How do I create a backup policy?

Having a solid backup policy is crucial for any organization to protect its data. The key to an effective backup policy is striking the right balance between data recovery objectives, budget, and resources. This comprehensive guide will walk you through the key considerations and steps to develop a backup policy tailored to your organization’s needs.

Why is a backup policy important?

A backup policy provides guidelines on what data to back up, backup frequency, retention period, storage location, and more. Here are some key reasons why every organization needs a backup policy:

  • Ensures critical data is backed up consistently
  • Sets data recovery goals such as RTO and RPO
  • Optimizes backup storage and resources
  • Maintains compliance with regulatory requirements
  • Provides easily accessible guidelines for IT teams
  • Reduces risk of data loss from hardware failure, disasters, human error, etc.

In short, a backup policy is the blueprint for your organization’s data protection strategy. It helps align backup activities with business needs while minimizing cost and risk.

How to develop a backup policy

Follow these key steps to develop a streamlined backup policy for your organization:

1. Identify scope

Determine what data needs to be backed up by identifying critical systems, applications, and information repositories. This can include:

  • File servers
  • Databases
  • Email servers
  • ERP systems
  • Source code repositories
  • Cloud SaaS applications

Prioritize systems and data that support critical business functions. Less critical data may require less frequent backups.

2. Define backup types

Choose the types of backup suitable for your environment such as:

  • Full backup – Complete copy of all data
  • Incremental backup – Copies files changed since last full or incremental backup
  • Differential backup – Copies files changed since last full backup
  • Synthetic full backup – Consolidates incremental backups with previous full backup
  • Mirror backup – Simultaneous real-time copy of data to secondary location

3. Determine backup frequency

Set backup frequency based on data criticality and rate of change:

  • Critical data that changes rapidly may need daily or even continuous backups
  • Important but less dynamic data can be backed up weekly
  • Low priority data can be backed up monthly

Balance frequency with available resources to maintain backup windows.

4. Define retention period

The retention period specifies how long backup data will be stored before being deleted. Consider factors such as:

  • Compliance and regulatory requirements
  • Risk tolerance and recovery point objectives
  • Backup storage capacity

Typically full backups are retained for longer periods while incrementals are deleted more frequently.

5. Select storage media

Choose appropriate backup storage media such as:

  • Magnetic tape
  • External HDDs
  • SAN or NAS storage
  • Cloud storage

Consider portability, capacity, speed, cost, and security requirements.

6. Define backup responsibilities

Clearly assign backup duties to team members including:

  • Configuring backups
  • Monitoring and testing restores
  • Managing storage capacity
  • Investigating failures
  • Rotating and offsite storage

7. Select backup software

Choose reliable backup software that aligns with your policy requirements for aspects such as:

  • Platform and integration support
  • Backup types
  • Compression and deduplication
  • Encryption capabilities
  • Network load balancing
  • Cloud integration

8. Document policy details

Thoroughly document the policy details including:

  • Backup schedule with day, time, frequency, type, and rotation
  • Scope of systems and data backed up
  • Retention periods for different backup types
  • Storage location and capacity
  • Responsible teams and personnel
  • Recovery procedures

Keep the documentation easily accessible for reference.

Essential elements of a backup policy

Here are the key components to include in your organization’s backup policy:


The scope defines the data sets, systems, servers, applications, and devices that will be backed up on a regular basis. This should align with business-critical resources.


Sets the recurrence intervals for backup jobs, such as hourly, daily, weekly or monthly. Frequency should increase for more important data.


Specifies the kinds of backup such as full, incremental, differential, and mirror backups to perform.


Sets the length of time backup data will be retained before deletion. Retention often ranges from weeks for incremental backups to years for full backups.


Defines where backup data will be stored, both onsite and offsite/cloud. Onsite is for rapid recovery while offsite protects against site disasters.


Designates backup administrator roles to IT staff for managing policy implementation, testing restores, monitoring capacity, and more.

Recovery verification

Requires periodic testing of backup recoverability to validate effectiveness of the policy.

Non-compliance handling

Sets procedures for addressing backup failures, errors, oversights, or other non-compliance with the policy.

Adapting your backup policy

Backup policies should evolve alongside your organization’s changing needs. Review and update your policy regularly based on factors like:

  • New applications, servers, or devices
  • Increased data volumes
  • New compliance or regulations
  • Improved RTO and RPO
  • New backup technologies

Assign a backup administrator to facilitate reviews and updates to the policy on a quarterly or annual basis.

Key steps for implementation

Turning your backup policy from words on a page into actions requires thoughtful implementation including:

  1. Communicate the policy – Share the policy with your IT team, executives, and other relevant stakeholders. Ensure everyone understands their role.
  2. Upgrade infrastructure – Assess current backup infrastructure and identify any gap areas that need to be addressed to support policy requirements.
  3. Configure backup software – Load data sets into the backup application and configure backup jobs to align with policy schedules and targets.
  4. Automate where possible – Use automation to simplify scheduling, monitoring, alerts, and reporting. This minimizes human effort.
  5. Train personnel – Provide training to backup administrators on operating backup systems, recovering data, verifying effectiveness, and meeting policy standards.
  6. Monitor closely – Watch backup jobs diligently at first to identify any issues to be corrected. Fine tune as needed.

Smoothly implementing and adopting your new backup policy takes planning, resources, training, and most importantly – time. But the long term payoff is keeping your business data safe.

Testing and auditing your policy

A backup policy is only effective if you regularly test and audit that critical data is being backed up as intended. Important practices include:

Recovery testing

  • Restore random samples of backup data monthly and yearly
  • Verify integrity of restored files compared to production data
  • Test meeting RTO/RPO objectives
  • Drill disaster scenario test restores

Compliance auditing

  • Examine backup type, frequency, retention and reporting for compliance
  • Inspect responsibilities are being fulfilled
  • Check compression, encryption and access controls
  • Confirm offsite data security safeguards

Infrastructure review

  • Assess capacity utilization and growth projections
  • Identify gaps in coverage or architecture
  • Investigate new storage technologies as needed
  • Verify sufficient redundancy for failures

Policy revision

  • Update data protection requirements annually
  • Modify policy as needed based on test results
  • Review responsibilities and system integrations
  • Add new regulations or compliance needs

Staying on top of these testing and audit activities is essential to get maximum value from your backup policy.

Backup policy template

Feel free to reference this template as you draft a backup policy for your organization:

Policy Element Description
Scope [List critical systems, applications, devices to be backed up]
Backup Types [Full, incremental, differential, mirror, etc.]
Frequency [Daily, weekly schedules for different data sets]
Retention [Retention period for each backup type]
Locations [Onsite and offsite storage targets]
Responsibilities [Backup admin roles and duties]
Recovery Testing [Frequency and scope of restore tests]
Non-Compliance [Handling procedures for missed backups]

Customize this template with details specific to your organization’s backup environment, data protection needs and resources.


Implementing a well-planned backup policy is one of the most valuable things you can do to protect your organization against data loss. Align the policy with business priorities and compliance needs. Validate its effectiveness through regular testing. And revisit the policy frequently to ensure it adapts to new backup technologies as they emerge.

With a strong backup policy in place, you can rest assured critical business data will be resilient in the face of both everyday mishaps and major disasters.

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