would wholeheartedly recommend the cloud. Maintaining your own infrastructure, fighting the daily fights against intrusions and DDoS attacks, upgrade and version control management, not to mention recruiting and staffing and overhead costs - all these are expensive and complicated. Significant ROI needs to exist to justify taking them...