Working from home and the HFS FAQ

This page details HFS advice and current practices during the COVID-19 coronavirus situation.  If you have any questions then you can check your backup status via the HFS Portal, or contact us at hfs@ox.ac.uk.

The HFS is currently working as normal, albeit with reduced staffing levels.

If you have moved to working from home then this may affect your backups, depending on several factors, including:

  • where you are connecting from to use the HFS.
  • what type of account you have.
  • whether you back up manually, using overnight schedules, or both.

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If you are connecting to your machine remotely, then nothing has changed.  If your machine is switched on, on University premises, and on the University network, then manual and scheduled backups should work as normal.

If your machine is a Mac and it is in sleep mode and left connected to the University network, then it should still wake itself up to back up on schedule.  In all other cases, backups cannot run while a machine is switched off.  For details on how to proceed see 6. I can't back up at the moment, will my backups be deleted?.

In most cases the answer to this question is yes.  However, backing up from home for most users will require use of the University VPN, which will see much greater usage than ever before whilst a large number of University members are working off campus.  We therefore urge you, having read the rest of this section, to use this valuable resource responsibly and only back up when really necessary.

Whether you can back up from home depends on your account type and your internet connection. You need:

  1. A desktop / laptop class account.  Most of our users have this, but there are other account types also, which are mostly used only by IT staff (server, large server, VE, and archive).  You can check which type of account you have via the HFS Portal. On the summary tab, check that the line beginning Server/service contains the phrase Desktop/laptop backup service.
  2. A connection to the University network over VPN.

Do not attempt to back up any large amount of data, or indeed you whole machine, as this will fail.  An IT Services VPN connection has restricted bandwidth and will not support large data uploads.  Please ensure that you back up only essential data.  You can do this by making sure you backup only those exact files that you wish to back up.

You should also ensure that scheduled backups do not run over VPN, as these by default attempt to back up your whole machine.  You can do this by removing your scheduled backup slot.

Backup over VPN is much slower than over the wired network or eduroam.  Additionally, there is currently extra load both on broadband providers and on the University VPN service.

To ensure fair use of our service, we cut off backups that are either extremely slow or that last over ten hours.  To minimise the likelihood of a cut-off and to reduce load on the HFS and VPN, please do not select your whole machine for backup, but instead send us only those files which you need to back up.  For details on how to do this see 3. I've moved my machine home. Can I still back up?.

As mentioned above (see 1. I'm working from home using remote desktop, has anything changed?), if your machine has been left on at work, then scheduled backups should run as normal.  Do note however that after a lockout, there is a chance that your TSM/Spectrum Protect client scheduler may crash, resulting in scheduled backups being missed until it is restarted.  For further information please see our Knowledgebase item KBGEN0009.

If your machine is at home, left on, and has VPN running at the allotted time, then a scheduled backup will run from home.  However, it will probably not complete, for the reasons mentioned in the previous section.  A scheduled backup will try to back up all of your machine and any attached drives by default, and therefore will be slow and will get cut off.  To minimise unnecessary use of the HFS during this time, we ask that if you have a desktop / laptop account then you remove your scheduled backup slot.  For how to do this please see our page on removing a backup schedule.

We normally delete copies of drives that have not been backed up for over 90 days, in line with our policy in our page on deleting old backups.  However, as of the week beginning 13th April, we have now paused this process for all desktop / laptop accounts.  For details on how to check your type of account see 3. I've moved my machine home, can I still back up?

Contacts for desktop/laptop accounts will therefore no longer receive warnings about their data being old, although other mails will continue (such as warnings about accounts being empty or backup schedules not running).  Desktop / laptop account data will still be deleted if an account is deregistered by the owner.

If you have a backup account of a different type and receive a warning pertaining to data that you wish us to keep, please contact us at hfs@ox.ac.uk so that we can retain your data for you.

In cases where your machine can only access the HFS Backup service over VPN and the bandwidth restrictions are preventing you from completing a backup of a large amount of valuable data, then we would cautiously sanction the use of OneDrive as an offsite store.

Be aware, however, that Microsoft is careful to describe OneDrive as a File Sync and Share service not as a backup solution.  The distinction may be subtle, but remember that changes to a file or document in the cloud will be propagated back down to your local device, as well as the more intuitive syncing of changes from local device up to the cloud copy.  There are other distinctions that make, for example, restoring files from deleted folders and point-in-time restores challenging.

Be aware also that there is a 5TB limit per user for OneDrive storage.

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