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Is it really an incremental System Image Backup that the Windows 7 version of Windows Backup has created?

    Question

  • Usually, I store my Windows 7 Backup Files on a large internal disk that i reserve more or less for Backups.

    From time to time, I also create additional copies on external USB disks that I store safely/remotely in the safe of my bank.

    For backing up my files/folders, I select the "Let Window choose (recommended)" option (Windows Backup will then include in the Backup a System image). 

    I observed that when changing the destination of my file/folder backups from the internal disk to the external disk (and vice versa), Windows Backup always created on the new destination  a new Full Backup and a new Backup Set for my File/Folder backups (even though a previous Backup set was already existing on that destination).

    But..... When clicking on "Create A system Image" in the left pane of the Backup And Restore Control panel, to create a System Image Backup of my C partition, and when changing the backup destination from the internal disk to the external disk (or vice versa), things become more complex and I am not sure what is really happening.
      a) On one side, when changing the backup destination, the Backup process takes long time and I have therefore the (right? or wrong?) impression that Windows Backup is creating a Full Backup of the C partition.

      b) On the other side, after completion of the Backup,  I see in the "WindowsImageBackup" Folder  of the destination disk only one single subfolder named "Backup YYYY.MM.DD hhmmss" and within that subfolder, I see only one .vhd File for my C partition. The  size of this .vhd  file is not much larger then the size of a .vhd file that contains only a single Full Backup of my C Partition plus some Incremental backups. 
    When starting a little bit later the "Windows Recovery Environment", I can see that it is aware of multiple System Image Backups stored on that Disk. This seems to indicate, that the resulting .vhd File is conceptually someting like "a Full Backup plus a couple of incremental Backup".

    Can you please tell me which one of my observations are correct:
      1) For "Folder/File" backups, when changing the Backup Destination, Windows Backup will always create a Full Backup and a new Backup set
      2) For "System Image" backups, when changing the Backup Destination, Windows Backup will (usually) create a .vhd file that is comparable-to in size to (or which is) a .vhd file consisting of one Full Backup and multiple incremental backups.
    For me this would be a "great news" because I am concerned about the disk space required to store my Backups.
    ...But: does this .vhd file really contain both a Full backup and multiple incremental backups? Or did I got fooled by W7 (for example, because W7 "hides" somewhere on my disk additional .vhd files that I do not see)?

    Thanks a lot for your answers.
    Robert Eckerlin   

    Note: I am using Windows 7 Ultimate, 64 Bit, German Language version 
    Tuesday, January 26, 2010 3:55 PM

Answers

  • Hi there,

    1. Microsoft states that the backup function was designed as first backup always full and subsequent backups are always incremental. http://social.technet.microsoft.com/Forums/en-US/w7itproperf/thread/a413ba37-2cde-4e4f-b23b-e5adab4c8b2d
    When you change the backup destination, the backup wizard will let you chose backup items again and that would make the system believe this is a new Backup Plan.

    2. Windows 7 use vhd file for image back and support attach vhd file directly (it’s a great feature). As you have noticed, the folder with name "Backup YYYY.MM.DD hhmmss" is one copy of your image back (full backup with one vhd file). Not sure how can you find several image backup restore info in WinRE, did you use this external drive for image backup for another computer (or save image backup to different partitions)? When you try to run image backup to the same drive for second time, you may receive a warning “Any exiting system images for this machine might be overwriteen.”
    http://cid-9c88b7cb6fa32a48.skydrive.live.com/self.aspx/.Public/2010-01-27-ImageBackup.png

    Actually, older data will be moved to the shadow copy storage area if it’s available (NTFS formatted internal or external hard disks supports Volume Shadow Copy), Network share and optical media, on the other hand, do not support shadow copy. Therefore only one system image per computer can be stored at a time (as the .vhd file). Any newer backup created will replace the older backup. For additional information on system image backup,

    Learn more about system image backup
    http://blogs.technet.com/filecab/archive/2009/10/31/learn-more-about-system-image-backup.aspx

    PS: If you want to save multi-version of image backup, Keep in mind that you can always rename the previous backup directory so the backup function will create another one (use computer name). 

    • Marked as answer by Eckerlin Wednesday, January 27, 2010 11:52 AM
    Wednesday, January 27, 2010 7:17 AM
  • Hi,

    I am glad this post is helpful.

    1. X:\WindowsImageBackup\Robert-PC\Backup YYYY-MM-DD hhmmss\ is the correct tree folder for image backup. Since backup use computer name as folder name, you can just rename the "Robert-PC" folder (e.g. Robert-PC-2010-1-27).
    2. No need to rename the image backup folder back before restore the system, you can still find it in WinRE
    3. Vssadmin is a powerful command you can use to check shadow copy writers and providers, you can refer to:
    http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/cc754968%28WS.10%29.aspx

    4. Personally, I would agree the backup will "storing older data/blocks in the .vhd file" because a. Windows 7 Inside Out is an Office book published by Microsoft Press b. I love Windows Inside Out series since they explain the Windows OS quite clearly. 

    In my test, the second image backup (do not rename the backup folder) is much faster and there are only one copy of vhd file in the new backup folder (old backup time stamp folder was deleted). But I can find two backup states in WinRE. This is reasonable if we assume it’s running an incremental backup (storing older data/blocks) within the vhd file.

    PS: You can attach vhd files in diskmgmt.msc and restore files/folders at any time

    • Marked as answer by Eckerlin Thursday, January 28, 2010 7:13 AM
    Thursday, January 28, 2010 7:04 AM
  • Hi,

    In my test machine (PC name:7-XP), if I rename the image backup folder from X:\WindowsImageBackup\7-XP to “X:\WindowsImageBackup\7-XP-Backup” and run image backup again, I can find both of them in WinRE.
    http://cid-9c88b7cb6fa32a48.skydrive.live.com/self.aspx/.Public/XP-7-backup1.png

    As a further test, I rename the new created “X:\WindowsImageBackup\7-XP” folder to “X:\WindowsImageBackup\Robert-PC  at 2010 12 24” and check it in WinRE. And I can still find them in my test machine.
    http://cid-9c88b7cb6fa32a48.skydrive.live.com/self.aspx/.Public/XP-7-backup2.png

    I believe the System Image Backups stored within  “X:\WindowsImageBackup\”  are safe, my test machine is a clean install Windows 7 and does not have any backup issue now.

    • Marked as answer by Eckerlin Friday, January 29, 2010 8:11 AM
    Friday, January 29, 2010 1:46 AM

All replies

  • Hi there,

    1. Microsoft states that the backup function was designed as first backup always full and subsequent backups are always incremental. http://social.technet.microsoft.com/Forums/en-US/w7itproperf/thread/a413ba37-2cde-4e4f-b23b-e5adab4c8b2d
    When you change the backup destination, the backup wizard will let you chose backup items again and that would make the system believe this is a new Backup Plan.

    2. Windows 7 use vhd file for image back and support attach vhd file directly (it’s a great feature). As you have noticed, the folder with name "Backup YYYY.MM.DD hhmmss" is one copy of your image back (full backup with one vhd file). Not sure how can you find several image backup restore info in WinRE, did you use this external drive for image backup for another computer (or save image backup to different partitions)? When you try to run image backup to the same drive for second time, you may receive a warning “Any exiting system images for this machine might be overwriteen.”
    http://cid-9c88b7cb6fa32a48.skydrive.live.com/self.aspx/.Public/2010-01-27-ImageBackup.png

    Actually, older data will be moved to the shadow copy storage area if it’s available (NTFS formatted internal or external hard disks supports Volume Shadow Copy), Network share and optical media, on the other hand, do not support shadow copy. Therefore only one system image per computer can be stored at a time (as the .vhd file). Any newer backup created will replace the older backup. For additional information on system image backup,

    Learn more about system image backup
    http://blogs.technet.com/filecab/archive/2009/10/31/learn-more-about-system-image-backup.aspx

    PS: If you want to save multi-version of image backup, Keep in mind that you can always rename the previous backup directory so the backup function will create another one (use computer name). 

    • Marked as answer by Eckerlin Wednesday, January 27, 2010 11:52 AM
    Wednesday, January 27, 2010 7:17 AM
  • Gordon

    Thank You very much for your very useful answer.

    In your post you wrote among other: "Not sure how can you find several image backup restore info in WinRE, did you use this external drive for image backup for another computer (or save image backup to different partitions)? "

    a) I have never performed a Windows 7 (or a Windows Vista) backup of another PC on my internal X: drive (My only other PC is a Laptop running under Windows XP Professional).

    b) I have effectively created for my W7 PC,  with Windows Backup,  "System Image" Backups on other disks than my X: disk. But the backup-dates/times that WindowsRE showed me are date/times of backups that I created /stored  on my internal :X drive.

    I do not belong to those who have knowledge of how Windows internally works. But, i have the impression that WinRE obtained this information either
    - from the "shadow copy storage area" that you mentioned
    - or from incremental backups stored together with the Full Backup within the .vhd file (can one .vhd file really contain, as I was assuming until now, one Full Backup and multiple incremental backups?)

    Thank you again for your answer, which helped me.
    Robert Eckerlin
    Wednesday, January 27, 2010 1:40 PM
  •  

    Gordon

    Your answer has been of a tremendous value for me. I am starting to read the Webpages that you have pointed-to for me and they help me to get a much better picture. Thanks to these readings, I (believe to) understand now that a  .vhd file does not contain (as I was assuming previously) both a Full Backup copy and Incremental Copies; but that it contains "only" the "current" content of the source (and that previous images of the changed blocks are in the shadow copy area.

    This is not just "theoretical" knowledge. But this is knowledge that can be extremely important for the user. To explain it: I was until now assuming, that my .vhd file was containing both the current and all previous states at the times of the Full/Incremental Backups. I was therefore assuming that as long as I did not delete my .vhd file, I would be able to restore my C: partition to the time of any of the previous Backup Runs that are "described" in the .vhd file.. ....Not true at all!. Instead, I will only be able to restore my C: partition to those states that are still stored/recorded in the shadow copy area (and to the one state "described" in the .vhd file). This is for me a huge difference and I have to adapt my plans. It is thanks to You, that I learned that sufficiently early.

    Something very useful for me was also your following explanations "PS: If you want to save multi-version of image backup, Keep in mind that you can always rename the previous backup directory so the backup function will create another one (use computer name).".

    May I please ask you the following questions on this subject:
     
    1) on my internal X: disk used to store my backups, I have the following folder structure:
          X:\WindowsImageBackup\Robert-PC\Backup YYYY-MM-DD hhmmss\   where various .xml and .vd Files are stored
        Is it which level of the above 3-level structure, that I can rename (e.g. is it "Backup YYYY-MM-DD hhmmss" that is shall rename?, or "Robert-PC"?, or "WindowsImageBackup"?)

    2)  Once I have done the rename: will WinRe and the "system repair disc" still be able to find the .vhd file located in the renamed folder and will they still be able to restore from the image contained in that .vhd file? Or, before using WinRe and the "system repair disc", must I "rename back" the folder?

    3) Finally: is there a tool/program that allows me to see how much space is still available within the "shadow copy storage", in order to estimate how soon Windows will begin to delete previous states that are stored there?

    A lot of thanks.
    Robert Eckerlin


    Another detail: it is thanks to the documents that you pointed to my attention, that I now know, that I should not try to use on my Windows XP PC those external USB disks that contain "shadow copy storage" of my Windows 7 PC (in order to avoid to lose the content of the "shadow copy storage").
    Wednesday, January 27, 2010 3:38 PM
  • Gordon

    Can I please come back to the following description: "Actually, older data will be moved to the shadow copy storage area if it’s available..." ?

    I am now rereading Chapter 11 "Backup Restore and Recovery" of the book "Windows 7 Inside Out". At the top of page 386, the book tells the following in the section "Creating a System Image Backup": "The older blocks are stored as shadow copies in the .vhd file, allowing you to restore any previous version".

    Is it clear which one of the two descriptions is correct: is the "old data" stored in the vhd File? Or in the shadow copy storage area?

    "Storing older data to the shadow copy storage area" and "storing older data/blocks in the .vhd file"  have different implications for the PC user and for the way he devises his backup implementation. If the "old data" is not stored in the .vhd file but is instead stored in the shadow copy storage of the disk, then the user can not assume that he will be able with a .vhd file to restore his System to any one of the "backup point-in-times" located within the time interval between the Full-Backup and the last Incremental Backup reflected by the .vhd file.

    Sorry for bothering you with this additional question.
    Wednesday, January 27, 2010 4:20 PM
  • Hi,

    I am glad this post is helpful.

    1. X:\WindowsImageBackup\Robert-PC\Backup YYYY-MM-DD hhmmss\ is the correct tree folder for image backup. Since backup use computer name as folder name, you can just rename the "Robert-PC" folder (e.g. Robert-PC-2010-1-27).
    2. No need to rename the image backup folder back before restore the system, you can still find it in WinRE
    3. Vssadmin is a powerful command you can use to check shadow copy writers and providers, you can refer to:
    http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/cc754968%28WS.10%29.aspx

    4. Personally, I would agree the backup will "storing older data/blocks in the .vhd file" because a. Windows 7 Inside Out is an Office book published by Microsoft Press b. I love Windows Inside Out series since they explain the Windows OS quite clearly. 

    In my test, the second image backup (do not rename the backup folder) is much faster and there are only one copy of vhd file in the new backup folder (old backup time stamp folder was deleted). But I can find two backup states in WinRE. This is reasonable if we assume it’s running an incremental backup (storing older data/blocks) within the vhd file.

    PS: You can attach vhd files in diskmgmt.msc and restore files/folders at any time

    • Marked as answer by Eckerlin Thursday, January 28, 2010 7:13 AM
    Thursday, January 28, 2010 7:04 AM
  • Hello Gordon

    It is really extraordinary to get such an excellent help. Can I also express at an other place than this thread my sincere gratitude?
    Thursday, January 28, 2010 7:19 AM
  • I'm glad to be able to share my ideas and you are welcome to open discussion for any technical questions.

    Windows 7 is working pretty well and just enjoy it  :)

    Thursday, January 28, 2010 8:05 AM
  • Hello Gordon

    Just after getting my new Windows 7 PC, one month ago, I had moved my first two "System Image Backups" to another Folder of my internal Backup Disk (At this time, I was fearing that they get overwritten -  I had even less Windows 7 experience/knowledge than today. Probably I should have copied them instead of moving them). 


    The following explanations gave me an idea (described further below):
    "1. X:\WindowsImageBackup\Robert-PC\Backup YYYY-MM-DD hhmmss\ is the correct tree folder for image backup. Since backup use computer name as folder name, you can just rename the "Robert-PC" folder (e.g. Robert-PC-2010-1-27).
    2. No need to rename the image backup folder back before restore the system, you can still find it in WinRE."

    After reading the above explanations, I copied-back the folder "Backup YYYY-MM-DD hhmmss"  of one of the backups that I had moved one month ago  to:
    X:\WindowsImageBackup\Robert-PC  at 2010 12 24\

    Then , I tested whether WinRE would find it. This was not the case. On my PC, WinRe was only proposing a restore of System Image backups that he found  within  X:\WindowsImageBackup\Robert-PC\.  In other words:  WinRe  did not propose to restore the backups stored within X:\WindowsImageBackup\Robert-PC  at 2010 12 24\.
     
    I did not found out, how to direct WinRe to look at "Robert-PC  at 2010 12 24" and to propose the Backups stored under that folder.


    ------------------------------------------------------------------
    Can I please ask whether the System Image Backups stored within  X:\WindowsImageBackup\  are "safe"?

    To ask my qauestions more precisely:  
    a) is the "Space Management" that Windows 7 performs for System Image backups limited to the "shadow copy stoirage area"?
    b) Or does the "Space Management" applies also to the content of X:\WindowsImageBackup ?
    In this case, the content of this folder is from my perspective not really "safe". 
    In this case: can I totally disable (through the Registry?) the Storage Management of the ""System Image Backups"?.

    For me, this dumb Storage Management for "System Image Backups" is just a pain,  since he does not understand and can not understand which backups are important for me and should not get deleted. For Folder/File Backups, Windows let me decide which backup-sets I want to delete. Why do I not even get a reasonable option to do the same for System Image Backups?
    Thursday, January 28, 2010 11:51 AM
  • Some feedback about my latest test / some good news:

    In a new test, I renamed within X:\WindowsImageBackup the folder "Robert-PC"  (this is the name of my PC) to "Robert-PCx". 
    Then I renamed the folder "Robert-PC  at 2010 12 24" to "Robert-PC".

    I was somehow hoping, that after this rename WinRe would find my old Backup in the folder that had now the name of my PC.

    Yes, WinRe found this old backup.

    To describe this in more details: WinRe first proposed me to restore the most current system Image Backup. After asking WinRe to look for older Backups, WinRe offered me the opportunity to restore System Images both from "Robert-PC" and from "Robert-PCx". This is great and this corresponds to the bevahior that yourself were expecting.

    I do not know, why this does not happen on my PC, when the folder called "Robert-PC" (=the name of my PC) contains the most current System Image backup. This is a detail, that is not important for me and that I will not investigate right now. 

    -----
    Now, I will rename again the two folders (because I can not exclude that the current naming will confuse some piece of  Windows logic - it is not in the folder having currently my PC name, that the new Backups should be created).

    ----
    Edit: I deleted the questions from a previous version of my Post. But I still have the question "whether the System Image Backups stored within  X:\WindowsImageBackup\  are "safe"? "
    Thursday, January 28, 2010 2:24 PM
  • Hi,

    In my test machine (PC name:7-XP), if I rename the image backup folder from X:\WindowsImageBackup\7-XP to “X:\WindowsImageBackup\7-XP-Backup” and run image backup again, I can find both of them in WinRE.
    http://cid-9c88b7cb6fa32a48.skydrive.live.com/self.aspx/.Public/XP-7-backup1.png

    As a further test, I rename the new created “X:\WindowsImageBackup\7-XP” folder to “X:\WindowsImageBackup\Robert-PC  at 2010 12 24” and check it in WinRE. And I can still find them in my test machine.
    http://cid-9c88b7cb6fa32a48.skydrive.live.com/self.aspx/.Public/XP-7-backup2.png

    I believe the System Image Backups stored within  “X:\WindowsImageBackup\”  are safe, my test machine is a clean install Windows 7 and does not have any backup issue now.

    • Marked as answer by Eckerlin Friday, January 29, 2010 8:11 AM
    Friday, January 29, 2010 1:46 AM
  • Hello Gordon

    Thank You for Your answer.

    I was wondering, why the behavior that you observed in your tests is slightly different from what I observed (in your tests, WinRe was always finding both folders; in my first test WinRe  found only one folder and in the second test it found both folders).

    A possible (I am not sure at all about it) explanation: 
    1) your tests match exactly what you had described to me; and the results of your tests match exactly what you had described to me.
        In your tests, you renamed the pre-existing X:\WindowsImageBackup\7-XP  folder.
        This is a folder that (under its original name) was already "known", to Windows as being the folder containing the system Image Backups of your PC.

    2) In my Tests, I added to X:\WindowsImageBackup a subfolder and copied with Windows Explorer into that subfolder old, preexisting System Image copied that i had stored elsewhere.
    This subfolder was not already "known" to Windows as being a folder containing System Image Backups of my PC. This could perhaps explain why in my first test, WinRe was not interested in the content of that folder.

    In my second test, I renamed the subfolder containing the current System Image backups to another name (=same as in your test). Because that subfolder was perhaps already known (under its original name) as a folder containing System Image Backups, WinRe was interested in it. And in this second Test, WinRe was of course also interested in the other subfolder (that I had renamed to the name of my PC) because it had the name of my PC.

    ------
    What is very valuable for me, is that thanks to your previous explanations, I have a good solution that allows me (after the two simple renames of my second test) to make WinRe get aware of my old System Image Backups. Thanks a lot for it.

    ----
    On my machine too (also a Clean Install), I have no problems with the Windows Backup Software. My problems have been with the lack of detailed documentation of WindowsBackup.  I was quite lucky, that you could help me with the excellent information that you provided to me.
    Friday, January 29, 2010 8:10 AM
  • Thank you for your test and sharing the info with us. Windows 7 is still new for most of us, hope we can find solid solution here for any issue we encountered.

    ^^

    Monday, February 01, 2010 2:04 AM
  • Hello Gordon

    I do not deserve any "Thank You" since I was the one who got helped by you.

    ----
    Based on what I have observed today on my PC, it looks more and more likely, that it is You who was right in your first post within this thread and that it is the "Windows 7 Inside Out" book who is wrong.

    I observed today the following on my PC:
    a) Backup Point-in-Times that were earlier-on available within WinRe for a Restore are no more available for Restore. 
    This fits with the theory, that data that had earlier-on been written by Windows Backup into the volume shadow area is getting successively purged, as Windows need to create free disk space for younger backups.

    b) I made a test with two consecutive incremental backups that wrote into in a .vhd file stored on the removable external disk "A".
    I then verified with WinRe that the Point-in-Times of both incremental backups were available for a Restore.
     
    Then I copied the .vhd file from disk "A" to the internal disk "B", disconnected disk "A" and checked with WinRe which backup Point-In-Times were available for a restore.
    The result: only the youngest backup Point-In-Time was available for a Restore. The second-youngest backup Point-in-Time was not availsable anymore for a Restore.
     
    This too fits well with the theory, that the data-version associated with the second-youngest backup Point-in-Time is stored in the volume shadow area of disk "A" and is not stored within the .vhd file itself.

    c) finally, and probably the most important,  descriptions of the "Storage Team at Microsoft" in  http://blogs.technet.com/filecab/archive/2009/10/31/learn-more-about-system-image-backup.aspx  match with the opinion that you expressed in your first post of this thread.

    ----
    I am glad to understand better what happens under the cover. But I am a little bit sad, that the "Windows 7 Inside Out" book was wrong, because I would have prefered much more a solution corresponding to the descriptions of that book. But I can not change it and I will adapt to the reality.

    Thanks again for all your previous explanations.
    Robert

    Windows 7 Ultimate, 64 bit, German Language Version
    Monday, February 01, 2010 9:10 PM
  • Robert, I believe your test would be very helpful to other Windows 7 users.

    Regarding the problem about <Windows 7 Inside Out>, I think you can provide feedback via http://www.microsoft.com/learning/en/us/Books.aspx?Id=13487&locale=en-us#tab5

    Or email Inside Out Series Editor to: nsideout@microsoft.com

    Tuesday, February 02, 2010 3:48 AM
  • Gordon, Thank You.

    Based on your recommendation, I reported the problem to nsideout@microsoft.com

    I also reported to them, that their book should also mention, that the disk space set aside for "System Protection" (see page 396 of the book) is not only used for the "System Protection Options" but that it is also used  (according to my understanding) for "old blocks" written by System Image Backup runs.(and recommended them, before updating the book,  to verify it with Windows development, because my understanding  is not very reliable).
    Windows 7 Ultimate, 64 bit, German Language Version
    Tuesday, February 02, 2010 1:13 PM
  • Cutting through all the excess verbage posted here, I would like to offer this to you all:

    After a couple of hours of trial and error, I figured this one out:
     
    When you make a system image backup to an external or internal drive, AND if one already exists, AND and if there is enough space (defaults to 30% of the drive space, but you can change it in system properties), AND you have your "backup and restore" / "manage space" / "system image" settings to allow Windows to control the system images, THEN a differential is APPENDED to the end of the prior one. HOWEVER, the directory name is changed (which makes one think that the new one is a 'stand alone' backup ... but it is not).
     
    You can prove this to yourself by doing a system image backup, then copy some new data to your system drive, then run the system image backup again. Now, go to "backup and restore" / "open system restore" / "choose a different restore point" / "show more restore points". WALLA! All your system images are there (as far back as your 30% space allows). {{ Remember though, that restoring from this GUI will only restore system (OS) related items, not user files (and that is by design, since that is what system restore does) }}.
     
    You can also see ALL your system images in the "advanced recovery method," where you can restore the ENTIRE system image, as that is how Microsoft intended system images to be primarily used  ... not as a system restore point as mentioned in the above paragraph (although it can be used, in a pinch, as a restore point, with the caveat mentioned above).
     
    To see them all in the "advanced recovery method", use "backup and restore" / "open system restore" / "advanced recovery methods" / "use system image". This will reboot your computer and allow you to see (and select if desired, or cancel) ALL the system images that the drive holds. NOTE: if you are testing this, then be aware that at the first "advanced recovery method" screen you select the day, THEN at the NEXT screen it shows you all the system images that exist for that one day. (That part threw me at first, and caused me some panic).
     
    Hope that helps y'all!
     Byron
     Systems Administrator
     mediate.com

    Monday, March 05, 2012 3:23 AM
  • replying to like a 10 year old post but based on the amount of disk READ I'm seeing on the backup destination that would imply to me that it must be incremental.
    Tuesday, July 03, 2018 5:35 PM