Backup Strategy or Backup Policy

A backup strategy or backup policy is essentially a set of procedures that you prepare and implement to protect your important digital content from hard drive failures, virus attacks and other events or disasters.

Features of a Good Backup Strategy

The following are features to aim for when designing your backup strategy :

  • Able to recover from data loss in all circumstances like hard drive failure, virus attacks, theft, accidental deletes or data entry errors, sabotage, fire, flood, earth quakes and other natural disasters.
  • Able to recover to an earlier state if necessary like due to data entry errors or accidental deletes.
  • Able to recover as quickly as possible with minimum effort, cost and data loss.
  • Require minimum ongoing human interaction and maintenance after the initial setup. Hence able to run automated or semi-automated.

Planning Your Backup Strategy

1. What To Backup

The first step in planning your backup strategy is identifying what needs to be backed up. Identify the files and folders that you cannot afford to lose? It involves going through your documents, databases, pictures, videos, music and program setup or installation files. Some of these media like pictures and videos may be irreplaceable. Others like documents and databases may be tedious or costly to recover from hard copies. These are the files and folders that need to be in your backup plan.

2. Where To Backup To

This is another fundamental consideration in your backup plan. In light of some content being irreplaceable, the backup strategy should protect against all events. Hence a good backup strategy should employ a combination of local and offsite backups.

Local backups are needed due to its lower cost allowing you to backup a huge amount of data. Local backups are also useful for its very fast restore speed allowing you to get back online in minimal time. Offsite backups are needed for its wider scope of protection from major disasters or catastrophes not covered by local backups.

3. When To Backup

Frequency : How often you backup your data is the next major consideration when planning your backup policy. Some folders are fairly static and do not need to be backed up very often. Other folders are frequently updated and should correspondingly have a higher backup frequency like once a day or more.

Your decision regarding backup frequency should be based on a worst case scenario. For example, if  tragedy struck just before the next backup was scheduled to run, how much data would you loose since the last backup. How long would it take and how much would it cost to re key that lost data ?

Backup Start Time : You would typically want to run your backups when there’s minimal usage on the computers. Backups may consume some computer resources that may affect performance. Also, files that are open or in use may not get backed up.

Scheduling backups to run after business hours is a good practice providing the computer is left on overnight. Backups will not normally run when the computer is in “sleep” or “hibernate mode”.  Some backup software will run immediately upon boot up if it missed a scheduled backup the previous night.

So if the first hour on a business day morning is your busiest time, you would not want your computer doing its backups then.  If you always shut down or put your computer in sleep or hibernate mode at the end of a work day, maybe your lunch time would be a better time to schedule a backup. Just leave the computer on but logged-off when you go out for lunch.

Since servers are usually left running 24 hours, overnight backups for servers are a good choice.

4. Backup Types

Many backup software offer several backup types like Full Backup, Incremental Backup and Differential backup. Each backup type has its own advantages and disadvantages. Full backups are useful for projects, databases or small websites where many different files(text, pictures, videos etc)  are needed to make up the entire project and you may want to keep different versions of the project.

5. Compression & Encryption

As part of your backup plan, you also need to decide if you want to apply any compression to your backups.  For example, when backing up to an online service, you may want to apply compression to save on storage cost and upload bandwidth. You may also want to apply compression when backing up to storage devices with limited space like USB thumb drives.

If you are backing up very private or sensitive data to an offsite service, some backup tools and services also offer support for encryption. Encryption is a good way to protect your content should it fall into malicious hands. When applying encryption, always ensure that you remember your encryption key. You will not be able to restore it without your encryption key or phrase.

6. Testing Your Backup

A backup is only worth doing if it can be restored when you need it most. It is advisable to periodically test your backup by attempting to restore it. Some backup utilities offer a validation option for your backups. While this is a welcome feature, it is still a good idea to test your backup with an actual restore once in a while.

7. Backup Utilities & Services

Simply copying and pasting files and folders to another drive would be considered a backup. However the aim of a good backup plan is to set it up once and leave it to run on its own. You would check up on it occasionally but the backup strategy should not depend on your ongoing interaction for it to continue backing up. A good backup plan would incorporate the use of good quality, proven backup software utilities and backup services.