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Back Up a Complete Vista PC Across a Network Using wbadmin

Compared to the backup tools that come with previous versions of Windows, Vista’s Backup and Restore Center, is a delight – except for one small problem:  It can’t do a complete system (image) backup to another computer on the network.  In this article we learn a workaround to this limitation.

Backup and Restore Center

The Windows Vista Backup and Restore Center introduced to Windows users the ability to backup your entire computer:  files, programs, settings, registry – everything.

Vista Backup and Restore Center

Running The program created a VHD file – an image of your entire C drive.  In the event of a theft or hard disk failure, your system could be restored to the exact state it was in when the last backup was taken (using the Windows Recovery Environment on your Windows installation DVD).

This VHD image file would typically be enormous (the combined size of all files on your C drive), and so a location to store this file would need to be chosen carefully.  Unfortunately, the only options presented to you were other hard disks in your system (such as an internal D drive or an external USB drive) or a collection of blank DVDs.

Backup options

An obvious omission was the ability to back up across a Local Area Network, to another computer such as to a file server or backup server.  Only Microsoft would be able to tell us why this option was omitted.  Thankfully it has been added into Windows 7.

If your backup regime requires that your Windows Vista system be backed up across a network, and you’re not willing to shell out for third-party software, such as Norton Ghost or Acronis True Image, then you’ll need to use the little-known Windows system backup utility called wbadminwbadmin is a command-line tool, and so to use it you will probably choose one of the following methods:

  1. The Windows command prompt,
  2. Writing a batch file (script), or
  3. Automating the backup using the Windows Task Scheduler

Given that most people who need to back up a system won’t want to do it just once, and will more than likely have a need to do it on a regular (daily or weekly) basis, this tutorial will explore the third option:

Automating a regular full system backup using the Windows Task Scheduler

To schedule a regular backup, we must first open the Windows Task Scheduler.  This is easily located by clicking the Start button and typing “task“:

Start the Windows Task Scheduler

The Task Scheduler window then opens. To schedule a backup, click on Create Basic Task…

Windows Vista Task Scheduler

The Create Basic Task Wizard starts and prompts us for a name by which we would like to refer to this task.  We can give it a name such as “Weekly Full System Backup”:

Wizard step 1

We then click the Next button and are prompted for how frequently we would like to like to run the backup.  Obviously the choice made at this point is up to you (or your IT department), but for this tutorial we will choose Weekly:

Wizard step 2

We click the Next button and are prompted to complete the scheduling details.  We will choose Every Wednesday morning at 4:30am:

Wizard step 3

We click the Next button and are prompted for what type of task we want to perform.  We will choose Start a program:

Wizard step 4

We click the Next button and are prompted for the name of the program we wish to run, as well as any command-line arguments (parameters) we will to provide to the program.

We could browse for the program, but in this case it’s easier to simply type its name:  wbadmin..

The command-line arguments we will specify in this example are:

start backup -backuptarget:\\servername\sharename -include:c:
-user:MYNAME -password:MYPASSWORD -quiet

These options mean the following:

  • start  start the job (not now, but when the task is scheduled, of course)
  • backup  the job to start is a backup
  •  -backuptarget:\\servername\sharename  The location to back up to.  This could be a simple Drive:Folder path (e.g. D:/Backups), or – in this case – the UNC path of a computer and network shared folder.
  • -include:c:   The drives to include in the backup.  If you want multiple drives, separate them with commas (no spaces).  i.e.  -include c:,d:
  • -user:MYNAME -password:MYPASSWORD   The username and password required to access the remote target computer/folder on the network.  (obviously, you replace MYNAME with your actual username and MYPASSWORD with your actual password.)
  • -quiet   Run the job without prompting the user for any information

There are many other options for the wbadmin program.  These are all detailed on Microsoft’s TechNet page (link below).

It is not necessary to specify anything in the Start in box:

Wizard step 5

That is all the information that the wizard requires.  We click the Next button to see a summary of the task details:

Wizard step 6

…and then click the Finish button to return to the list of active tasks:

Active tasks

It may be necessary to double-click on the newly created task to adjust some of the properties or conditions, specifically:

  • On the General tab, you may wish to ensure that the task runs even if you are not logged in.  If you do this, you will be prompted to supply the login credentials – username and password – of the user that the task is to be run as.
  • On the Conditions tab (if your computer is a laptop), you may wish to elect to only run the backup task if the computer is plugged into mains power.

The task will now run every Wednesday morning.  You can also run it manually whenever you want by opening the Windows Task Scheduler, locating the task in the list and clicking the Run button in the Actions pane to the right.

Once the task has completed, you can navigate to the network computer/folder that you specified in the task settings and see the results.  You will see a folder called WindowsImageBackup, and within that a sub-folder with the same name as the computer you were backing up.  If you back up several machines with this technique, you will see one sub-folder for each computer.  Within each sub-folder you will see a subfolder called Backup with a date in its name.  That is where your image files are located, along with some XML housekeeping files.  The backup files are easy to identify, as they are many Gigabytes in size and have a VHD extension.

Backed-up VHD files

Notes:

  • More information about the wbadmin program can be found on either Microsoft’s TechNet page or on the Wikipedia page.
  • VHD files can be mounted and browsed (to restore individual files without having to restore the entire drive) by using the small and useful VHD Attach utility.
  • When the task is run the following week, the previous backups will be automatically removed.  Only one set of VHD files will be present in the WindowsImageBackup folder for each computer at any given time.

Web2.0 programmer by day, singer by night, Aussie geek Mark Virtue keeps the How-To Geek flag flying Down Under.

  • Published 02/18/10

Comments (6)

  1. Alexander Sverdlov

    WOW! Nice guide! I thought Vista/7 Backup sucked… it does not!

  2. Herb Smith

    I just wish to sway that we Vista users need to be remembered. I have in the recent past felt like dropping my subscription because I felt deserted. Vista users are still around and still need the newest tips, tricks and advice. Please don’t forget us because we still count in your customer user database and we still buy things over the internet. Our presents should still help you get advertisements and new business.

  3. Prateek

    Tnx for writting on vista , i agree with Herb Smith launch of windows 7 has left vista users thirsty for tips
    I m glad dat you have not forgotten us
    dis sets you different from other blogs

  4. B

    I have had a go but I could not get it to work. However I have no username and password for the network drive because that computer has no passwords; but the laptop i am backing up does.

    Do i need to use the user name and password for the laptop when entering the command-line arguments or ignore that part?

  5. Greg Sullivan

    Thanks for the tutorial – nice work.

    I have a question about the way Windows 7 performs image backups though.

    My current product (StorageCraft’s ShadowProtect Desktop) tracks the sectors that are changed since the last image backup, in real time, such that when an incremental image backup is performed, it knows exactly which sectors have been changed, which avoids having to check every sector to see whether it should be backed up or not. This means that typical incremental backups complete very rapidly.

    In my testing of Windows 7, it appeared to me that it does NOT support this feature. Can anyone confirm this? (StorageCraft’s own list of differences between it and Windows 7 suggests that I am correct, however it’s possible that they are biased)

    Greg.

  6. Ravindra

    Excellent tutorial, now we can backup the data without any worries. Nobody I presume had given such a nice tutorial. Please continue it for other areas as well
    I have Vista starter in my 32 bit laptopwith celeron M .It can only run 3 programmes at a time please advice me

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