Data is a valuable yet vulnerable asset for companies of all sizes. To protect your data, you need to back it up regularly. That way, your company will be able to recover from a cyberattack, major equipment failure, or catastrophic mistake made by one of your staff members.
Although you might know you should be backing up your data, you might not know how to do so. A good place to start is to learn about the ways you can back it up. The three traditional backup techniques are full, differential, and incremental. Newer techniques, such as system image backups and continuous data backups, are also becoming popular.
With the full backup technique, you select the folders and files on the drive you want to back up. Each time the backup process runs, it copies those folders and files in their entirety to your backup medium.
Restoring folders and files is fast and easy with this technique. There are downsides to using it, though. The backup process is slow. Plus, the backup files can take up a lot of storage space.
Differential backups are usually used in conjunction with full backups. A differential backup copies only those folders and files that have changed since the last full backup. For example, suppose you schedule a full backup every Saturday and daily differential backups the rest of the week. The differential backup on Sunday will copy all the files changed since Saturday's full backup. The differential backup on Monday will copy all the files changed since Saturday's full backup. The differential backup on Tuesday will copy all the files changed since Saturday's full backup. This continues until the next full backup. As you can see, differential backups copy the changed files multiple times.
Differential backup files are smaller than full backup files, so they take less time to create. They also take up less storage space. However, data recovery is a bit more complicated. To recover from a data disaster, you need to first apply the most recent full backup and then apply the last differential backup.
Like differential backups, incremental backups are usually used in conjunction with full backups. An incremental backup copies only those folders and files that have changed since the last backup, regardless of which type of backup it was. For instance, suppose you schedule a full backup every Saturday and daily incremental backups the rest of the week. The incremental backup on Sunday will copy all the files changed since Saturday's full backup. The incremental backup on Monday will copy all the files changed since Sunday's incremental backup. The incremental backup on Tuesday will copy all the files changed since Monday's incremental backup.
The incremental backup technique does not back up the changed files multiple times like the differential backup method does. This means that incremental backup files are even quicker to create and smaller to store than differential backup files.
Being smaller and quicker comes with a price, though. Restoring files takes a lot of work. To recover from a data disaster, you need to first apply the most recent full backup and then apply each incremental backup. This can take up valuable time during the recovery process. Restoring a specific file can also be time-consuming. You often need to search through several incremental backup files to find the latest version of it.
System Image Backups
You can back up your files by creating a system image of the drive. With this technique, you copy a drive section-by-section instead of file-by-file. System image backups are also known as drive image backups.
Besides containing your files, the system image will include your operating system, system settings, programs, drivers, and everything else on the original drive. As a result, a system image will restore your crashed computer to the state it was in when you created the image.
Restoring a drive from an image is easy. You simply re-image the drive. However, the image takes a long time to create and consumes a lot of storage space. Plus, you cannot restore just one item, such as a certain file. If you need a certain file, you need to re-image the drive, which will restore all the files.
Continuous Data Backups
With continuous data backups, your data is automatically backed up every time you save data that has changed. This is accomplished by taking snapshots of the modified data. Each snapshot is kept, so you can restore a file to a version at any particular point in time.
There are also near-continuous data backups. With this technique, your data is backed up at preset intervals (e.g., every hour). You can restore a file to any version saved at a particular interval.
Because continuous and near-continuous backups occur frequently, data loss is minimal if disaster strikes. The main disadvantage is that they can eat up a lot of system resources and bandwidth. In addition, these backup solutions are often more expensive than traditional backup solutions because they use continuous data protection (CDP) technology.
Which Technique Should You Use?
You can use one or several of these techniques to back up your data. For example, you might keep system image backups in case a computer's hard drive fails as well as use full and incremental backups to regularly back up files. Your IT service provider can help you determine the best backup strategy for your company.