Redundant, backup Windows computer

One of my tech help clients is a teacher whose desktop computer is critical to getting her work done. I can easily get all her data backed up online (what’s your favorite cloud backup?). But there would still be downtime getting a new computer and installing all the programs. Any suggestions for a full redundant computer? We could buy a 2nd PC and buy new copies of all her MS Office. But that’s a bit expensive. Any thoughts on a cloud solution?

Well, here’s a question: Is it strictly required that a temporary fix is equivalent to a final resolution?

The reason why I ask, is because it could be pretty simple to make a disk image into a virtual disk image and have that as a temporary solution in the case of disaster. You get the new replacement computer (probably preinstalled with an OS) and then run the virtual machine on that PC as a guest while you rebuilt the other or rebuilt the one hosting the VM in the off hours.



Hmm, that answer is over my head so I’m going to have to do some research on it. And no the temporary solution doesn’t need to be the permanent solution. If I understand the recommendation then it sounds great so long as I can figure it out.

Thanks, I’ll look into iDrive

Well to use the virtual image option, you get the machine working as you like, and then image it. The image will never auto-update, so you may want to remake it on a regular basic. Once you have a virtual image, you can then boot it in a virtual computer in a tool like VirtualBox or VMWare or Windows Hyper-V. One tool to use to do this is:


I use Carbonite on my main machine and we used to use it on my daughter’s MacBook Pro, but it stopped working, so we switched her’s to Backblaze. Both run fine.

I see that @Leo has switched from advertising Carbonite to Metallic now and there is a good discount offer on that (3 months free, ISTR).

I store all my files in the OneDrive folder and I also use a simple Robocopy script on my machine to copy all the files on my OneDrive folder on the SSD to an HDD every hour on my desktop (where the Carbonite is setup) and from there to my NAS.

If the machine itself is critical and can’t be offline for a couple of days, then I would keep a replacement in the cupboard, get something as close as possible to what she currently has. Then take a backup or disk image of the old laptop at regular intervals. If it fails or the drive fails, you can recover from the last image and then recover the remaining changed files from the cloud backup - that should be quicker than recovering everything from the cloud.

Whether you take a backup or a disk image is up to you. If the replacement laptop is fully installed, a backup of the user files is all that is necessary. If the machine is just going to have a blank drive or default Windows install, then making a disk image is better - you just need to re-activate Windows and let it install any drivers that are different.

If you use Office 365 you just need to log the account back in, otherwise consider LibreOffice, that means you don’t have to worry about licensing.

At the end of the day, it comes down to how quickly she has to be back up and running and how much effort should be involved now and at the time of the disaster - and the money for licenses.

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Good idea, but you’d need a decent sized storage to make regular copies of the VM drive. A decent external drive should work though.

Then you can slap it on any machine with a working copy of the virtual machine software - VirtualBox or Hyper-V if he is on a tight budget or VMware Workstation. I believe there are tools for all of them to clone an existing machine, with varying levels of ease. I use Hyper-V at home and VMware at work - we have multiple ESXi clusters at work, so VMware Workstation makes more sense for prototyping at work.

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Another suggestion that makes a lot of sense, and will ease your restore but slightly complicate the backups, is a change that will require user [re]training.

Get a small NAS (I’d recommend a 2 to 4 bay Synology, but there are other choices, like Drobo, etc.) You’d probably spend more for the spinning disks than for the NAS device itself. The NAS can be configured in RAID-1 and while you lose half the capacity, you have a fully redundant copy. But everyone in the industry will tell you RAID is not a backup. Another thing with a NAS is it really should be on battery backup, so a UPS to protect it is a good idea.

Teach her to store all her files of importance onto it, instead of into “My Documents” etc. This helps because the NAS can be backed up separately from the PC, and if there are few files beyond the OS on the PC, then a restore can be as simple as connecting a replacement PC to the NAS. You still need a backup, of course, and now you have an extra device to worry about, so this does add a bit to complexity. But it’s a nice feeling knowing your PC is just a vessel for the OS and little else, and can be replaced with ease.


I’m going to put virtual machines on my learning list for 2020. May not use it for my teacher friend/client due to timing but it definitely sounds interesting and useful. Thanks!

Thanks, big_D … All great suggestions. I hear Leo recommending iDrive vs Carbonite in the late October podcasts so I’ll look into that service for data backup. And setup a replacement machine, probably one of my surplus WinX units, with her critical needs software. LibreOffice would be a fine temporary substitute for MS Office if she has a desktop version of MS Office. As a teacher she may also have access to free or very low cost MS Office software. Not sure what other software she has but I’ll do a Belarc Advisor inventory of her machine. Being back up quickly is imperative. Also complicating matters is she lives about an hour away so I want to do most of the work remotely. Which I probably can with these suggestions and a spare WinX machine.

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