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.


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

Editor's Picks