Add a Try & Decide Feature


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phrab
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I've been using Reflect for almost a year & love it.  Previously, I used Acronis True Image.  They had one feature that was extremely invaluable, which they called "Try & Decide".

You could start this feature & then do anything to your registry, install & try new software, etc., even if you had to reboot several times.  When you were done experimenting, & you closed "Try & Decide", you had the option of "Accepting all changes", "Accepting all Changes with a reboot", or "Rejecting all changes" (which required a reboot).

This was much faster & easier than doing an incremental backup & then having to do a restore if you didn't like what you did.


Phil
Windows 10 Pro
Windows XP- SP-3

jphughan
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I've never worked with Acronis, but to my knowledge it doesn't have an equivalent to Reflect's Rapid Delta Restore feature.  When that mechanism is used, a restore from a recent backup only takes 2-5 minutes since Reflect doesn't have to restore the entire partition.  The time to capture the "fallback" Incremental before you make your changes of course depends on how recently the backup before that was captured, but I've gone months between backups and the Incrementals for my "OS partitions" job still normally occur in less than 10 minutes since I have all of my data on a separate partition that I back up separately.

If you've already tried Rapid Delta Restore and still feel that it takes significantly longer than this Acronis feature, then fair enough.  But if you HAVEN'T tried RDR yet, I would encourage you to do so.  I personally would probably avoid this feature if it were implemented simply because it would presumably require some sort of very pervasive driver to monitor everything that changed after you started this "Try & Decide" phase, and I would probably prefer to simply capture a regular backup and restore it if needed rather than add something like that to my system.  But of course it could be implemented as an optional component.

Edited 22 February 2018 6:06 PM by jphughan
phrab
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jphughan - 22 February 2018 6:03 PM
I've never worked with Acronis, but to my knowledge it doesn't have an equivalent to Reflect's Rapid Delta Restore feature.  When that mechanism is used, a restore from a recent backup only takes 2-5 minutes since Reflect doesn't have to restore the entire partition.  The time to capture the "fallback" Incremental before you make your changes of course depends on how recently the backup before that was captured, but I've gone months between backups and the Incrementals for my "OS partitions" job still normally occur in less than 10 minutes since I have all of my data on a separate partition that I back up separately.

If you've already tried Rapid Delta Restore and still feel that it takes significantly longer than this Acronis feature, then fair enough.  But if you HAVEN'T tried RDR yet, I would encourage you to do so.  I personally would probably avoid this feature if it were implemented simply because it would presumably require some sort of very pervasive driver to monitor everything that changed after you started this "Try & Decide" phase, and I would probably prefer to simply capture a regular backup and restore it if needed rather than add something like that to my system.  But of course it could be implemented as an optional component.




Phil
Windows 10 Pro
Windows XP- SP-3

phrab
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Thank you for your quick reply
jphughan - 22 February 2018 6:03 PM
I've never worked with Acronis, but to my knowledge it doesn't have an equivalent to Reflect's Rapid Delta Restore feature.  When that mechanism is used, a restore from a recent backup only takes 2-5 minutes since Reflect doesn't have to restore the entire partition.  The time to capture the "fallback" Incremental before you make your changes of course depends on how recently the backup before that was captured, but I've gone months between backups and the Incrementals for my "OS partitions" job still normally occur in less than 10 minutes since I have all of my data on a separate partition that I back up separately.

If you've already tried Rapid Delta Restore and still feel that it takes significantly longer than this Acronis feature, then fair enough.  But if you HAVEN'T tried RDR yet, I would encourage you to do so.  I personally would probably avoid this feature if it were implemented simply because it would presumably require some sort of very pervasive driver to monitor everything that changed after you started this "Try & Decide" phase, and I would probably prefer to simply capture a regular backup and restore it if needed rather than add something like that to my system.  But of course it could be implemented as an optional component.

As usual, thank you for this information.  I'll give RDR a try, as I haven't used it.  However, if you have to create an incremental just before you experiment with something new, it might be more onerous.  With T&D, it starts within 20-30 seconds.  Depending upon how many changes you want to reject, it usually takes only a few extra minutes added to your normal reboot & you don't have to make any extra backups.

For example, suppose you want to try out 4 different Windows Explorer replacements.  You can start T&D, download & install the first one, play with it, & it'll take an extra 5 minutes to reboot when you reject it.  Then you can repeat the process for the next software.  I've also used it for my Windows XP machine, when installing updates, as sometimes the update breaks something.  I can install a couple at a time, test it, & then accept the changes.  I can repeat the process without making a backup.

Also, since I follow your "best practices" post from a long time ago, I retain only 7 incrementals (using synthetic fulls) on each of my 2 external drives.  I wouldn't want to use 4 of them in one day, but maybe I don't understand how RDR works.

Phil
Windows 10 Pro
Windows XP- SP-3

jphughan
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Rapid Delta Restore works by analyzing the image you wish to restore, comparing it to the current contents of the target partition, and then restoring only the blocks that have changed on the target since the time you captured the backup you wish to restore.  Think of it as "Incremental Restore" or a big Undo button.  With most imaging solutions, restoring a partition means the target partition is deleted first, and then the entire partition is restored from the backup onto the target disk, which of course usually takes a lot longer.  But Rapid Delta Restore doesn't change the fact that you do still need to create a backup in the first place prior to making the changes you may wish to roll back, so that you can select that backup during the restore process.

In terms of addressing the retention policy concern and "using up" too many Incrementals for "rollback snapshots" like this, what I'm about to suggest certainly wouldn't be as convenient as purpose-built functionality like Try & Decide, but in case you would find it useful, here's an idea.  Right-click your existing definition file and select Duplicate.  Edit the new copy to remove any schedule entries, and then uncheck all of the retention policy options.  Then when you want to create a "rollback snapshot", manually run an Incremental backup using THAT definition file.  Because the retention policy is disabled on that definition file, you'll simply get an extra Incremental in your set, without losing any of your previous Incrementals.  You could even have this extra definition file include a comment like "This is a rollback snapshot" in the backup files it creates in order to easily identify those later.  Once you're confident you won't need to roll back whatever changes you made, you can delete those "rollback" Incrementals.  The risk/limitation to this strategy is that while you have these "rollback" Incrementals in your set, you won't want your NORMAL definition file to run, because if it does, then the retention policy in that file WILL consolidate however many old backups are necessary to bring your total Incremental count back down to 7.  Additionally, that new "regular" Incremental will be built from your rollback Incrementals, which means you won't be able to just delete the rollbacks anymore unless you were also willing to delete the normal backup.  So basically, you'd have to delete any rollbacks before running a regular backup again.  The alternative would be to create an entirely separate Full backup somewhere else dedicated to having rollback Incrementals built from it so that your regular backups were never affected, but that of course requires more storage.  Unfortunately it isn't possible to create separate "branches" of Incrementals, i.e. multiple sets of Incrementals that are built from a common Full but that are independent of each other.  However, that could easily become confusing to most users, and it would be impossible to do in a Synthetic Full strategy anyway.

Granted, neither of those strategies is ideal for your use case.  But thinking about this a bit more (and to give you some recent Reflect history), it occurred to me while writing this that Reflect already has its CBT feature that records all changes that on a partition. Theoretically, if Macrium were to allow CBT "checkpoints" and then use copy-on-write functionality (which is what VSS does) so that CBT retained the actual original data from changed blocks rather than just maintaining a list of blocks that had changed, this Try & Decide functionality could be achieved. However, when Macrium first discussed CBT, their plan was to allow the CBT "log" to persist across reboots, and purge only if it detected that the partition had been mounted through some other means (e.g. some other bootable environments) between OS sessions.  Macrium believed they had a fully reliable way to detect that.  But several users here, myself included, told them that this idea made them uneasy; they (we) were worried about image integrity in case the partition HAD somehow been modified while CBT wasn't active and CBT didn't correctly detect that and purge its log. This is why the KB article for CBT reads, "Through discussions with our customers and after careful consideration, we decided to remove the functionality from MRCBT that allowed it to detect whether a volume had been mounted outside the current Windows session (i.e. USB flash drives and dual-boot systems) and instead, focus solely on optimizing MRCBT to reduce incremental backups times in the current Windows session. This decision enables us to provide one of the most robust Changed Block Tracking solutions available to date."  Based on that, my guess is that even if Macrium were to implement a feature like this, they would deliberately NOT allow this type of tracking to persist across reboots.  Unfortunately, given that registry changes and application/driver installations are probably the most common use case for a feature like this, and all of those often require restarts, that would limit the utility of such a feature.  The Reflect user base already basically told Macrium that they wanted image integrity (and therefore restore reliability) prioritized over faster backups with CBT, so I suspect that would be the same feedback they would get with something like this.  Acronis has obviously taken a different approach, and for all I know it's completely bulletproof.  As I said, I've never tested it, but on the other hand I do see several users here posting that they came to Reflect from Acronis and consider Reflect easier to use, more reliable, and less "bloated".

Edited 22 February 2018 7:05 PM by jphughan
phrab
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Thank you again, jphughan, for all your detailed information in your post of 22 February 2018 11:01 AM.  I tried RDR on my WinXP machine (CBT won't work on WinXP) & thought I'd let you know my results.
1.  I created an incremental, which only took a couple minutes.
2.  Then I added & deleted 2 different files.
3.  I have a KVM switch that allows me to switch my single keyboard & mouse between my WinXP & Win10.  However, Reflect's restore operation requires that I reboot using the rescue disk.  Unfortunately, my WinXP machine won't recognize my keyboard that's plugged into the KVM switch when it reboots.  Since I can't reboot from the rescue disk without pressing "any key", that means I have to unplug from the KVM, plug into the back of the computer, insert the rescue disk, & reboot...using the RDR under advanced options.  Crawling under my desk & doing all this with a tangle of wires added about 4-5 minutes.Crying
4.  The actual restore took less than a couple of minutes + a couple of minutes to reboot.
5.  Then I had to crawl under the desk again to unplug the keyboard.

While I'm impressed with Reflect's features, the RDR isn't efficient for me on WinXP, mostly because of the extra work that I have to do.  Still, I really appreciate the detailed information that you've given me.




Phil
Windows 10 Pro
Windows XP- SP-3

jphughan
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If the keyboard at that prompt is the only issue, then just build Rescue Media that doesn't require you to "press any key" by unchecking the prompt option as shown below.  You could also enable the boot menu recovery option so that in most cases you can access the Rescue environment without having to boot from Rescue Media at all.  Then you'd only need "external" Rescue Media when there's some problem that has rendered your internal hard drive unbootable or has damaged the Rescue Media files stored on it, e.g. a restore that failed, a brand new empty hard drive, etc.



Edited 27 February 2018 4:38 AM by jphughan
phrab
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Thank you again.  It's really amazing how much you know about Reflect.  I created a new rescue disk with the options shown above & I didn't have to crawl under my desk at all.Smile  It booted into WindowsPE without being prompted.  And once it did, my keyboard worked.  I didn't do a backup or restore, however.

I did have 2 issues:
1) It said that it couldn't find drivers for both the Network controller & Ethernet controller.  I had it scan my entire C drive, but it said that "driver load failed" on both device.  I'm not sure how to correct this, as it said something about not being able to backup.  Did I get that message because I ticked "Check for unsupported devices each time the Rescue media loads"?
2) When I exited Reflect by choosing File/Exit, it again booted into the WindowsPE.  I guess the procedure is to exit & then immediately take the Rescue disk out.

Thank you again!!


Phil
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Windows XP- SP-3

jphughan
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Happy to help!  I've worked with various backup applications over the years and work in IT in general, so that overall knowledge definitely helps understand Reflect. Smile

Yes, checking for unsupported devices at each boot would cause that message.  In terms of why the wizard didn't find them when you built the Rescue Media, the earliest version of WinPE that Reflect supports for Rescue Media is 3.1, which is based on the Windows 7 kernel.  When the WinPE kernel you build your Rescue Media with matches the kernel of the "real" Windows version you're running, Reflect can copy drivers from the host OS into Rescue Media build -- but you're running XP, so the drivers your system is using may not be compatible with the Windows 7 kernel.  Therefore if you need Ethernet in the Rescue Media environment, you'd have to download and manually supply a Windows 7 version of the appropriate Ethernet driver for your PC.  Since that dialog box listed both Ethernet and network controllers separately, the latter is probably your WiFi adapter, and no version of WinPE actually supports WiFi, so you can ignore that.  Reflect actually does automatically copy WiFi drivers into Rescue Media build when possible, I presume just to suppress that error message, but WiFi doesn't work in WinPE even when drivers are provided.  If on the other hand you don't need any network connectivity at all in the Rescue environment, you don't have to bother with these drivers at all and can just skip past that message.

Yes, one downside of having the "Press any key" prompt is that your system will automatically load the Rescue environment if your boot order has your Rescue Media device (USB or disc) ranked higher than your internal hard drive.  But you don't have to wait until you shut down and then quickly take the Rescue media out.  The entire Rescue Media environment actually loads into RAM, so once you see Reflect running, you can actually remove the Rescue Media disc/flash drive because it won't be needed anymore.  In fact, that's why it's possible to use the boot menu recovery option, which loads the Rescue environment from files on your hard drive, and then completely wipe the hard drive you just loaded from.  Normally that wouldn't be possible.

Edited 27 February 2018 5:37 AM by jphughan
phrab
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jphughan - 27 February 2018 5:36 AM
Happy to help!  I've worked with various backup applications over the years and work in IT in general, so that overall knowledge definitely helps understand Reflect. Smile

Yes, checking for unsupported devices at each boot would cause that message.  In terms of why the wizard didn't find them when you built the Rescue Media, the earliest version of WinPE that Reflect supports for Rescue Media is 3.1, which is based on the Windows 7 kernel.  When the WinPE kernel you build your Rescue Media with matches the kernel of the "real" Windows version you're running, Reflect can copy drivers from the host OS into Rescue Media build -- but you're running XP, so the drivers your system is using may not be compatible with the Windows 7 kernel.  Therefore if you need Ethernet in the Rescue Media environment, you'd have to download and manually supply a Windows 7 version of the appropriate Ethernet driver for your PC.  Since that dialog box listed both Ethernet and network controllers separately, the latter is probably your WiFi adapter, and no version of WinPE actually supports WiFi, so you can ignore that.  Reflect actually does automatically copy WiFi drivers into Rescue Media build when possible, I presume just to suppress that error message, but WiFi doesn't work in WinPE even when drivers are provided.  If on the other hand you don't need any network connectivity at all in the Rescue environment, you don't have to bother with these drivers at all and can just skip past that message.

Yes, one downside of having the "Press any key" prompt is that your system will automatically load the Rescue environment if your boot order has your Rescue Media device (USB or disc) ranked higher than your internal hard drive.  But you don't have to wait until you shut down and then quickly take the Rescue media out.  The entire Rescue Media environment actually loads into RAM, so once you see Reflect running, you can actually remove the Rescue Media device at that point if you want because it won't be needed anymore.  That's actually why it's possible to use the boot menu recovery option, which loads the Rescue environment from files on your hard drive, and then completely wipe the hard drive you just loaded from.  Normally that wouldn't be possible.

Thank you for sharing your knowledge!  I think I'll redo the rescue disk & skip the option to check for unsupported devices.  All my backups are on external drives, so I won't need them as far as I know.

Phil
Windows 10 Pro
Windows XP- SP-3

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