Data backup and recovery processes are vital for business continuity. Every business and individual needs a plan and procedure to backup, protect and restore their data. This article provides a simple checklist to act as a template for ensuring that your files and data are never lost.
The first and arguably most important part of any backup plan is deciding which files need to be included in a backup.
For example, it may not be important to make a backup of the operating system files, as an operating system can be re-installed. The same applies to software and applications, but not necessarily the application configuration files.
If users are sharing files, e.g. documents on a cloud system, then you will want to backup the original files from the cloud and not the local copies of those files. Some files may be stored remotely, e.g. web sites, databases, images, etc. and so the backup needs to include those remote files.
And if, for example, you or your employees are working from home, then you probably have a different set of circumstances to take into account.
A backup needs to be automated and require as little human involvement as is feasible. Using the right backup software, you can specify a date and time to run your backups, and the system will automatically backup your data at the scheduled date and time. Automatic backups give you peace of mind as your data is backed-up regularly without any manual intervention or involvement. Manual backup processes are also more likely to fail or not be run at all.
An automated backup process should also be configured to notify you if it fails. For example, it could email a log file when errors occur. Periodic checks should also be made to make sure the failure notifications are working as expected.
A Full backup involves copying all files and folders selected for backup. A full backup is also the safest, easiest and most reliable way to restore files because all files are stored at one place on a device. Full backups use more resources, however, and tend to take longer to complete. Because of this they are not well suited for regular backups such as hourly or daily backups.
An Incremental backup copies all files that have been created or modified since the last Full or Incremental backup. Restoring an Incremental backup is difficult and time-consuming because each incremental backup must be merged with a full restore, and they must be restored in the right order.
A Differential backup works similarly to an Incremental backup, but it copies new or changed files since the last Full backup. Restoring from a Differential backup is simpler as it only requires restoring from the last Full backup followed by a restore from a Differential backup.
With file versioning, whenever a file is changed, a copy of the existing backup file is created and stored in the backup - this is known as a version. In addition, it will keep the previous versions of the backup files, so if a file gets tampered with, corrupted or deleted, you can easily view and restore from a previous version, before the corruption or deletion occurred.
While Versioning can be extremely useful, it of course uses more storage space to save the file versions. With the right backup software, however, you can specify the type of files to version, the maximum number of versions to keep and the time period to keep each saved version to reduce the storage space used by file versioning.
Delta copy is the process of storing only the differences between file versions in a backup instead of storing the entire file. Delta copy is very useful when copying large files over a network with limited bandwidth. It also reduces the backup storage space used as only the file differences are stored, which may, for example, be important when cloud services are used. For additional details on Delta copy, refer to our Delta Copy article.
A corrupted backup is as useless as having no backup at all. Even if a valid backup is made, over time it can become corrupted due to other external factors, e.g. drive failure, viruses, hacking, etc. A backup should be configured to keep integrity data on the state of the backup files. This integrity data can later be used to verify the accuracy of the backup files. In addition to regular backups, you also need to regularly check the integrity of backups to ensure you have reliable and consistent backups for recovery. Refer to our Data Integrity article for details.
We recommend running backups frequently to always ensure that your backup data is complete and accurate. The frequency of your backups depends on the rate of changes and criticality of data. Critical data that is changed continuously needs to be backed-up more frequently, e.g. every X minutes or hours (e.g. 15 minutes or 1 hour). Files that are only occasionally updated can be backed up less frequently, e.g. daily, weekly or monthly.
You can schedule full backups, or backups of large files, at night or when the computer (or network) is not in use, so that backups can run faster and make use all the available bandwidth.
Storing backups in a single location is not enough to protect your data and recover from data loss. A well-known rule of thumb is that a comprehensive backup plan should use the 3-2-1 backup rule:
See our Practical and Robust backup strategy article for further details on the 3-2-1 backup rule.
How long to retain each backup is an important factor to consider when building a backup plan. As it is not feasible to keep backups forever, you need to set a retention period for each backup to save storage space and costs. You can consider keeping hourly or daily backups for a week, weekly backups for a month and monthly backups for a year and so on.
Business organizations may today have legal requirements for backup retention. Therefore, you need to carefully analyse your legal constraints and data retention standards when configuring the backup retention period.
Backups need to be as secure as the original files. This may need to include physical security, e.g. storing external drives in a safe or lock-box. When backups are stored online, e.g. with cloud storage services, it is critical that access to the backup files is restricted to only those that need access to restore the backup.
You also need to consider data transport encryption. For example, if the backup files are transmitted over the network, e.g. to an FTP server, then they should be encrypted during transit over the network, e.g. by using FTPS or SFTP.
Security can be enhanced by using storage encryption. When backup files are encrypted, even if an unauthorised person gains access to the backups, without the decryption key they will not be able to read the backup files.
To check the validity and integrity of backups, you should regularly perform restoration tests to ensure the backup is working correctly and the backed-up data is complete and accurate. By performing a test restore you can identify any possible problems that may occur before you have to do a real restore.
In a business, the time it takes to restore files may prove to be critical, so performing regular test restores means that you'll be able to reliably predict how long a restore will take and optimize it as appropriate. You'll also be familiar with the data restore process - enabling you to get back up and running far quicker than having to learn the process from scratch.
Good backup software is updated frequently. Updated releases include bug fixes, security fixes, new/enhanced features, performance improvements, compatibility improvements with other applications, operating systems, cloud services, devices, etc. Keeping backup software up-to-date is very important. In addition, copies of the backup configuration should always be kept safe.
With a proper backup and recovery plan, you will have 24/7 access to critical data and keep your business running smoothly. SyncBackPro supports all the features discussed in this article. Using SyncBackPro, you can run automated backups (full or incremental backups) to an on-site and off-site locations, ensure a better security for backup files with encryption and you can check the accuracy of backups using advanced features like verification and integrity check.