Migrating to Windows 10? Back It Up First!
Written by Jon Toigo   


If you are like me, your office life probably extends into your home, where you not only do some of your office work but also support the computing requirements of your children, spouse and pets. So, while it is nice to get the occasional freebie from your software vendor – say, a free upgrade to the next generation operating system platform for all of your 20 or so PCs, laptops and tablets – it can also be a weekend killer if anything goes wrong.

In my case, moving to Windows 10 seemed like a no brainer. Microsoft has enlisted a lot of fan boys to hype the benefits and made the price tag (free for users of Windows 7 and later) reasonable. With so much going for it, I set aside my usual hesitation about deploying any “even-numbered release” from Redmond and plunged in.

The process doesn’t take that long, provided your systems are not too old for new drivers to exist for mainboard components and accessories. If you receive the message that you need to wait to be “notified” when your upgrade is ready, this is likely because Microsoft has detected some unsupported hardware in your rig. Some anonymous driver for some anonymous component from some anonymous vendor is required before things can proceed. With the hand-me-down computers that some of my kids are using, getting drivers for old chipsets may take some time.

In the meantime, before doing any installs, the pessimist in me tells me to take a backup. And, no, much as I like the convenience of it, using the built-in Windows image-based full system backup (using the so-called System Image Backup application) is not my preferred approach. Here’s why.

First off, the instructions for using this function are extremely limited. To do a good job, you need to do quite a bit of research in the tangled collection of websites, message boards and blogs. You will learn that you can’t do incremental backups or schedule backup times – two pretty bad fails in the business context, especially for medium and larger enterprises where you may have a lot of systems to backup prior to upgrading. Even in the case of my little home-based networks, it’s a pain to have to do another full backup because there is some other software update that needs to be downloaded and applied before you convert from Win7 to Win10.

Plus, when it comes right down to it, you are limited as to what you can backup and you have little granularity in terms of either backup sources and targets or restore priorities. I can’t choose which disks to backup, for example. This becomes a bother in the case of one of my systems that has some external eSATA and USB enclosures attached to the motherboard. Since these drives (actually small JBODs or RAID systems) have drive letters that make them look like part of my internal disk subsystem, they automatically get backed up together with my root drive increasing the size of the backup and the length of time it takes to do it.

The predictable response from my friends is to simply detach the eSATA and USB-connected drives. But if you unplug them, there is a chance that they will not be easily reattached to the system when the upgrade is complete. From past experience, I worry a lot about the readability of RAID systems if any change is made to their connection to the system mainboard or I/O software stack.

Conversely, I also have a lot of data on some network-attached storage shares. These I might like to include in my system backup, but can’t. Microsoft Windows System Image Backup doesn’t let you backup networked drives or folders. Yet, external drives are the only acceptable targets for backup, you can’t use any internal drives or eSATA/USB rigs that may be regarded as internal drives by the software.

Besides logistics, there are a few other niggling restrictions that may or may not matter to others as much as they do to me. For one, only the NTFS file system is supported by System Image Backup. This can be problematic if you are running a dual boot system or if you simply use some storage to hold test dev stuff like those Android apps your kids think will make them the next Internet millionaire.

And, in my office setting at least, the lack of encryption for backups can be problematic. Audit departments often set some pretty strident rules around the protection of financial and human resources data, even in the form of a backup.

All in all, the Windows System Image Backup is a rather awkward fit for both the casual/home user, whose needs may be simple, but who will find the product too complex and confusing to use, and for the enterprise user, who may confront different kinds of data, different versions of Windows, and different configurations of internal and external storage that simply go beyond the functionality set of the Microsoft utility. When it comes to backup, System Image Backup is neither fish nor fowl – but sort of a hybrid product waiting to be usurped by the backup-in-the-cloud meme that Microsoft, with its Azure platform, has begun evangelizing.

That said, I am not anti-Microsoft. I am, however, very concerned about my ability to recover effectively and fully from a botched Windows 10 upgrade. If I can’t back out of the process on one of my business machines, it costs me money and reputation. (I have after all written four books on disaster recovery.) If I can’t restore one of my kid’s machines following some misstep, it will more than likely cost me my sanity.

My solution is to use a dedicated backup and data protection product to provide me with the flexibility and security that I need before I accept the Terms of Agreement and launch, with fingers tightly crossed, the Windows 10 upgrade process. In this case, I opted for the Acronis True Image 2016 product, which has worked well. In fact, once the backup was taken and the upgrade was made to Windows 10, I was glad that I took another post-install backup. When I started testing the new look and feel of my system, post-upgrade, I inadvertently clicked on an email link that launched the new web browser, Edge, and delivered me into the hands of a malware attack that hijacked my Edge home page and gave me a phone number to call to ransom back control of my browser.

I restored the new Win10 image, updated my antivirus and malware software and told myself not to click on unfamiliar links anymore. Try telling that to my kids though: looks like the Acronis True Image Backup software will become part of our standard kit going forward.


About the Author

Jon Toigo is CEO of Toigo Partners International and a consultant who has aided over 100 companies in the development of their continuity programs. Feel free to contact him at jtoigo@toigopartners.com.