Backup - are you doing enough?
Published : Saturday 10 September 2005
Backup can be seen as painful and something to be worry about another day, but all to often the day when you need your backup comes first ...
Please note: this content is 15+ years old, from a time when I produced content for SEO and key word purposes. It may be of lower quality and no longer accurate.
As more of our data to computers and become more reliant on them it is becoming increasingly important to backup files and data effectively. It’s surprising how many companies don’t even backup data let a lone have a robust backup policy and procedure. Even fewer home users concern themselves with backup, and that is before you talk about recovery.
In this article we will discuss the important areas you need to think about to implement an effective backup policy within your home or office. The operationalisation details are beyond the scope of this blog.
What is backup
This may be obvious to a lot of people but some don’t understand the concept or the dimensions to it.
Backup is nothing more than a copy of your files or data in one form or another that you save somewhere so that in the event that you need to recover files or data you can. It can be as simple as copying files from My Documents to a removable drive.
The important thing is that it is an alternative copy that is stored stored away from your usual storage. RAID, a disk mirroring technology will offer you greater resiliance and a degree of redundancy but it is not a back as it is not an indepdendent copy.
Even the smallest of files can be hard to recover if you haven’t thought about it in advance. It is important you backup all files including installed software and system files. It can take days to recover a crashed system from scratch if you have to reinstall every last piece of software and configure the system.
One thing people often forget about those configuration and data files that are stored in odd or alternate locations, don’t let them give you the slip. Check where your software saves its data to.
Organize your system and store files in a central location using a sensible folder structure. If you have never given this much thought and have lots of files and data floating around this is going to take you some time to sort out, however, in the end it is worth it as it will help you maximize your coverage with minimal effort.
For the individual, this often revolves around My Documents, although increasginly it can include cloud staroage options, and yes you should think about how you will back these up too.
For all but the smallest of businesses relying on local storage or personal cloud storage is going to lead all sorts of problems, not only in terms of back up but operationally.
In this setting shared storage is usually the way to go, dividing by departments, operational areas , projects, etc. and grating indivduals teams and access to these shared locations. This ensures you can centralise and control file access and robustly manage and backup.
Backup doesn’t have to be a daily process it doesn’t even have to be weekly. It is important to consider how important the data is, how often is it updated, and how long it would take to get back to where it was at.
Data files on transactional systems such as sales and customer management databases should be backed up daily if not more frequently. After all can you really afford to lose a day’s worth of data? Some files such as archived projects may change very little if at all.
Depending on the nature of systems and files there may be differnt strategies and approaches to backup. Solutions that use snapshotting or point in time restore can be particularly useful. Using deltas and incremental backs up solutions can be a quick and easy way to backup your data.
When considering your backups you should think worse case scenario. Imagine your premises are completely gutted by fire, where are your backups, in a filing cabinet in the next office?
Generally the 3-2-1 backup strategy is recommended. 3 copies of your data, on 2 types of media and 1 in an alternate location. This will be a key consideration when it comes to backing up as it will influence the practicality of your backup approach.
As cloud storage options become more affordable, it might be that you backup to the cloud, or you have your data in the cloud and backup locally.
Fequency and retention
While having a copy of the current state of your files using the 3-2-1 strategy can be considered a backup, it isn’t particulary robust and nor does it cover all eventualities.
If a file becomes corrupoted or delete you may not relaise this for some time and this will find its way in to your backups.
Furthermore, in a world of increasing cyber threats and ransomware you may find your latest backup is also compromised.
Taking advantage of snapshotting and incremental backups to allow point in time recover is often useful.
You may want to consider different frequencies for differnt systems and files and also consider how long you retain these for. For example :
- daily backups for 2 weeks (14 daily restor points)
- weekly backups for 3 months (about 12 weekly restore points)
- montlhy backups for 12 months (12 monthly restore points)
- yearly backups for 3 years (3 years of annual restore points)
This sort of strategy helps you go back further in time while reducing the mount of storage. You can tweak this to suit your needs and storage availability, remembering the 3-2-1 strategy.
Companies often try to secure their computers and network and have adequate measures in place however if you are leaving the latest corporate backup un-encrypted in a drawer, how secure is your data?
Backups should be encrypted and password protected to ensure that they can only be accessed by those who are authorised.
Importantly, you need to ensure the passwords are robust, but also that you know them. Your backups are useless if you cannot access them when you need them.
It’s also important not to forget physical security, afterall, no matter how good your encryption and password, if your backup is stolen or destroyed in a fire it is of no use to you.
Testing and integrity
You could be making months of corrupt and useless backups and unless you are testing them you won’t know until you need them, but then it is too late. This is surprisingly common!
Ensure you test your backups regularly to check the data integrity and the coverage of the backup.
While it can appear somewhat costly and timeconsuming, having a simple test environment where you can recover to and doing this on a regular basis is good practice and will helpp you identify gaps and tease out issues. It’s much better to do this now than when your business is burning down around you and you are running around with your hair on fire.
How to backup
There are many ways to make a backup and plenty of third party software and hardware suppliers offer various solutions. Increasinlgy cloud systems support backup and indeed there is a growing proliferation of cloud storage solutions.
The exact methods and tools for backing up will very much depend on your systems. A database backup strategy is likely to be different to that of say a file based system. And even within a file based system there can be differences.
Unless your operation is very simiple it is unlikely there is one tool that will do everything, however many systems do support exports and backup routines.
A simple approach would be to ensure all your systems are backing up to a given “Backup” folder, then replicate this folder according to your 3-2-1 strategy.
For example, you can automate backup from an SQL server and have the file written to your “backup” folder. Simialrly your files backup software can create its backup in to the same “backup” folder.
This can be replicated to your backup storage. Don’t forget, if the backup file(s) are not secure / encrypted you should ensure the files themselves are encrypted.
Backup can be seen as a painful process and something that can be worried about another day, but all to often the day when you need your backup comes before that day. But, with a little thought and routine a reliable system can be put in place.
- If you aren’t already managing the backup process for your data effectively then you should start today before it’s too late, and
- if you are already backing up, are you sure it’s working and you can recover using it?