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An introduction to the University's HFS Backup Service

What it is, and isn't.

Your work and data are valuable, and the HFS backup service exists to provide a campus-wide backup of data on desktop machines, laptops and servers to an off-site location. Oxford University staff, senior members and postgraduates can use the service, but not undergraduates. The service has limits: it only keeps two versions of any file you backup, the most recent and the version immediately preceding that. In this way the service differs from other consumer products like Dropbox or Time Machine, which keep multiple backup versions of files. The practical consequence of this is that the HFS Backup Service is a 'disaster recovery' service that allows you to recover files from your system which have been (for example) erroneously deleted or overwritten, or from a machine that has been lost, stolen or damaged in some way. It does not offer a 'point-in-time' recovery of your data like e.g. Time Machine on a Mac, but it has the advantage of creating an offsite backup which safeguards against fire and theft.

What do I need ?

A computer (desktop, laptop) running a modern version of Windows, Mac OS or Unix/Linux, some data worth backing up (i.e. work-related data, not a home photo collection), a University SSO login and access to the University network either via a physical connection, via eduroam or remotely over VPN.

How do I access the service ?

You access the service by first registering your machine (desktop or laptop), create an account name for the machine and set a password for the account. You then install some pre-configured software downloadable from the HFS web pages, and enter in the account name and password which you set at the registration process above. You can now run backups manually, any time 24/7; or you can fall back on an automatic weekly scheduled backup, if your computer is switched on and on the network overnight; or you can set up your own schedules to run a backup, for instance at the end of the morning and the end of the afternoon, Monday to Friday.

How does it work ?

The backup software on your local machine connects to one of our central backup servers, compares the list of files which the server has in the relevant account with what exists on the local machine, and sends those that have changed or are new across the network to the HFS server. Once a day the backups from several thousand accounts are the copied to three tapes, two of which are placed in fireproof safes while the third remains in an online tape library. This latter copy means that you are able to restore any of your files at any time 24/7 (using the same software that you use to backup).

Because the backup is 'file-based', this means that it cannot back up a file that is open in another application; so if you have a spreadsheet open in Excel or a live database for example, you will need to close Excel, or dump the database to file, in order for the backup of such a file to succeed.

Anything else ?

Yes, lots, see our best practice page and our acceptable use guidelines which will also outline the limits and give a fair use statement. Yes, there is also an Archive service too but this is for a specific need (you probably want backup). If you have a multi-user machine, then we ask that to be registered for a server account - you or someone like your local IT Support needs to be ITSS-registered in order to do that. If you have further queries, try searching our FAQ pages before contacting your local IT Support. If/when you feel like diving in, go to our getting started page.


Written by IT Services. Latest revision 28 November 2017