It goes without saying that having a reliable backup strategy is crucial. Unforeseen incidents and system failures can happen at any time. By implementing a robust backup strategy, you can minimize the risks associated with data loss and ensure business continuity.
This guide provides you with the information you need on how to set up an effective backup strategy, protecting your critical data from both human error and technical failure.
Understand the different types of backups and what they offer
In the broadest sense, you can choose a full, incremental, or differential backup strategy. Each has its strengths and weaknesses, and each comes in a dozen individual flavors.
A full backup strategy involves backing up the entire data set every time, with no exceptions. This is the safest option. However, as you can imagine, the sheer volume of maintaining more than one or two full backups at any one time quickly becomes difficult to manage.
An incremental backup strategy determines what data has changed since the last incremental backup and copies only that. Restoring can be tricky, as you may need to combine many different backup files to rebuild the entire data set. On the plus side, each of them should be much more manageable in size.
A differential backup strategy creates a new backup of only the changes made since the last full backup. To rebuild the data, you only need the most recent full backup file and the most recent differential backup file.
Decide what type of backup strategy is best for you
In the end, a full backup strategy requires a large amount of storage space. It takes a long time to complete each cycle, but it offers the fastest restore time (since you only need to work with a single file). It also stores a large number of duplicate files, which can be useful if you need to restore from a long time ago.
A differential backup strategy can take up almost as much space as a full backup, but is usually slightly smaller. Each backup cycle can be completed fairly quickly. And while restoring from a full backup will always be the fastest option, restoring from a differential backup is still relatively fast. It stores many duplicate files, but it won’t be as useful for restoring historical versions of data as a full backup scheme.
Finally, an incremental backup strategy occupies the least amount of storage space of the three. It also has the fastest backup cycle. However, it has the slowest restore speed, since it will need the last full backup and every incremental backup file made since then. It does not store any duplicate files, so a historical restore will not be an option.
Choosing which approach to use ultimately comes down to what is most important to you. If you want to be able to back up your data very quickly every day, an incremental strategy will be your best option. If you want peace of mind knowing you have the most reliable backup method and don’t mind investing in storage, go full. And if you’re looking for something in between, choose differential.
Create an automated backup schedule
Regardless of the backup strategy you choose, you should never rely on a manual backup process. The best practice in virtually every industry is to fully automate the backup process. Fortunately, almost all backup software solutions will assume that you want to set an automatic backup cycle. Many solutions will actually make it very difficult to avoid.
If you are doing full backups, it would probably be excessive to do them more frequently than once a day, and you would risk losing too much data if you did them less than once a week. If you are performing differential or incremental backups, you need a more complex procedure. Depending on how you prioritize computer time, data accessibility, and media storage, you’ll probably do regular full backups weekly or even less frequently, but differential or incremental backups daily or even more frequently.
Make sure your backup storage device is safe
Some of the worst case scenarios for needing to restore from a backup are that your primary system was hacked, accessed incorrectly, or damaged by a disaster.
In such a situation, if a bad actor wants to harm (or seriously threaten) your organization, they would be just as motivated to destroy or tamper with your backups. If a disaster has wiped out your server, you need to make sure that your backup server is out of reach for all but true doomsday scenarios. Otherwise, the same attack, flood, or other major natural disaster could destroy both your primary and backup data.
Use different file formats to ensure maximum data recovery
This isn’t so much a backup issue as it is a data recovery effort issue. If your data is damaged and has not been backed up, it may not be completely gone. There are many approaches to recover deleted, overwritten, or physically damaged files and media.
Some types of files are much easier to recover using different recovery tools, and each tool has its own set of disasters from which it can recover data.
So if you need to recover corrupted data from a compromised backup, having the data in that backup redundantly stored in different file formats could dramatically increase your chances of a complete or near-complete recovery.
Of course, you would be spending time and effort protecting against a complete failure of your backup process. That should never happen, but it’s always better to be prepared for the worst case scenario.
Test your backup system regularly to identify problems
Never assume that everything is working perfectly. This goes double for systems like backups, which should remain nearly invisible when working properly. If you don’t regularly inspect these systems, you risk discovering a problem precisely when you need your backups the most.
Backups are in place to make sure you can recover quickly and completely when disaster strikes. You need to decide how much time, effort, and money you’re willing to put into your backup process, understanding that more prepared generally means more expensive. If something goes wrong, you will never be bothered by the extra expense. And things go wrong with data systems all the time.