Windows 8 – Storage Spaces and File History Backups

The purpose of this blog is to introduce two new features “Storage Spaces” and “File History” that are available and built-in to Windows 8. These features are great additions to Windows 8 individually and if used together, you can easily put in place a backup system very much like what is available in Mac OSX called “Time Machine”. Hopefully with my advice and using my configuration as a guide, you too can setup backups for your PC. Backups are something that can be a pain to configure and are often forgotten, until your hard drive dies. If you’ve ever been in a situation where your hard drive has died and you have NO backup, you know how painful this is! These new features look to take the pain out of setting up backups. Friends don’t let friends neglect their backups!

First we’ll cover Storage Spaces. The idea behind Storage Spaces is that you can create a Storage Pool that includes one or more hard drives and present them as a single volume. That may sound complicated, but let’s take a look at my setup so you can see what this looks like. Let me explain what I have setup. I bought a Media Sonic USB hard drive enclosure from Amazon for ~$130 that holds four hard drives and connects to my computer via a simple USB connection. You can find that unit here, I highly recommend it:

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B002UUPWP6/ref=ox_ya_os_product

I have 2x 1TB Samsung drives and 2x 2TB Hitachi drives in that unit. I created a single Storage Pool in the Storage Spaces Manager that puts all those physical drives together into a single Storage Space. I named the pool “Storage_Space” and assigned the F: drive letter to it. Below is a screenshot from Storage Spaces Manager followed by what it looks like in My Computer.

image

image

Setting up a Storage Space is easy, just connect up the drives you want to use for backups or storage of your data (I highly recommend a USB enclosure for this) and go to Control Panel > System and Security > Storage Spaces. Then select, Create New Pool and Storage Space.

image

You have the option to select one or more drives. You can use all of the space as one big drive, but I recommend setting up your Storage Pool as a two-way mirror as this will protect your Storage Space in case a drive fails. If a drive does fail in a two-way mirror, you can simply replace the failed drive with a new one. If you do not configure a mirror, you will lose some or all of your data if a drive fails. You also have the option to change the following at any time, you can:

-Create a new storage space
-Add drives to your storage space
-Rename the Storage Pool
-Change the Storage Space redundancy settings

One thing I also recommend is making the folders within your Storage Space available to your HomeGroup if you are using the HomeGroup feature. By doing this, you can easily connect to this Storage Space from your laptop or another PC in your home that is a member of the HomeGroup without having to configure security permissions, it is very simple. To do this:

-Open Explorer
-Click on Computer
-Right-Click on a folder within your Storage Space
-Share With > (Select permission here)

Your permission options are Stop Sharing, Homegroup (view),  or Homegroup (view and edit) permissions.

*Note – You cannot share the root of any drive, you have to share folders within a drive. This is a limitation of Homegroups, but is not really that inconvenient in my opinion.

image

Next, we’ll cover File History, which is also a new feature in Windows 8. The idea behind File History, is you can configure Windows to automatically make backup copies of files and folders you select, at custom time intervals, and place them in a specified File History drive, usually a different hard drive from your Operating System and data. You can backup files as far as your storage will allow.

Below I will show you how I have leveraged Storage Spaces and File History together. At my home I have setup File History on my laptop, to utilize the Storage Space drive on my main PC at home via HomeGroup. Let’s take a look at how I configured this:

To access File History, open Control Panel > System and Security > File History.

I then clicked Select drive.

image

Since my laptop has no additional hard drives, there were none listed here by default. I want to use the Storage Space that is shared to my HomeGroup to run my File History backups. On my my main PC I created a folder named “FileHistory” on my Storage Space that will contain all my File History backups from all my PCs.

I selected Add network location, browsed my HomeGroup for this folder and selected it:

image

After selecting the drive, it connects and starts to immediately take the File History backup to the destination:

image

By default it is going to copy my Libraries, Desktop, Contacts, Favorites, and SkyDrive files to the backup location. If you want to exclude any of these folders, select Exclude folders and add them to the list.

Let’s check out the Advanced settings, notice I am going to run this Daily (you have several options, from every 10 minutes to daily), and I will keep saved versions of all my files in the destination until space is needed. What this means is that it will delete the very oldest backup once storage gets low so that new backups will continue to run.

image

Remember, this is backing up to a Storage Space on my PC, so the advantage here is that I can always add more drives if I find I am unable to retain my backups for as long as I would like.

There is also an option to view the Event Logs. This is helpful to track down any issues should you have troubles successfully using File History to backup your files.

Now, the most important part of backups. What about Restores? Should you ever need to recover your files, just click Restore personal files. This launches the File History restore mode where you can view and restore your files, by date and time of the backup. Clicking the left and right arrows toggles you between backups or snapshots of your data.

I’ve been using Windows 8 since RTM and I’ve been using this feature since then as well. Notice I have 29 backups, and in the below screenshot I have my restore options for backup 19 taken Monday September 17th 2012 at 1:37PM.

image

You can also view the File History files in explorer, within the folder you selected for your backups. The place where it saves the backup is:

Disk:\Share\UserName\Computer_Name\ in the Data directory.

image

Please take advantage of Storage Spaces and File History in Windows 8. They are great features that take time to initially setup, but these really can be “set it and forget it” features that can be a HUGE benefit over time. Save yourself the headache of losing family photos, music collections, and important documents by using these great features.

What do you think about these features? Was this information helpful? Let me know in the comments or on twitter.

  • Sathish

    very useful and i am going to try this right now :) God bless you bro..

    • Gabriel

      Excellent! Let me know how you get on. Good luck.

  • Chris

    Thanks! I’ve been considering a RAID HDD setup to gain mirroring capabilities in my backup system, but I had little idea as to how I could easily set one up. Its great to see that Windows has this feature built-in so all I need now is a cheap second drive and a way to network that drive as my router only supports one USB connection at a time (and doesn’t support USB hubs as far as I know).

    • Gabriel

      “I’ve been considering a RAID HDD setup to gain mirroring capabilities in my backup system, but I had little idea as to how I could easily set one up.” This describes the people I had in mind when I was thinking of writing this. Hopefully you’ll find this solution as helpful as I have. Still going strong! :)


      Gabe

  • Mazen

    What about if windows got coruppted and you need to reimage the PC again. Does my pool got destroied as well or Windows can recognize it?

    Is there a way to backup the pool configuration because this sounds like software RAID so if the RAID configuration is gone, then your pool is gone, isn’t it?

  • Gabriel

    Hi Mazen,

    This is a great question and not something I addressed in the article. In this situation your OS disk should be replaced or at least reloaded.

    Take a look at this article, in the last paragraph it addresses this:

    http://www.techrepublic.com/blog/networking/windows-8-storage-spaces-how-it-works-on-the-client-side/5523

    From the article, “This is because of the metadata written to the disks when they were used on the server OS. Windows Storage Spaces was able to read that metadata and bring those pools and volumes online.”

    Windows *should* recognize the storage space after setting up your new OS. However if it is not writeable, you can utilize powershell to fix this:

    http://windowsitpro.com/systems-management/q-after-i-reinstalled-windows-server-2012-my-storage-spaces-are-no-longer-writabl

    The difference in the link and your situation is that your pools are managed via control panel applet and not in Server Manager, but it should still apply. Hope this helps!


    Gabe

  • Pingback: Windows 8.1 RTM Installation Guide | Gabe's Blog()