How to Build a Time and Cost Efficient Backup Strategy

A backup strategy is the only foolproof way to fight data loss. With even the smallest businesses generating terabytes of data, a sound backup strategy is crucial for business continuity. Infrequent batch backups are no longer sufficient.

However, many backup guides require business to make large capital investments upfront on hardware–that’s money that many businesses may not have. The myriad of options can also have owners lost in the technicalities.

Here’s a guide to help you determine and build a backup strategy that works for your needs and budget.

Identify your RPO and RTO

There isn’t a one-size-fits all strategy for backups. To make sure you’re not over or underspending on hardware and software, it’s important to zero in on two factors that will help guide you to an infrastructure that works for your needs: the Recovery Point Objective (RPO) and Recovery Time Objective (RTO).

Recovery point objective (RPO)

Put simply, RPO is the length of time your backups remain relevant. In the event of a complete data loss, it’s the metric that dictates how much data you can afford to lose. For instance, if your RPO is 24 hours, that means your business can continue operating even without the data from the last day.

The RPO will inform how frequently–or infrequently–you’ll have to do data backups. Some businesses can go as long as a week without backing up, while those in industries that handle sensitive data may need to backup their data daily.

Recovery time objective (RTO)

RTO is how long you can take to recover your data before suffering from irreversible damage. For instance, if your app can’t survive more than 4 hours of downtime without incurring huge losses, then your RTO must be 4 hours.

RTO, while closely related to RPO, has a larger impact on your backup and recovery strategy. A shorter RTO will require business owners and their IT teams to move faster to restore systems. And the metric dictates far more than backup frequency. Your RTO will help you decide which technologies and plans have to be in place to stay below the limit.

While RTO is a set metric, strategies to meet it will have to be flexible, because time to restore is affected by a host of factors, such as the time of day downtimes occur, or the availability of IT personnel. An efficient backup strategy accounts for all of these variables, so businesses can stay agile in the event of downtimes, and you can restore systems with minimal disruption.

Segment your Data

Adopting a blanket solution to backing up is the fastest way you can overspend on technology. Not all data is mission critical, and triaging by importance is key to reducing the load on your systems and cutting unnecessary spend.

There are three types of backups you can run, depending on your needs: full backups, incremental backups, and differential backups.

Full backups for mission critical data

Full backups transfer a complete copy of systems to another media, usually tape drives or disk-based technologies. These typically live on-site, so restoration time is faster.

Full backups take longer because every run copies everything, from your files to your operating systems. Obviously, this type of backup sits on a lot of storage space. We recommend full backups of mission critical data, which include applications your business absolutely cannot function without. You should also run full backups after system and software upgrades.

Incremental backups and files

Incremental backups only copy changes from the latest backup of any kind. This method uses significantly less storage space than full backups, and so can be done more frequently without straining resources.

The downside to this option is that restores take longer, because you will have to restore the full backup and any subsequent incremental backups. Incremental backups are best for file-based updates, and can be done as infrequently as once a week or every night, depending on the volume of data your business generates.

Differential backups

Differential backups are similar to incremental in that it copies changes made, not the entire dataset. Yet instead of carrying over minute changes from the last backup, it copies all the updates made from the last full backup. This way, differential eats more data than incremental. The main downside of this method is that it can quickly occupy more storage space as you go longer without a full backup.

Cover your Endpoint Devices and Data on the Cloud

Many businesses make the mistake of looking only at their central servers when creating a backup strategy. However, there’s a ton of data that remains exclusively on an employee’s desktop PC or laptop. This can become particularly vulnerable if you have a team of remote workers, who are potentially logging onto insecure public wifi networks or downloading apps outside of the organisation. We also use a ton of cloud-based systems for everything from marketing to accounting, and so have data that are stored by service providers in their own servers.

Data on the cloud is guaranteed safe against on-site disasters like missing hard drives or fires. However, it’s still vulnerable to system failures that are beyond your control, or even simple human error, like employees accidentally deleting important files. Your strategy should include plans for backing up end user devices like mobile phones, and cloud-to-cloud backup systems for data your business can’t bear to lose.

Assign a data recovery manager

Any event that leads to data loss, whether system failure or ransomware attack, will leave a business in chaos. Coordinating recovery amidst the fallout can be disorienting. IT technicians can find themselves pulled left and right trying to fix multiple issues.

Establishing a chain of command is essential for getting your systems back up as soon as possible, minimising loss. However, smaller businesses may not have dedicated IT personnel, much less a role for overseeing backup strategies are implemented properly.

Fortunately, managed service providers (MSPs) offer expert teams at a fraction of the cost you’d pay for in-house personnel. Most plans today can be customisable to a business’ budget and needs.