Data Centers

Five tips for saving your neck with backups

Following a few best backup practices can make the difference between having an effective safety net and losing critical data (and maybe your job).

What happens when your server or your desktop goes belly up? If you don't have a good backup, you rebuild, reinstall, and hope someone has copies of the necessary data. If no one has those precious copies, you start all over. What business can afford to do that? None that I know of. So how do you avoid such disaster? Well, obviously you have a solid backup plan. But as we all know, no plan is truly perfect. With that in mind, here are five good tips to help ensure that your backups will save the day.

1: Rotate, rotate, rotate

You probably either back up all your data or create a full image of your system. And where do you put those backups and images? The best place for them is an external USB drive. But you don't want to just be backing up to a single external drive. Instead, have at least two identical drives and rotate them. The rotation will depend upon how much data loss is acceptable. If no more than a day's worth of loss is acceptable, you'll need to rotate those drives daily. If a week's worth of data loss is acceptable, rotate the drives weekly. When you do rotate them, either rotate one to an offsite location or rotate it to a fireproof safe.

2: Validate your backups

Every backup solution is different, but many offer the ability to validate the backups. Make sure you are taking advantage of this feature. Although validating a backup does add time to the process, in the end it will be worth it. And if your backup solution doesn't offer a validation option, you will want to manually validate the backups. How you do this will depend upon what you are backing up. For example, even though Acronis has a validation tool built in, you can always check your backup .TIB files by double-clicking on them in your file manager. You should be able to explore the contents of a .TIB and immediately see that your data is there and intact.

3: Monitor your backups

Most business-grade backup solutions enable you to send monitors to alert you if the backup has succeeded or failed. Make use of these. And don't just have alerts sent to you if backups fail. Make sure you are seeing every alert, fail or succeed, so you can chart your backups. You need to always be on top of your solution and know exactly when a backup has failed so you can fix it. If a backup has failed, and you do not know it failed, when the machine finally gives up the ghost, the most recent backup you have could be seriously out of date. This can be easily avoided by enabling alerts.

4: Update your backup solution

Most backup software gets updated just like every other type of software. I have found that some solutions update their software to fix bugs and patch holes (fancy that!), which can cause backups to fail. You want to make sure you are keeping your backup solution as up to date as possible. And when you do update your backup software, do (at least) a test run for your backup to make sure it still works as expected. Do not fall behind on updates so you're bypassing releases, as this could cause some temporary headaches.

5: Back up daily

This should be a no-brainer, but if you really want the most up-to-date backups, you want to back up daily. This could be either a full backup every day or a full backup weekly, with daily incremental backups. The full/incremental solution will take less time, but the daily full backup can often be more reliable for restoration (depending upon your solution). The single most important element is to back up frequently. And when you set up your daily backup, make sure it occurs at a time of day when the machine is used the least. This will often be at midnight or just after midnight. If you run your daily backup when another piece of software needs to run, you might find yourself without a backup. Acronis is really bad about about fighting with things like database applications or process-heavy applications that run in the background. If you have software that requires a fully loaded CPU, make sure that daily backup is running when it will not conflict with the other tool.

More tips?

These five simple tips will help ensure you have a solid backup solution. Not every solution is created equal, but for the most part, these tips should help across the board. If you have other favorite other backup tip, share them with your fellow TechRepublic members.

About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

7 comments
kelefas
kelefas

As for client pcs i use Bkexec Desktop recovery for a couple of years and im completely satisfied with it. many options (full image,incrementals and file opt) and quick restoration with option to restore to different h/w.In case of a probl the support is exellent. For server i m using BKexec for w servers and it works for 2 years with practically not a bug. I ve used Acronis but restoration has some flaws conserning licencing or if you try to restore the image to another h/w. I ve also used Norton ghost but in my opinion for stant alone pcs or simple clients BKexec desktop recovery is better and cheaper (the previous version 7.0 that work fine costs 17euro per year in greece).

Da Saint
Da Saint

3 backup copies, in 2 different formats, with 1 copy offisite. No matter what software or media you choose, this simple technique with always save you.

eckerlin
eckerlin

Jack: this is an excellent article; thank You for it. Can you recommend an excellent and reliable Backup Software for a Windows 7 Desktop PC? Even though "Windows Backup" is for me very reliable, it has one big disadvantage: I can not rotate reasonably between different Backup-Drives. Every Time, that I Rotate (i.e. every time, that I change the Backup Destination device), Windows Backup starts all over again with a Full Backup (instead of performing an incremental or differential backup, based on the latest Backup copy stored on the destination device). This is totally unacceptable for me. Why? Because I want to keep around multiple Backup-Copies, in order to be able for example, to restore to a 7 month old version. Even though I use large Backup Drives of 2 TB: I do not have enough Backup disk Space to store 7 Month worth of Backups, with a Softare like "Windows Backup" that starts again with a Full Backup after each rotation. I tried my luck with Acronis True Image Home. But I encountered so many problems and had to struggle with such a miserable Support organization (they were not even able to understand the problems and some of them did not even understand their product) that I came to the conclusion, that It was foolish to entrust them my backups. I also tried my luck with Neo BackItUp (with Windows XP, I was quite happy with a old version of that Software). But also with the Windows 7 version of that Software, I had to struggle both with bugs and a quasi inexistent support. I have the impression, that for the Full Backups of whole partition/disks, I can live quite well with Windows Backup. What i am looking for is a Backup Software that would complement Windows Backup for File/Folder Backups (and that is compatible with Windows Backup), that supports incremental and/or differential backups, that supports rotations to different disks (among other to an internal disk and to USB 3 (or at least USB 2) disks), that supports some kind of automatic scheduling (e.g. perform a backup of a specific list of folders dayli at 11 o' clock in the night), that is very reliable, and that offers a reasonable performance for large Backups (e.g. 200 GB worth of Photo files). If possible: the Backups should not be stored in a propriatary format (among other because, I would like to be able in 5 years from now to restore on a future Windows versions the Folders and Files that I have backed-up today under Windows 7 without relying on the future existence of a Backup Software that will perhaps not exist anymore). Thanks a lot in advance for a good recommendation.

tflynnhk
tflynnhk

The only solution I know that will enable backups to be restored in 5yrs time is something like rsnapshot. I believe its available for cygwin on Windows Platforms. Backups are stored as files in their original directory hierarchy so no proprietary formats. One draw back is no catalogue, but if makes up for this in its simplicity. Each backup is a full backup, but only the delta is actually copied. I have daily, weekly and 6 month snapshots. Can be extended to yearly or whatever frequency you want. Current backup size is 143GB and last night it took 10.5mins...

wff10
wff10

I have been using R-Drive. It works very well. I image 400,000 files on a server and it has not failed in four years. It takes less than 30 minutes. Here is the link. It has a fully functional free trial period too. http://www.drive-image.com

petremure
petremure

I like BootitNG, it is OS independent, starts before boot-up - so no problem with open files, etc., besides being a 3 in 1 tool (boot manager, partitioner and imager). Very reliable.

eckerlin
eckerlin

Thank You very much for your feedback. I will look at rsnapshot. From my reading of http://www.rsnapshot.org/downloads.html), I wonder whether this Software runs only on some Unix Systems or whether it also runs on Windows 7. Regarding the Backup tool from Symantec that kelefas was kind to mention to me: I had the impression that from a technical poit of view, it could have been attractive for me and I contacted the swiss Symantec/Norton support organisation. According to them, this is a Software for smal busineses (not for a private user with one single PC) , and I can not order/buy less than 5 licences/copies. This makes it quite expensive for me. Thanks again a lot Robert

Editor's Picks