HFS Spectrum Protect backup over VPN

Remote backup to the HFS over VPN

The HFS Spectrum Protect service supports remote backup for users who are temporarily unable to access the University backbone network via either a physical network connection or over wireless. It does this by allowing connections to the backup service over VPN. There are, however, some important caveats and features of this method of connection and we strongly encourage you to read the sections below.

For mobile computers however you will find the CrashPlan service much more suitable as this backs up to the cloud and does not require VPN.

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  • To use this service you will need to first install the IT Services VPN client. The VPN client must be running if you wish to download, install or use the HFS Spectrum Protect software (for backup or restore) when not connected (either physically or wirelessly) to the University Network.
  • The service is designed only to support the backup and restore of critical University data for users, whether they are connected to the University Network or over VPN from anywhere else.
  • The configuration of Spectrum Protect must be carefully considered and where possible a limited set of data should be backed up. When backing up over VPN, we ask that you only back up your important data, rather than selecting the whole machine for backup. There are two ways in which you can do this, which are not mutually exclusive:
    • When you run a manual backup, be selective in what you wish to back up. For how to run a manual backup, please see our instructions for doing so on Windows, Mac, Linux. Each of these pages includes information on how you can choose certain files for backup rather than select your whole machine.
    • You can set the backup software to exclude all files from backup except for one or more key folders, as described in our section on how to exclude everything from backup except a specific directory/folder. This is more efficient than the aforementioned method of repeatedly having to choose which files to back up, though it is less simple to set up. Please note that excluding data from backup means that it cannot be sent to the HFS, and that we do not retain data that has been excluded in this way.
  • If you selected at registration time (or subsequently) the option to run scheduled backups (and if you have not set up exclude rules as specified in the previous point), then you will find that, should a  scheduled backup happen to run, the software will try to back up your whole machine. Such a backup should not be run from outside the University Network as it will be extremely slow. You can prevent scheduled backups from occurring by removing your backup schedule.
  • Normal data retention limits apply: i.e. we require that your backups are kept up to date and are no more that 90 days old. If you suspect that the nature of your location will prevent you from backing your data up within a 90-day period, then we strongly advise you to contact the HFS team via hfs@it.ox.ac.uk to ask for a temporary suspension of the deletion policy for your account. We will require your name, the HFS account name (nodename) and the period of time requested for.

The key issue when backing up or restoring using the HFS Spectrum Protect service from outside the University Network is the speed of the connection. Backups over Fibre-optic broadband will be of comparable speed to a wired connection to the University Network and thus pose no problem. However, the availability of such connections is not universal and many of us in the UK still have an ADSL broadband connection. Backups via ADSL Broadband connections are particularly slow as the upload speed of the connection is usually significantly slower than the download speed. For this reason, where you require a large amount of data to be backed-up (i.e. uploaded), we strongly recommend that the initial backup is carried out over a wired connection to the Oxford Network. Thereafter you can use backup-over-VPN for the small incremental backups of files as they change over time.

The download speed (restore) is usually ten times greater than the upload speed (backup) and occasionally the difference can be larger.

Approximate times for backup over VPN compared to over a wired connection to the University Network are given below :


  Backup     Restore    
  10MB 1GB 10GB 10MB 1GB 10GB

ADSL Broadband

(17Mbps download/2Mbps upload)

13mins 2hrs 20hrs 10mins 20mins 3hrs

Wired University Network

Connection (100Mbps)

10mins 15mins 35mins 10mins 15mins 35mins


These figures include an approximation, in the case of backup, for starting the session with the HFS and scanning the disk for files to back up.

As part of the backup process the HFS Spectrum Protect servers send a list of files which have been previously backed up to the machine performing a backup. This list is then compared with the files found on the disk to determine which files have been changed, created or deleted. For machines with a large number of files this list can be very large. Repeated backups of systems with a large number of files via broadband may, counter-intuitively, cause problems by exceeding broadband download limits. For this reason we strongly recommend that all files except for one or two key directories are excluded from backup (see above), and for machines with lots of small files to back up, to take extra care if using the backup service over VPN.

Connecting to the HFS Spectrum Protect service via external networks (through VPN) can be error-prone for a number of reasons. If you experience problems initiating a VPN connection then:

  1. Ensure that your VPN connection is functioning correctly. Check for your problem in the VPN FAQ and work with local IT support or Network support to ensure VPN is working, before attempting to use the HFS backup service.
  2. Verify that you are connected via VPN by checking that your reported IP address starts with "129.67.116.", "129.67.117.", "129.67.118.", or "129.67.119.". Any other address indicates that the VPN connection was not properly established. You can find out your IP address by means of various online tools or by googling the question, 'What is my IP address?'.
  3. After a VPN connection has been started, if you experience problems connecting to the HFS then please look for the relevant error message in the HFS help and support pages and if necessary contact your local IT support staff.
  4. Otherwise, please contact IT Services via our help request form.

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