What is Data Backup?
Data backup is the process of copying important data to preserve it as an alternate in case original data is damaged or becomes unusable. The duplicate copy of the data is stored on storage devices such as external hard disks, USB drives, CD/DVD/Blu-ray discs, in-house servers or cloud. The main purpose of a backup is to be able to easily restore the data in case of an event such as accidental deletion, computer virus attack, system failure, data corruption, theft or a natural calamities. Data backup is like an insurance plan. It mitigates the damage in case of data loss. It is critical for organisations to protect their critical business data against viruses and other threats by prioritising scheduled data backups. In the long run, backing up data is easy and inexpensive in comparison to recovering it after a system crash or recreating it.
What is the Need for Backup?
With large amount of data being created everywhere every day, it has become very important for businesses and individuals alike. The improper disclosure of sensitive data can also cause harm to organisations as well as individuals. Therefore, it is to everyone’s advantage to ensure that sensitive data is protected. Physical security is the key to safe and confidential data. Data faces multiple threats; from a malicious outsider, a virus or malware, a system failure or a natural disaster.
We all have experienced some sort of data loss, and still think that businesses only need data backup. This misconception further increases the chance of data loss, as we don’t take proper precautions and overlook the unforeseen threats. With the popularity of smartphone, people tend to store more and more important data on their devices again increasing the chance of data loss.
Reasons for Data Loss
Data loss is an event that results in the destruction of valuable data due to various factors including hardware failure and user negligence. According to a survey, more than two-fifth of users lose data because of hardware or system malfunctions. There are various reasons for data loss such as system breakdown, virus, human error, natural disaster and even software upgrade.
The most common forms resulting in loss of data for individuals and organisations are:
Human Error: Human error is the biggest cause of data loss and accounts for about one-third of reported incidents of data loss. It is the biggest area of concern for organisations when it comes to data loss. It is bigger than outside threats, such as malicious attacks and natural disasters. Deleting files accidently, ignoring persistent backup errors, not backing up the appropriate data, etc. are some examples of human errors. Caution and regular training on data handling procedures can help users avoid such errors. With proper management, such kind of errors are avoidable. For example, network managers can lock down user permissions to limit the access to certain data or the actions they’re able to take.
Viruses Attacks: This is another common cause of lost data. There are many sophisticated viruses which attack computers every day. The damages they foist may differ but most of them affect software operations, misuse Internet and damage stored data. Making regular backups of your data on other devices or online will help you restore your original data in such events. Use of a good antivirus software and keeping it updated will protect you from these attacks and reduce the risk of data loss caused by viruses.
System Malfunction: Hardware or system malfunctions can be in many forms, such as sudden power failure, accidental dropping, manufacturing defects and general wear and tear. It is one of the most common causes of data loss along with human errors. To avoid hardware or system malfunctions, you should handle your device properly and keep it in a safe, dry and dust-free area. Additionally, using an Uninterrupted Power Supply (UPS) system reduces the risk of data loss because of power failure.
Hardware Theft: This is a common occurrence. You may leave your laptop or smartphone unattended and lose it while travelling or burglars may break into your home and steal your devices. Although theft of hardware devices is surely inconvenient, it is replaceable. However, if the hardware lost contains potentially critical personal or business data, then it is a loss to fear. It is important to take security measures to protect both hardware and data, for example by backing up the data in a different location.
Natural Disaster: Natural disasters like cyclones, flood and fire can be detrimental to the data. The best protection against these is to minimise the risk of data loss by storing it on cloud or off-site storage, which are usually located in potentially safer areas in different countries.
What Data to Backup and How Often?
Data backup is time consuming and requires lots of storage space. The first step to secure data is knowing what sort of data you have and its importance in the current scenario. Based on the importance of the data, you should then decide what levels of protection are required to keep the data both confidential and safe from loss. Moreover, it is essential to know which data to back up and how often you should run the backup. For businesses, keeping only the data they need for routine business, and safely archiving or destroying older data from all computers and other devices is the way to go.
Backing up unimportant data will cost you valuable resources such as time, storage space and money to maintain it. The frequency of change to data will help you determine how often the data should be backed up. For example, if your data changes weekly, then it should be backed up weekly, not daily. You should have a proper backup policy in place that identifies the important data and prioritises its back up rules. This will make the backup exercise simpler and effective. You should also train yourself how to respond if there is a data loss or data breach incident.
Data Backup Methods
There are different backup methods and each of them has their own advantages and disadvantages. Choosing the right backup method is one of the most important decisions you need to make as a network system manager or even as a personal user; when protecting your valuable data. You should learn to develop an effective data backup and recovery plan for your organisation. Let’s learn about the most common backup methods available, including full backup, incremental backup, differential backup, and mirror backup.
Full backup method backs up everything (files and their respective folders) selected for the backup job to the backup destination. Although the name suggests that it is a backup of all the files on a system, you can still customise the list of files or folders that you want to back up and the ones you want to exclude. This way you can back up only the important files as well as speed up the backup process. Every time a full backup is initiated, all files and folders designated in the backup job get backed up. In the next backup cycle, again all designated files and folders, including the ones that have not been modified, will be backed up. This repeats in every backup run. As all the chosen files and folders are copied for the backup every time the full backup is performed, this method is significantly slower compared to other methods. Another disadvantage of this backup method is that it consumes the maximum storage space as compared to other backup methods such as incremental and differential backups. Although, the full backup method is not the preferred choice for many due to its slow nature, it has some advantages; for example, the restoration of data. In case of a data loss incident, this method is fast as the entire list of files and folders are stored in one backup set. It is also reliable and easy to manage.
An incremental backup backs up only the changed files and new files created since the last incremental or full backup. With incremental backups, the first backup is always full backup, and the subsequent backups are incremental backups. This backup method saves both time and storage space as only the changes since the previous backup are backed up. For example, if there are five files to be backed up using incremental backup; then the first backup, which is the full backup, copies all the files to the backup destination. When it is time for the next backup, and only two files have undergone changes, then only the modified files will be copied, instead of all the five files.
In the event of data loss, the recovery process is slower in this method as all backup sets (first full backup and all incremental backups) are required to perform a successful data restoration. This increases the risk of data loss—one of its significant disadvantages.
Differential backup works much like incremental backup; however, with a minor variation. It copies only the files created or changed since the last full backup, not since the last (differential) backup. Whereas, an incremental backup copies the files created or changed since the last full or incremental backup. Differential backups consume less time than full backups but more time than incremental backups. This backup method also requires more storage space; however, the data restoration is easier and more reliable.
As the name implies, a mirror backup makes an exact copy of a file or folder to be backed up. The data is updated in real time. For example, any change made to a source file is immediately updated in that file in the mirror backup copy. When a file is deleted at the source, that file is also deleted in the mirror backup automatically. Mirror backup is the fastest backup method as it stores all the copied files and folders in the destination folder separately, without any compression. Note that, the other backup methods use a single compressed ‘container file’ to store all the files and folders being backed up.
Online Data Backup
Online data backup is a method of regularly creating a data backup on a remote server or computer securely over a network or the Internet. This is also known as cloud storage.The backup storage medium is typically located at a remote place and always connected to the source device by a network or Internet connection. To run backups, you don’t have to manually plug in storage media or drive. It is convenient, safe and accessible at any time.
Many companies, called online backup service providers or cloud providers, offer subscription services for cloud storage to consumers, who can rent certain amount of storage against a fee. Most of them also offer free storage up to a certain storage and charge beyond that. A data centre is where large amount of consumer’s data is securely stored. It is a data storage facility at a remote place that houses computer systems and associated components such as telecommunication and storage systems.
Backing up your data on the cloud has many advantages. For example, it will never disappear if your phone gets lost, your computer crashes or gets hacked. In addition, you can always have access to your data from any phone, tablet or computer that’s connected to the Internet.
Some of the advantages of online data backup are:
Convenience: Online backup is the most convenient way of regularly backing up data. Simply, keep the data you want to back up on the virtual drive provided by the cloud service provider. It automatically syncs with cloud storage (without any physical handling) unlike backing up data on external hard drives or flash drives. Online backup is accessible from anywhere as long as there is Internet connectivity. Moreover, as the responsibility of securing the data lies on the cloud service provider, you can concentrate solely on your work without worrying about data security.
Safety: As your data is stored and managed professionally in a remote location, which can be in a different country or even continent, the typical threats of hacking, virus, fire, flooding or theft can be ruled out. In fact, the data is stored in a more secure environment and on secure, encrypted servers and systems. You can also opt for additional security services provided by the companies for your invaluable data.
Ease of Recovery: Cloud service providers often store multiple copies of your data at locations independent of each other. This ensures the survival of at least one copy in case of a natural disaster or an accident should it ever get lost.
Affordability: Backing up your data on the cloud can be less expensive, because as a customer you don’t have to purchase any hardware (server, tape drives) and software needed for storage and don’t need to pay for maintenance (cooling, power, IT labour and challenges related to data centre).