Best Practices for Categorizing Data for Online Backup

Let’s have a look at a typical small Server that contains a mix of critical data (Exchange Server, System State and Active Directory), important data, and archival data.

The Online Backup Guide for Service Providers is a complete 196-page guide on starting and operating an Online Backup Service – the latest revision of Rob Cosgrove’s industry defining RBS Book originally published in 1987. The entire book is being published here, chapter by chapter.


Typically 70% of data on a Server never changes, or changes very rarely. There are usually many old files that are not being used and might never change, but the end user wants them backed up. If you (as the Service Provider) have a hands-on relationship with the customer, the decision on how to categorize the data should be made by interviewing the end user to determine what applications his business relies on and what data usually changes.

RBackup works on Windows servers. It will automatically detect Exchange, SQL Server, Active Directory and Sharepoint, and will display icons for you to use to back up these special databases. These applications are always considered “critical” and should be backed up frequently.

A typical small Windows server might have three backup sets, designed like this:


Backup Set 1 (Critical)

Included: MS Exchange, SQL Server, System State, Active Directory

AutoSelect: OFF

Backup Type: BitBackup

Schedule: Daily

Keep Latest Version: ON

Retention Period: 365 Days

File Selection: Modified Date/Time


Backup Set 2 (Important)

Included: All MS Office Documents

AutoSelect: ON

Backup Type: BitBackup

Schedule: Daily

Keep Latest Version: ON

Retention Period: 180 Days

File Selection: Fast Pick


Backup Set 3 (Archival)

Included: Manually selected folders and files

AutoSelect: OFF

Backup Type: BitBackup

Schedule: Weekly

Keep Latest Version: ON

Retention Period: 30 Days

File Selection: Archive Bit



Workstations are desktop or laptop computers that may or may not be networked with more powerful Servers. Employees do virtually all of their work at the consoles of workstations. Servers are rarely operated by employees for day-to-day tasks, and may be locked away in a closet.

Workstations and laptops usually have different backup and restore requirements than Servers, and sometimes need only one Backup Set. Servers are usually administered by someone who is more computer literate than people who use workstations, so the directory structure of a Server is usually more standardized and easier to back up.

Workstations, however, can have valuable files virtually anywhere on their drives. If the computers were installed and the software configured by a professional, you might be able to depend on critical files being in the right folders. Otherwise, you may have to search for them. RBackup and Mercury have features that can locate critical files automatically.

Recommended Include and Exclude Rules

Here are the most important folders to consider when designing a backup strategy for workstations and non-networked computers, along with my opinion of their importance and recommendations for including or excluding them.

Personal Files (Critical-Include) – Windows computers usually store personal, user generated files in a folder structure whose root is a virtual folder called My Documents. Depending on the application you use to look at the file system, this folder can also look like: C:\Documents and Settings\[User Name]\My Documents\ Mac computers store personal files in a folder structure whose root is called Users.

Start Menu (Critical-Include) – This is where Windows computers store their application shortcuts and group folders. There are two Start Menus – one for the logged in user and the other shared by all users. They are: C:\Documents and Settings\[User Name]\Start Menu\ and C:\Documents and Settings\All Users\Start Menu\.

Desktop (Critical-Include) – Windows and Macs store their desktop shortcuts and other objects here. For Windows there are two – one for the logged in user and the other shared by all users. They are: C:\Documents and Settings\[User Name]\Desktop\ and C:\Documents and Settings\All Users\Desktop\. Macs store desktop items in \Users\[User Name]\Desktop\.

Favorites (Critical-Include) Windows computers store all the items in the Favorites menus of browsers and other applications here. Back these up: C:\Documents and Settings\[User Name]\Favorites\ and C:\Documents and Settings\All Users\Favorites\.

User Profile Folders (Critical-Optional) – These are the root folders for all of the “Include” folders above. Some service providers like to back up these folders instead of individually selecting the folders within them, and I agree, as long as you properly manage the Global Exclusions list available exclusively in RBackup (See Global Exclusions later in this chapter). The User Profile folders are: C:\Documents and Settings\[User Name]\ and C:\Documents and Settings\All Users\.

Application Data (Critical-Include) – These folders contain information used by the Program Files (below). The data in these folders is for personal settings and preferences, and databases like Outlook and Outlook Express. I recommend you back them up as long as you use software like RBackup or Mercury that contains a Global Exclusions list.

Program Files (Archival-Exclude) – These are the files that operate the applications installed on the workstation. They are copied to the hard drive during installation, and rarely changed. Usually Windows workstations have their program files stored in a folder called Program Files while Macs store their program files in a folder called Applications. These files do not usually need to be backed up. Restoring them would not make them useable. They must be re-installed from the original distribution media.

Internet Cache (Unimportant-Exclude) – The Internet cache contains temporary files used by web browsers to speed up browsing sessions. These files should not be backed up. C:\Documents and Settings\[User Name]\Local Settings\Temporary Internet Files\

System Files (Unimportant-Exclude) – These are files used almost exclusively by the operating system. Restoring them would not make them useful. These files will be replaced by reloading the operating system after a complete failure. On Windows: C:\Windows\ and C:\Windows\System32 and c:\WINNT\ Mac: \System\


Global Exclusions

The best Online Backup software has features that allow you to globally exclude files and folders. The Global Exclusions list overrides all other file selections. For example, if your Global Exclusion list includes files that end in “zip” or that contain the word “cache,” files that match these patterns will not appear for users to select, and will be automatically excluded from any rule that might otherwise select them.

RBackup and Mercury both have powerful Global Exclusion lists.

A Global Exclusion list makes selecting files for backup far easier. For example, you could include the complete User Profile folder structure, and rely on your Global Exclusion list to automatically exclude specific files that never need to be backed up. It is a very powerful feature.

Following are some sample Global Exclusions used for Windows workstations. These are only examples. A typical Global Exclusion list is much larger than this.

Sample File Exclusions

*.sys *.tmp ~* *.dll *.ocx *.obj *.temp Ntuse*
*.log {* *.exe *.msi *.dbd *.dsg *.chm *.pdf
*.ico *.inf *.js *.jar *.ex_ *.cab *.bin *.inx
*.hdr *.cat *.manifest *.iss *.fon *.ttf *.bak *.zip
*.rar *.pspframe *corel* *.txt *.swp *.dct *.iso *.bkf


Sample Folder Exclusions

Windows *recyc* Temp *temp Msocache Symantec*
Installshield* Webroot* Cookies* Adobe* Mobilesy* *itunes*
*cache *search* *recent* *logs* $recycle Programdata
Statedata *Norton* Windows.old *userdata* Networkservice* Localservice
.temp* MSN* *yahoo* Apple* Java* Uninstall*
Winrar Xerox Sigma* Vmware* Windowsupdate Nethood
Citrix* Logitech* *quicktime* Corel* SQL_LOG_Backup {*
Downloads NVIDIA $* RBS* ATI Google


Sample Virtual Folder Exclusions

Windows Temporary Recycler
Application Data Cookies System
Temporary Internet Files History Nethood


It is also a good idea to exclude files based on attributes other than their names or folder locations. Depending on your service level agreement, you may want to exclude network drives, USB drives, CD Drives, Floppy Diskette Drives, and Memory Sticks.

It is also common to exclude files by size. Many Online Backup services exclude files bigger than four gigabytes, except for certain databases like SQL Server, Exchange, and Active Directory.


Rob Cosgrove

Rob Cosgrove, CEO Remote Backup Systems

Rob Cosgrove is the President of Remote Backup Systems, founder of the Online Backup Industry, and a vocal advocate for maintaining the highest standards in Online Backup software. His latest book, the Online Backup Guide for Service Providers: How to Start and Operate an Online Backup Service, is available online now, on, and at bookstores.

Remote Backup Systems provides brandable, scalable software and solutions to MSPs and VARs enabling them to offer Online Backup Services.

Would you like a FREE download of the complete Online Backup Guide for Service Providers as an E-Book? Only 200 available through May 15. [PICK THIS LINK].


About The Author

Rob Cosgrove /

Rob Cosgrove is President of Remote Backup Systems, developers of the fully brandable RBackup Online Backup software platform, powering more than 9,500 Service Providers, MSPs and VARs wordwide since 1987. He is the founder of the Online Backup industry and author of several books, the most recent, "The Online Backup Guide for Service Providers", available at and bookstores.