Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.
With multiple machines connected to a local area network, it's often reasonable to have some of them backup over the network to a shared backup drive.
I just read your latest newsletter about backing up. It spawned a question. What differences are there to backing up a small local network? Can you back all the workstations up to a single external hard drive? What software would you recommend? I have a retail store with five workstations all running Windows XP. Currently I backup the documents and settings folders to one hard drive and then back that up to a flash drive all using Winzip. After reading your newsletter I think maybe they should all be backed up the way you recommended but wouldn't that require sharing then entire hard disk and is that okay to do?
Actually it's a fine thing to do, but it does have some limitations.
The good news, though, is that you don't need to share out the entire hard disk of every machine you're backing up, only the backup drive itself.
The approach is actually pretty simple:
Connect the external hard drive to one of the systems on your LAN.
On that system (I'll call it "machine1") share that drive - either the root of that drive, or a folder into which the backups will be placed - with sufficient permissions such that the other machines on your LAN can all read from and write to it. Since I control all machines on my LAN I typically make it read/write to "Everyone".
On each of the other machines on your LAN you'll run a backup program and configure it to place backups on that drive. Typically, you'd reference it as \\machine1\share. You might actually want to create a sub folder for each machine you're backing up, so perhaps something like "\\machine1\share\machine2" would be appropriate.
Test your backups. They should now back up across your LAN, and be placed onto that external drive.
Naturally, that's the simple theory. In practice, you'll need to understand you own LAN's security situation, as well as the capabilities of your backup software. As outlined, it can actually be pretty simple.
But, as I said, there are some limitations.
First, consider well how much data you're backing up. Backup images for four or five machines might add up quickly, and that external drive better be big enough to hold it all. If not, and you find you might need an additional drive or two, it might be time to consider just tacking those on to specific machines and letting them back up locally anyway. At the other extreme, if you're just backing up select data and not entire images, it's quite possible that your external drive might have more than enough room.
Second, consider the load. If all five machines start backing up large amounts of data at the same time they're all going to be pounding hard on both your network and that external drive. A better approach would be to stagger the backups, having each machine perform its backup to that network drive at a different time over night.
Finally, consider your bandwidth. This may not be as much of an issue these days, but it can crop up. An external hard drive directly attached to a machine is going to be faster than most networks. Conversely, if you have an older 10 megabit network it's possible that backing up across the network might take longer than you expect.
But overall it's a very reasonable approach to consolidating backups. Most backup programs, including Acronis which I use myself, will allow you to save backup images to a network share.
It's all very similar to what I do myself.
Each night my various and sundry PCs all backup data to a central location on my network. The backups are staggered so that they're not all happening at the same time. Then that one central location itself does a system image backup to an external drive.
As always, there are pros and cons to any approach, but my approach has saved my bacon more than once.
I'm thinking your approach will too.