Sunday, December 26, 2010

Recovering a Single File from Acronis Backup

Step-by-Step: Using Acronis 2010 to recover a single file along with backup commentary. This article was updated and expanded on 2010.12.26 with a discussion on DVD backups and restores.

Related articles:

Speeding up USB disk Backups in Windows 7 - Very interesting
Disk Imaging Cleanup Steps

I hate to linger on the subject, but a good backup strategy has saved my bacon more often than I care to admit. Case-in-point: I'm writing a book (C# programming) and in one particularly harrowing chapter, I managed to delete a chunk of programming code, but didn't realize my mistake until several days later. I was mortified.

Recreating the code would take a half-day of research and testing. But then I remembered a full-disk backup was made the previous week and the file was resting peacefully there. It took exactly two minutes to restore the file.

I like to use a commercial backup program called "Acronis Home Image 2010," but this article's basic ideas should work with any program. Here are the steps I followed. Although this article has numerous steps, they only take a minute and the steps are relatively easy.

However, I have to add this warning: Recoveries are simple when the restore is made from an external USB drive, where all of the backup files live in one place, but are frighteningly horrible, verging on impossible, when using DVD media. Read further into the article for a discussion on how to recover when the backups are written to DVD's.

Restoring a Single File with Acronis

I had other editing changes in the current document and I wanted to keep both the old and new versions. Because of this, I restored a single file to a temporary directory. These are the steps used:

1. Plug in the external USB disk, where the backup is stored, or if on DVD, insert the last disk in the backup set (e.g. Disk 7 of 7).

2. Launch Acronis.

On the left, choose "Recovery" (e.g. restore)
The list shows your most recent backups (you do have recent backups, don't you?).

3. Click the "Disk Recovery" button near the top-center of the screen.

If available, choose the backup set (date) that you would like to use.

If you don't see the backup in the list, click Browse and look for it on your external USB drive, or browse to the DVD's, as appropriate. When browsing, select the last backup in the backup set. For example, on a recent DVD restore, I pointed the browse to "backup disk 7.tib" (disk 7 of 7).

On the left side, note the "Required Steps," where you will see Archive Selection, Recovery Method, and What to Recover.

Click Next to continue with the Wizard.

4. Choose "Recover chosen files and Folders". Click "Next"

Caution: Be sure to choose "Recover Chosen files" and not "Recover whole disks." This article is recovering a single (or small set) of files. If you choose "Recover whole disks", you will restore the entire disk, overwriting everything! Recover entire disks when there is a horrible calamity; this is not that time.

5. Decide on the destination:

Choose a "New Location" if you want to preserve the current document. In my case, I wanted to keep both versions and I chose "New Location."

Choose "Original Location" if the current document can be overwritten.

With a new location, you are prompted to browse a temporary folder (such as the desktop or C:\Data\Temp. Any folder will do. If I am restoring a number of files, I like to create a new temporary directory (C:\Data\Recovery).

Click Next.

6. Choose files to restore:

Important:In the "What to recover" screen, it is important to uncheck the default "C:" drive -- or else you will restore everything from that backup. I wish Acronis would default this to unchecked. If you are using DVDs, unchecking this box will cause numerous prompts to insert various DVD volumes. Persevere and insert the disks as prompted or read the end of this article for a better way.

Tunnel to the file(s) you want to restore.
Click the check-box [ ] next to each file(s) you want to restore.
Click Next, and allow the restore to proceed.

The Actual Restore:

If you are restoring from a USB disk, the restore will take a few seconds and there will be no complaints or issues.

If you are restoring from DVD, you will be prompted to insert various DVDs, with many prompting multiple times. Follow the on-screen prompts. The more files you are restoring, the more frustrating this will be.

Recovering from DVD Backups:

As much as I like Acronis, it is nearly unusable when recovering "selected files" from a previous DVD backup. Case-in-point, I needed to restore 4 small data folders from a backup last year. The backup was housed on 7 DVD's. Acronis would prompt to insert Disk 1 of 7 then it would want disk 3, then disk 1, then disk 5, then disk 1.... this went on for literally 30 or 40 prompts. I am sure if I continued, the files would have recovered, but not in my lifetime.

In their defense, if I were recovering the entire disk (say from a disk crash), the DVD's would restore in sequence -- but recovering selected files was frustrating. I have no earthly idea why the would prompt to insert disk1 so many times, and then intermittently ask for disk 5, 6, and 7 another dozen times.

A better solution:

In the end, I manually copied *all* of the DVD's to a local hard drive and restarted the restore, telling Acronis to browse for the recovery disks. Once this was done, the files restored in a few minutes and I deleted the DVD copies. Unfortunately, I did not reach this solution until after 40 disk-swaps. Copying the DVD's to a spare drive added several hours to the project and it meant I needed enough free-space to hold the disks. This was not a good experience and is my main complaint about the product.

Recommendation: When restoring selected files from DVD, copy all DVD's to a temporary directory and point Acronis to that location when beginning the restore.

Why use DVDs in the era of cheap USB drives?

This does not imply that DVD backups are bad. On the contrary, DVD backups let me keep multiple generations of backups -- I have backups from several years ago and I can recover from any of those dates. Also, I periodically move the DVD's to an offsite location. This is hard to do with external USB drives. This type of media still has its place -- although admittedly, its days are numbered.

Alternate Method:

You can also mount an Acronis Backup as a "Disk" -- the entire backup appears as a new disk drive on your system. Once mounted, you can drag-and-drop individual files from your backup to your original disk. From Acronis, see the top "Operations" menu and select "Mount". From here, you can tunnel into the backup, selecting individual files for restore. This feature only works when the backup files are on an internal or external hard disk; this will not work while the files are on a DVD.

The Take-Away / Lessons Learned

Backups for disaster-recovery are a must, but here was an instance where a single file was helpful. This same backup set can be used for both types of restores.

In reality, my USB disk is large enough to hold multiple full-system backups for this machine and I had several copies of the same document -- one from a week ago, and a second from three weeks prior. Additionally, I had multiple offsite quarterly DVD backups. It is comforting to have several options.

As you can see, I'm a fan of backups. You may be using a backup program that came with your external USB disk -- these are adequate and the same basic recovery steps can be used. The related articles, listed below, will improve your backup speeds regardless of your software.

Related articles:
Speeding up USB disk Backups in Windows 7 - Very interesting
Disk Imaging Cleanup Steps

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