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Using a USB Hard Drive to Create a Removable WHS Backup System


If you’re like most people, you have probably got a few documents on one or more of your computers and / or laptops around the house that are most likely be very important.  Making scanned copies of important paper documents is also a good idea, ensuring that you keep the scanned documents in one central location where they can be found easily and backed up.

WHS backup driveOne of the great benefits of having a Windows Home Server at home is the client backups that can be configured to back up each PC or Laptop to the Home Server automatically.  While this is an essential practice to keep your machines easily recoverable if there is a hardware failure or if you need to rebuild the system for any reason, here are some steps that you could take to keep your data even more secure…

If you use your WHS to store your data on a “home” directory (a folder that only you have access to, giving you privacy) you not only get the benefits of being able to access that data from any computer in the house (or even the world with WHS Remote Access configured), you also can easily save those files when doing an actual Server backup as opposed to a client (PC / Laptop) backup.   The goal here is to keep your data safe; even if it is located in a central location like Windows Home Server, you still need to ensure that your WHS Backup System includes the ability to back up to some kind of remote location either online or via removable media.

While there is more than one great online WHS Backup Service that is built specifically for backing up your Windows Home Server online,  most, if not all come with a monthly charge.  So if you are looking to save your money for that upcoming Android tablet you have your eye on, the cheapest method to back up your WHS and be able to store that data outside of your home is to add USB hard Drive to act as a removable WHS backup drive.

Getting Started

Plug the USB Hard Drive into your Windows Home Server.  The drive will appear in your Windows Home Server Console as shown:


Right click on the USB Drive and click Add:


When the “Add a Hard Drive” wizard starts, read up on the process and click Next>

On this next window, you will be given the chance to choose to add the drive to your Server Storage or to “Use this hard drive to back up files that are stored on your home server”. For the purposes of this  example, you will want to go with the latter:


After clicking next, you are given a chance to either keep the contents that are on the drive or to wipe it clean (format it).  The choice is yours, but if this is your first time using the drive with your WHS and you plan to keep on using the drive as your “remote backup”, then go ahead and format the drive by clicking Next>


Pick a name for your backup drive and be sure to follow the advice given in the Tip: Be sure to label that drive!

After clicking Next> one more time, you are ready to finish off the wizard by clicking Finish.  If you chose to Format your drive, it will do so at this time.


Voila!  You are Finished!


Wait…Back up!

Now that you are ready to back up your server, you might as well get to it!  (Trust me, you just never know when things could go south)

Click on the Computers & Backup tab on your Windows Home Server Console, right click on your WHS and select Backup Now.

In the window that appears, select the folders that you would like to back up.  Remember, this is probably something you want to use for documents, pictures, etc. as its purpose is to give you the ability to take your most precious documents and files out of the home or put in a fire safe. You most likely will have way too much data to back up all of your movies and data to this particular USB Drive, but again that will be a judgment call for you.

After you have selected the folders you want backed up to your USB Hard Drive, go ahead and click Backup Now.


Obviously the amount of time the backup takes will be determined by how much data you need backed up.  Sit back and let it do its thing and then take that drive and store it away from home if at all possible and at the very least, in a fire safe.  To be able to remove the drive, you have to go through a couple of steps:

Clicking back onto the Server Storage tab on your Windows Home Server Console, you’ll still see the USB drive listed under Server Backup Hard Drives:


Right-click the USB Drive and click Remove.  You will be greeted with a pop up window asking you if you just want to “Temporarily remove it from my home server” or if you are going to permanently “Stop using it for server backups”. In this case, we will be selecting the default Temporary removal.

After a few moments, you’ll see the drive shift back up to the “”Non Storage Hard Drives” where it can be unplugged from the server.


A really important thing to realize about backing up files directly from the server as opposed to depending on just your client backups is the fact that the data is able to be accessed from any PC you plug the USB drive into.  The client backups require that you restore the entire image to the PC before you can access your data.  This will make life much easier if you have a serious system crash or worse!

Using the WHS Server Backup to a USB Hard Drive gives quick and reliable access to your data if you suffer some kind of catastrophe at home.  This not only ensures that you didn’t lose irreplaceable documents or pictures permanently, but also will let you get at that data quickly.  Having gone through a fire in which I literally lost everything, it would have been great to have had a Windows Home Server backing up my most prized pictures, sadly it was just a year or two before the birth of WHS.

Heed my advice, backup your stuff!


About the Author

Tom AbellPut simply, Tom loves technology! Having been involved in the IT world since leaving the US Navy Submarine Force in 1992, Tom has moved his way up to the top as an IT Systems Engineering. But having spent some time in the Home Automation industry early in his career, he’s never been able to shake his love for creating integrated Home Technology environments and has been running HTPCs and Windows Home Servers for years. With 17 years of IT Systems Engineering experience, Tom's recent OIF 08-09 deployment has rekindled his love for the Connected Home Industry and hence, the website. We hope you like the site, please share it with your friends and follow us on your favorite Social Networks! Read more about Tom on the "About Us" page.View all posts by Tom Abell

  1. John Zajdler
    John Zajdler04-03-2011

    This is a bit misleading, the main graphic is WHS2011 which is WHS version 2, but the Console screen captures are for WHS version 1.

    Thanks for the rightup, anyway.

  2. Scott Kingery
    Scott Kingery04-04-2011

    So you've followed all of the above and now have this detachable USB drive. Are the files on the USB drive accessible using another windows machine? I mean, can I now take it to my laptop and get files off of it? Or is it in some backup-type file that you need other software to get at the files?

  3. byronomo

    Is there anyway to easily automate the server backups along with your client backups?

  4. Florisz

    Great tutorial!
    Now I have 2 USB drives. Each month I make an backup at either disk and swap the drives and leave the new backup at my parents home in the save.
    I named the 2 usb drives different. Both have enough space to do a full backup. WHS v1 does an incremental update since I did the first backups on both disks a long time ago.
    Now I wonder if what I do gives a complete backup?
    WHS v1 must register somewhere what is backuped and what is not. Or not?
    Now this might look a bit complicated, but I will try to explain what I mean.
    Say I do a backup on disk 1 this month. In the coming month I add 300 files to WHS. I do the backup on disk 2.(since I swapped after the backup on disk 1). Then I add 200 files to WHS in the next month. When I do the backup to disk 1 on the end of the month will it backup the 300 files, that are backuped to disk 2, also to disk 1?

    Thanks in advance

  5. Tim Kemperle
    Tim Kemperle04-08-2011

    Since the files would be visible in any system would this be a good way to transfer over the files to a new WHS 2011? The only issue would be my video files which are over 3TB…how would I transfer these with a2Tb USB drive?


  6. Aaron

    When doing a server backup, does it backup everything exactly? I have like 4TB on my server, and half of it is just folder duplication. Does the server backup option just back up the original files, or does it copy all of the folder duplication files too? If it does the dupes as well, I can't really do it then since I can't afford to buy a HUGE drive to hold it all. Imagine somebody with a custom built rackmount with 20+ drives all 2TB each!

  7. ITBeast

    Man, I wish I had known about this little trick when I first started using WHS back in 2009. It would have made my life so much simpler in backing up my files and trying to find a alternate backup solution. I will diffently setting this up in the next couple of Days.

  8. ITBeast

    Hey Tom, I went ahead and tried the built in method in Windows Home Server (WHS) V1 out this weekend and it worked exactly like you said it would. However, I was looking for something that would be more automated along with being able to do incremental backups similar to what WHS does for backing up your PC's, WHS V1 has those options grayed out. I decided to use instead a 3rd party backup solution instead called Second Copy ( After trying the WHS V1 built in option I remembered that Second Copy did the same thing (Being able to make backups to an External Source and being able read it on another PC afterwards) and it also meet my requirements for the type of backups I was looking to do. Since I believe WHS 2011 (V2) has this capability now built in I would not use Second Copy for that plus Second Copy has limited 64 bit support, but for WHS V1 owners this is perfect alternative, It’s a free to try and $29.95 to buy. I still think the WHS V1 built-in server backup is a perfect solution for making a Disaster Recovery of your Files in case the worst happens but is not ideal for the day to day backup strategy.

  9. Jan

    Hi Tom,

    How about backup up the clientbackup data. Can I export the daily client backup file to the external storage? I mean I got my foto's and family movies in the shares folders so that's no problem the way you discibe it.. For the data on my client pc that is backuped daily, I'm not sure if I can get those on the external drive. (especialy the documents and folders)

  10. shawn z
    shawn z08-02-2011

    Often users wonder how to backup files to a USB hard drive. This is an issue because some drives do not contain software to do the job. Microsoft released a tool called “ROBOCOPY” in Windows Vista, and 2008 Server that does a good job of synchronizing drives.
    For Pre-Vista Computers
    XCOPY use to be the tool of choice, but when encountering path and file names greater than 255 characters, XCOPY will generate an out of memory error and exit. If you are using a Windows XP or 2003 Server computer, ROBOCOPY can be downloaded from Microsoft in the “Windows Server 2003 Resource Kit Tools” located at:
    Once you have downloaded and installed the resource kit tools, search for “ROBOCOPY*.*” and copy it to “C:WindowsSystem32”. This will make the program available anywhere.
    Creating the Backup Script
    On the backup drive, we will create a one line batch file that contains the backup command. This batch file should be located on the backup drive. We want it here so that no matter what letter the drive is assigned, the backups will run.
    Using “Note Pad”, we will create a file called “Backup.BAT” and save it to your backup drive. The file should contain the following command:
    ROBOCOPY c: .Backup /e /w:1 /r:1
    This will back up the whole hard drive to a folder called “Backup” where ever the “Backup.BAT” file is located: on the backup drive.
    How it Works
    ROBOCOPY will only copy the changed files, skipping a majority of the files that have not changed. If a file is in use or cannot be copied, ROBOCOPY will nicely skip the file and move on. This ensures that the backup will be completed to the best of the computer’s ability.
    If you have Outlook or QuickBooks on your computer, you will want to make sure that those programs are closed before doing a back. If you leave these programs open, the backup will skip their important data files.

    Shawn Zernik
    Internetwork Consulting

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