Your Guide to the Ultimate Backup Strategy

Posted on by Matthew Healey
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It goes without saying that having a reliable backup strategy is crucial. Unforeseen incidents and system failures can occur 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, safeguarding your critical information from both human error and technical glitches.

Understand the Different Types of Backups and What They Offer

In the broadest sense, you can opt for a full, incremental, or differential backup strategy. Each has its strengths and weaknesses, and each comes in a dozen individual flavors. 

Full Backup

A full backup strategy involves making a backup copy of the entire dataset every time, without exceptions. This is the safest option. As you can imagine, however, the total storage volume of keeping more than one or two full backups at any one time quickly becomes difficult to manage.

Incremental Backup

An incremental backup strategy determines what data has changed since the last incremental backup and only copies that. Restoration can be tricky, as you may have to combine many different backup files to reconstruct the whole data set. On the plus side, each of them should be much more manageable in size.

Differential Backup

A differential backup strategy makes a new backup only of changes that have been made since the last full backup. To reconstruct the data, you only need the most recent full backup file and the most recent differential backup file. 

Decide Which Type of Backup Strategy is Best for You

In the end, a full backup strategy requires a great deal of storage space. It takes a long time to accomplish every cycle, but it offers the fastest restore time (as you only need to work with a single file). It also stores a great many duplicate files, which can be helpful 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 often a bit smaller. Each backup cycle can be completed fairly quickly. And while restoring from a full backup is always going to be the quicker option, restoring from a differential backup is still relatively fast. It stores many duplicate files but won’t be as useful in restoring historical versions of the data as a full backup scheme. 

Finally, an incremental backup strategy takes up the least amount of storage space of the three. It has the fastest backup cycle as well. However, it has the slowest restoration speed, as you’ll need the last full backup and every incremental backup file made since. It stores no duplicate files at all, so a historical restoration won’t be an option.

Choosing which approach to use ultimately boils down to what’s most important to you. If you want to be able to very quickly back up your data on a daily basis, an incremental strategy is going to be your best option. If you want the peace of mind that comes with knowing you’ve got the most reliable backup method in place and don’t mind investing in storage, go with full. And if you’re looking for a middle-of-the-road option, choose differential.

Create an Automated Backup Schedule

No matter what backup strategy you choose, you should never rely on a manual backup process. The best practice across virtually all industries is to completely automate the backup process. Luckily, almost all backup software solutions will assume you want to establish an automatic backup cycle. Many solutions will actually make it very difficult to avoid.

If you’re doing full backups, it would probably be excessive to do them more often than daily, and you’d risk too much potential data loss to do them less than weekly. If you’re doing differential or incremental backups, you need a more complex procedure. Depending on how you prioritize computer time, data accessibility, and media storage, you will probably do regular full backups weekly or even less often but differential or incremental backups daily or even more often. 

Make Sure Your Backup Storage Device is Secure

Some of the worst-case scenarios for needing to restore from a backup are that your primary system was hacked, improperly accessed, 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 alter your backups. If a disaster has wiped your server, you need to ensure that your backup server was out of range of all but truly world-ending scenarios. Otherwise, the same hack, flood, or other major natural disaster could destroy both your primary and backup data.

Utilize Different File Formats to Ensure Maximum Data Recovery

This is not so much a backup issue as a data recovery effort issue. If your data is corrupted and has not been backed up, it might not be completely gone. There are many approaches to recovering deleted, overwritten, or physically damaged files and media. 

Some file types are much easier to recover using different recovery tools, and each tool has its own set of disasters from which it can retrieve data. 

So if you find yourself needing to recover corrupted data from a compromised backup, having the data in that backup stored redundantly in different file formats could increase your chances of a full or near-full recovery dramatically. 

Of course, you would be expending time and effort protecting against a complete failure of your backup process. That should never happen, but it’s always best to be prepared for the worst-case scenario. 

Test Your Backup System Regularly to Identify Issues

Never assume everything is working perfectly. This goes double for systems like backups, which should remain almost invisible when they’re working properly. If you don’t inspect these systems on a consistent basis, you risk discovering a problem precisely when you need your backups the most. 

Final Thoughts

Backups exist to make sure you can recover quickly and completely when disaster strikes. You need to decide how much time, effort, and money you are prepared to dedicate to your backup process, with the understanding that more prepared generally means more expensive. If something does go wrong, you’ll never resent the extra expense. And things go wrong with data systems all the time.

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About the Author

Matthew Healey

Matthew is a Senior Solutions Architect and has 10 years of hosting experience. He loves to talk with new people about their infrastructure needs and solving complex technical and business problems through hardware and software means.

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