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Data has grown to become a treasured invaluable asset among organizations, regardless of its size. It’s not difficult to see why this is the case.
Organizations use data as a raw material to build revolutionary products at scale. No wonder the United Nations terms it the “lifeblood of decision-making”.
Because this data is so critical, losing it can threaten the organization’s existence – and many have already fallen victim.
Since it’s not easy to guarantee full ongoing protection, backup is key. It ensures that should anything ever happen to the organization’s data, the backup copy can always be restored.
In order for your data to be fully protected, you should set up and implement a strong backup strategy, and the best practices we are about to uncover here are all you need to get it right.
Backup strategy best practices
These best practices are based on experience and competencies built over many years of implementing successful data backup strategies.
As we go through each best practice, you will discover that they are easy to tailor to your unique environment. Whether you are a new business or a large enterprise, an NGO or a public institution, these best practices apply across the board.
1. Take stock of the organization’s data
This is a practice that many organizations neglect, yet it should always be the first thing we do when setting up our backup strategies.
Many will simply start backing up data without understanding the extent of the data they possess. The risk of leaving out important data or backing up obsolete data is high. This can result in inefficient use of storage resources and may compromise the ability to recover important information when needed.
Another challenge with omitting to review the preliminary data to back up is that it can create confusion during recovery. For instance, consider a scenario where you have been backing up data for years without reviewing its contents. During a data loss event, you may need to restore a specific database containing customer transaction records. However, due to a lack of proper data review and organization, you are uncertain about which backup contains the required data.
This uncertainty can lead to delays in recovery efforts. It may also require additional resources to sift through backups in order to locate the necessary information, further complicating an already challenging situation.
2. Keep the data in a secure readily accessible medium
It would be a futile waste of resources if you were to back up data in an insecure medium or location. Cyber risks are no longer something we can ignore. It’s a reality we have come to accept to live with.
So think about the security of your backed up data. It’s one thing to be happy that you have your data backed up. But equally important to make sure that it’s secure.
A secure medium is a medium that is located outside the production site and which is inaccessible through the network keeping it safe from cyber attacks. It has also to implement encryption using keys that are tightly protected.
3. Think about retention span
In the context of data backup, retention span refers to the period of time for which backup copies of data are retained and preserved. It represents the duration during which backed-up data is available for recovery or restore purposes. Since it’s a crucial aspect of enterprise backup strategy, it’s good that you define it based on your organization’s specific requirements.
Essentially, you want to establish retention policies to determine how long backup copies are kept. Consider factors such as regulatory requirements and the cost of storage.
Retention span can vary for different types of data. For instance, short-term retention might involve keeping daily backups for a week. Long-term retention on the other hand, could involve retaining monthly or yearly backups for several years.
In some industries, there are legal and regulatory requirements that mandate specific retention periods for certain types of data. Your backup retention policies must comply with these regulations.
4. Create clear documentation for backup policies and procedures
Your data backup strategy will only succeed if the people responsible for executing it actually have the necessary skills and expertise. And since you cannot be managing everywhere all the time, you need to make sure that the policies that dictate the backup ecosystem are clear.
The best way to test clarity is to check if the non-technical staff is able to execute the policies with little assistance. Of course there are certain technical areas that can only be tackled by technical teams. But the point here is to ensure that whoever is concerned by the policies can run through the functions of the backup document, with little dependance.
Items such as the tools to use and where, roles, and backup schedules, should be elaborately explained with precise clarity.
5. Back up regularly
Of course, not all data needs to be backed up frequently. But depending on your organization’s business and the type of data you operate with, some data may be crucial and you cannot afford not to back it up frequently.
In fact, some types of data require continuous backup. Examples of such data could include financial transactions and medical data.
6. Conduct frequent backup testing
Evaluate the effectiveness of your backup processes and systems on a regular basis. The goal is to ensure they are functioning, because sometimes they can fail.
Practically, this means restoring data periodically from the backup copies to verify successful retrieval and reinstatement. You should also check the integrity of the restored data to ensure it’s not corrupted.
Evaluate how long it takes to recover data from backups to plan for business continuity. In this, consider different scenarios like hardware failures or cyberattacks. Verify the automation processes if you use automated backup solutions to ensure scheduled backups are executed without issues. Confirm that all necessary files and information are included in the backup data.
Regular testing also offers an opportunity to update the backup documentation, making it easier for teams to follow procedures in case of an actual crisis.
The primary goal of these tests is to increase confidence in the strategy. Is it robust enough to meet the organization’s recovery objectives?
7. Apply the 3-2-1 data backup rule
This rule simply means you should have more than one backup copy, and where these copies should be stored.
Having one backup copy can lead to a disaster! And many organizations keep making this mistake. Now imagine a business has only one backup copy, kept on an external drive tucked somewhere around the office. Suppose a fire breaks out one day and burns that office down, or thieves break in and steal all the devices including the external drive that holds the backup. This company will have lost everything, plus the backup. In this case the backup had no point. This is the challenge that the 3-2-1 backup strategy prevents.
How does the 3-2-1 backup rule work? Simply:
- 3: Always create three copies of all the important data. The original data is in the primary devices, of course. The rest should be kept in different locations.
- 2: Always use two different types of storage. For example, if you have one copy in an external drive in the office, have another copy in the cloud.
- 1: Always keep one copy offsite. Offsite here means away from the premises. If something was to happen to the premises and destroy all the copies there, the offsite copy will save the business.
8. Settle on a suitable backup method
Depending on a couple of factors such as the size of your organization and the type of data that matters most, you are going to have to choose the most suitable backup method. Briefly, these are the common types of backup:
- Incremental backup: Creates backup of only the data that has changed since the last backup;
- Full backup: Backs up all the data in the organization, regardless of whether it has changed or not;
- Differential backup: Backs up all changes since the last full backup;
- Snapshot backup: Backs up data at a specific moment
9. Automate where you can
Backups are not that simple. They can get really complex especially for organizations with huge volumes of data used for different purposes.
If this is the type of data you handle, then it’s important to identify areas where automation will bring exceptional efficiency.
Automation significantly simplifies the process of scheduling and executing backups. Manual intervention is kept at a minimum, and this reduces the potential for human error.
Automated backup systems can include built-in data validation checks. These checks ensure the completeness and accuracy of backups. Issues are preemptively identified, which reduces the likelihood of encountering problems during recovery.
More elements that can be easily automated include:
- Reports and audits
10. Offer adequate training for teams
In fact, this should always be ongoing. Train your teams on the importance of backing up their data using the tools at their disposal. While data backup is the ultimate responsibility of the security team or IT team in the case of a small organization, some backup tasks can only be performed by specific team members.
We have already discussed automation, and yes you can automate most of the process. But some data that is restricted to users of certain endpoints (for example), may require that only those users can perform the backups. In this case, they will need to be guided on how to do it on a regular basis. They also need to be constantly reminded, as this will eventually push the backup methodology to take root into the organization’s culture – which is the objective.
11. Consider the speed of recovery
In a fiercely competitive landscape as it is today, it’s not enough to just restore a backup in response to a crisis.
The true value of a backup lies in its ability to swiftly restore the data into the live environment.
As an example, consider a scenario in the e-commerce sector. Your organization operates a busy online retail platform, and the data that drives this platform is mission-critical. Any interruption in the availability of your website could result in lost sales and customer frustration. The frustration, however minor, will obviously damage your brand’s reputation.
Investing in a backup solution with a focus on speedy recovery will help you avoid this.
12. Back up cloud workloads
There is this common misconception among many organizations where they assume that when their teams work from the cloud, the data is automatically safe, and they need not think about backup. This is wrong and can lead to significant risks.
You need to back up the cloud workloads as well, as some of the important information and digital assets your company relies on are stored in cloud platforms.
Imagine your organization operates primarily in the cloud, relying on services like Google Workspace for email and collaboration, Salesforce for customer relationship management (CRM), and AWS for web hosting and application deployment. It’s easy to assume that these cloud providers have everything under control, but the reality is that disruptions can still occur in these platforms.
A proactive backup strategy for cloud workloads creates a safety net for all digital operations. Make duplicate copies of critical data, such as emails, documents, and customer records, within these cloud services, and store them securely.
Depending on your cloud provider, you may be charged a fee for data upstream. Such additional costs demand that you optimize the backup process, since it’s imperative to back up workloads outside the regular cloud work environment. These steps can be applied for effective data protection in the cloud.
Ultimately, the best backup strategy is as effective as the backup solution you choose. If your data is big or growing fast, you need to work with a credible partner to handle the backup operations.
The reasons are multifaceted: The vast volume of data demands robust, scalable, and secure backup solutions. The right partner will offer the necessary infrastructure and expertise to meet these demands.
Don’t forget the endpoints. It’s easy to focus on the big databases and forget about the endpoints that employees use on a daily basis. Think individual devices such as laptops, phones, tablets, etc.
As long as the devices are approved for use within the organization’s network, you need to include them in the backup strategy. All the important data that these devices carry should have a back up as well.