A backup strategy is a plan for creating and managing backup copies of data to enable recovery in the event of data loss. Having a solid backup strategy is crucial for individuals and organizations to protect important information. An effective backup strategy addresses questions like what data to back up, how often to back up, what type of backup media to use, how many backup copies to maintain, where to store backups, and how to test backups periodically to verify they are working.
Why is a Backup Strategy Important?
A backup strategy is important for several reasons:
- Protect against data loss – Backups provide a way to restore lost or corrupted data due to hardware failure, software problems, human error, malware, natural disasters, and more. Without backups, data loss can be devastating.
- Meet compliance requirements – Industries like healthcare and financial services often have regulatory requirements to back up and retain data for set time periods. Backup strategies help meet these compliance needs.
- Enable disaster recovery – Backups stored offsite or in the cloud allow recovery of data and systems after disasters like fires, floods, and ransomware attacks that may destroy on-premises data. Backups facilitate rebuilding.
- Support business continuity – Access to backup data keeps businesses running with minimal downtime after data loss or outages. Quick availability of backups is key for business continuity.
- Gain data insights – Backups can provide insights into historical data changes and support use cases like analytics and DevOps.
In summary, backups are a last line of defense against catastrophic data loss events. A backup strategy aims to provide efficient, automated, and reliable data protection.
Elements of a Backup Strategy
An effective backup strategy considers several elements:
1. Data Identification
The first step is identifying the data that needs to be backed up. This typically includes:
- Critical data – Customer data, financial records, product designs, and other business-critical information.
- Systems and applications – Server operating systems, databases, enterprise applications, email systems, and custom-built apps.
- User files – Documents, spreadsheets, images, and other files created by users.
Understanding the importance and quantity of data will guide other strategy decisions.
2. Backup Types
Common types of backups include:
- Full Backups – A complete copy of all selected data. Takes the longest to perform but allows for a full restore.
- Incremental Backups – Copies files changed since the last full or incremental backup. Faster and efficient for storage.
- Differential Backups – Copies files changed since the last full backup. Provides convenience for restoring data.
A backup strategy often involves scheduling a mix of backup types for balance.
3. Backup Frequency
The frequency for performing backups depends on factors like:
- Data volatility – How often does data change? Daily backups required for high change rates.
- Recovery point objective (RPO) – The maximum age of files you must recover (e.g. 2 hours). Dictates frequency.
- Available windows – Only weekly backups possible if daily backups exceed time windows.
Typically, daily or weekly full backups supplemented by incremental backups are recommended.
4. Retention Period
Backup copies are kept for a specified retention period to allow recovery of older data when needed. Factors guiding retention:
- Recovery time objective (RTO) – The age of data that must be recovered (e.g. 1 month).
- Compliance – HIPAA may require 7 years of retention for health data.
- Available storage – Keeping years of backups requires larger storage capacity.
Retention periods often range from weeks to years depending on the above factors.
5. Storage Media and Location
Common backup destination options:
- Disk – Local disk, network storage or removable drives like USB.
- Tape – Removable tapes stored offsite or in-house.
- Cloud – Backup services like AWS S3, Azure Blob Storage or vendor solutions.
Hybrid approaches combining local, offsite physical media and cloud help balance costs, retention and recovery needs.
6. Backup Software
Backup software centrally manages and automates backups across applications, systems and platforms. Popular options include:
- Veritas NetBackup
- Cloud vendor solutions – AWS Backup, Azure Backup, Google Cloud Backup
The right software depends on environment size, platforms, recovery objectives and budget.
7. Testing Backups
It is crucial to periodically test restores from backups to verify they can reliably recover lost data. Testing should cover multiple retention periods and backup locations.
Example Backup Strategies
Here are two common backup strategy examples.
Daily Local and Offsite for a Small Business
A small business may implement:
- Full daily disk backups to a NAS device onsite.
- Incremental disk backups hourly during office hours.
- Weekly full backups to external USB drives rotated offsite.
- 4 week retention for local disk backups.
- 12 month retention for offsite USB drives.
- Use affordable backup software designed for small businesses.
- Test restores quarterly, including from USB drives.
This provides both frequent local backups for convenience and offsite backups for recovery from site disasters. Backup testing is done four times a year.
Enterprise Cloud and Tape Strategy
A large enterprise could maintain:
- Daily incremental and weekly full backups to disk.
- Replicate backups hourly to AWS S3 or Azure cloud storage.
- Full monthly backups to tape, rotated offsite for 1 year.
- 7 year retention of annual tapes in secure facilities.
- Enterprise backup software with centralized management.
- Test restores monthly from disk, cloud and tape media.
This leverages both cloud and physical media for comprehensive redundancy. Long-term tape retention meets compliance needs.
Key Practices for Backup Strategies
Some best practices for backup strategies include:
- Automate backups – Manual backups are error prone. Automate using backup software for reliability.
- Guard backup integrity – Use checksums or hashes to validate backup integrity. Encrypt to prevent unauthorized access.
- Document policies – Document backup schedules, retention rules, backup tests performed, and policies to guide backup management and compliance.
- Isolate backups – Store backup data on isolated systems or media to protect from malware. Air gaps provide security.
- Focus on recovery testing – Testing restores is more valuable than simply creating backups. Verify recovery processes.
- Follow 3-2-1 rule – Maintain 3 copies of data, on 2 types of media, with 1 copy offsite.
Adhering to best practices minimizes the risk of backup failures during disaster recovery.
Challenges with Backup Strategies
Common backup strategy challenges include:
- Unplanned restores – Restores needed due to incidents outside schedule. Can exceed bandwidth or personnel resources.
- Missed backups – Periodic missed backups due to failures. Can leave gaps in recovery points.
- Scaling storage – Data growth can exceed forecasted backup storage capacity.
- Weak testing rigor – Lack of realistic, comprehensive tests of backup recoverability.
- Endpoint blind spots – Lapse in backup coverage for roaming endpoints like laptops.
- Cloud seeding – Initial transfer of large data sets over the wire to cloud object storage.
Ongoing monitoring, capacity planning, testing and updating of backup strategies helps overcome these challenges.
Evolution of Backup Strategies
Backup strategies continue advancing, including:
- Shift to image-based backups – Imaging entire systems speeds recovery vs incremental file backups.
- Cloud adoption – Cloud’s scalability, durability and availability drives uptake.
- Immutable backups – Backups made unchangeable help defend against ransomware.
- Containers and microservices support – Backup software adapts to these technologies.
- Greater automation – Machine learning automates monitoring, capacity planning and optimization.
- Faster recovery – Flash-optimized backups and rapid recovery reduce downtime.
As data volumes and business demands grow, companies invest in more advanced solutions.
A sound backup strategy is crucial for protecting against data loss while meeting recovery, retention and compliance needs. Key elements include data identification, backup types and frequency, retention rules, media/locations and testing. Blending disk, tape and cloud creates redundancy. Following best practices like the 3-2-1 rule reduces risk. As data grows, backup strategies evolve to leverage emerging technologies like immutable storage and machine learning automation. With a strong data protection plan in place, companies can confidently weather outages and disasters.