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why you should always have backups

Why You Should Always Have Backups

Imagine a world where everything went right the first time. You got a teddy bear at the claw machine with your first coin; you tinkered with your website and no bugs were created in the process; you put the flash drive into your PC in one try. Yes, we’d be technological gods if we got it right all the time, but we don’t. For that reason, you should always have backups. Not just for your data (which is important), but for practically everything else as well.


Contents

  1. What is a backup?
  2. Different risks to your data
  3. Benefits of backing up your data
  4. What’s a good backup strategy?
  5. Best backup practices you can use now
  6. Ways to backup your data safely
  7. FAQs

What is a backup?

A backup is when you store or retain data in a separate location to where the data is originally held. So, if you have most of your files on your PC, you might have a backup of those same files on an external hard drive. That way if anything happened to your PC your files would not be at risk.

Let’s create some context for our problem. Most of us have encountered the dreaded lost Word document after putting in hours of work only to find it wasn’t saved. That sinking feeling as dismay enveloped you really put into context what’s important in life: saved documents, for one.

Having some sort of backup where the information could be re-accessed not only gets you back what you lost, but bathes you in that sweet sense of relief no poet could justly describe. It’s an emotional rollercoaster you would rather avoid (trust us).

This backup plan (excuse the pun) extends not just to your Word documents and spreadsheets, but to all of your data. That includes business and client data, server data, critical application data, website data, photos, videos, music, films, and whatever other memories and files you may have on your device or online.

We know you’d be gutted to lose that one album you reference when making fun of your friends. Backing up your data ensures you’ll always be able to threaten them with the embarrassment of that one time they tried karaoke.


Different risks to your data

Losing all your data isn’t just you forgetting to save a file, or accidently formatting a hard drive. It may include those but your data disappearing into the ether could be completely out of your control. Let’s take a look at some of the common ways we can lose our data.

Human error

Let’s start off by accepting our role in how data loss can come about. Actually, short of a natural disaster, most ways data loss occur is because of how we operate regarding our data or devices.

Some of the most common ways we influence data loss is:

  • Spilling coffee on our devices
  • Testing or implementing new changes on our website
  • Unintentionally wiping hard drives
  • Making incorrect changes to file systems
  • Not having the proper training to handle data or how it should be stored and recorded
  • Unintentionally overwriting or deleting files

If you’re really unlucky you might total your laptop by standing up and forgetting your headphones are still plugged in, dragging the machine to it’s doom.

A simple way to avoid most of these is to limit the exposure your data could have to these adverse events. For example, you could have your device on a platform so if you spill coffee, you know you’re in the clear. You could also ensure you or your staff are properly trained in data storage. And we don’t mean copying your files onto a flash drive you keep in your draw. Take the time to learn how to properly retain data.

Hardware failure

Sometimes our PCs pack up and so goes with it everything we had stored on the poor device. Not necessarily something we can prevent as hard drives reach their life expectancy over time, same as we do. Like with humans, they may fall prey to unusual body malfunctions earlier than expected, sometimes as early as the first year of being used.

A Backblaze table showing the rate at which different hard drives fail over time
A Backblaze table showing the rate at which different hard drives fail over time

What we can do from our side is ensure the hardware is taken care of.

  • Don’t allow too much dust to build up
  • Don’t drop or slam the hardware
  • Do whisper empty promises that you’ll never say how slow and useless the machine is.

The last one is unverifiable, but it can’t hurt. And if your device shuts down randomly or freezes, hope and pray that your local data is secure if you don’t have backups stored elsewhere.

A Ponemon Institute report showing the effectiveness of security in a company pre/post Covid
A Ponemon Institute report showing the effectiveness of security in a company pre/post Covid

Phishing, viruses & malware

The preferred method of attack for online criminals, viruses and malware can cause a host of issues if not checked. Not just to your data either, but to your company, website, or device as a whole.

A Netwrix report showing different security incidents in the past 12 months (from 2021)
A Netwrix report showing different security incidents in the past 12 months (from 2021)

Email phishing attacks and malicious links can catch anyone off guard, putting the entire system at risk. This means that besides being able to control your data, criminals could threaten to dump your data online if you don’t pay up. They could also block access to your own data depending how bad a hack is.

Your best bet is to keep your antivirus updated and either train yourself or offer training on how to spot these phishing emails if you own a company.

Natural disasters

Let’s not forget Mother Nature’s impact on our data. While many of our best efforts at avoiding data loss from a human perspective can work, Mother Nature has a way of keeping us humbled. A rogue fire or flood can level thousands of gigabytes of data with little remorse. Obviously, because as far as we know fires don’t have feelings.

One of the best ways to avoid falling victim to Mother Nature’s wrath is to ensure you have backups that’re in a different location. So, if a fire happens in your office for example, you have your data stored somewhere offsite. Fortunately, South Africa is not prone to many natural disasters, but if your data is stored in high-risk areas this is something you might want to take into consideration.

Theft

Unfortunately, if you live in South Africa, the chances of your device getting physically stolen is also high. House break-ins make up the majority of crimes, and too many people have their phones opportunistically snatched at a restaurant or get mugged on the street. You don’t want all your hard work going out the door.


Benefits of backing up your data

Like we mentioned earlier, avoiding any of these disasters or mistakes can be out of our hands, but preparation for them certainly isn’t. Having a backup of your data ensures that you can pick up where you last left off (or at least pretty close to it) if the worst happens.

A Netwrix report showing the most common consequences of a data breach
A Netwrix report showing the most common consequences of a data breach

Some of the immediate benefits of backing up your data is:

  • Your data is secure. You get to keep your data in the case of an accident which, in a sense, makes it as if said accident never happened, at least from a data perspective. Think of it as being able to load from your last saved point in a game. Any mistakes you made up until that point can be completely wiped and you get to go again, only this time you can learn from your mistake.
  • You can easily recover your data. Client databases, business documents, website databases, server applications, all irreplaceable, priceless data can be restored in no time, however and wherever you prefer. All your data is easily accessible to you from your backup, which of course saves a lot of time.
  • Peace of mind. Knowing that your data is secure in the event of a breach or accident allows you to skip along merrily knowing that you can revert to basking in data glory once more. Essentially, it’s giving your data unlimited lives and making it immortal in a certain sense.
  • It can save your business or website. Maintaining a business or website takes a lot of work. Not just producing your product or service, but the work that went into making everything around that run smoothly. Having backups mean that all that hard work won’t be in vain.


What’s a good backup strategy?

We like the 3-2-1 backup strategy. This strategy involves having three copies of your data, two of which are local (but on different devices), and one offsite (i.e., a cloud backup). Check out our Acronis cloud backups if you’re looking for an offsite backup solution.

So, the 3-2-1- method is nifty because it allows you to have some copies on hand if your drive fails for some reason, or you have an accident. If something major happens that totals your space, like a disaster, the offsite backup can rescue your lost data.

As for the other damages, you have insurance, right?

A statistic showing that 60% of businesses close down within six months after a data loss event
A statistic showing that 60% of businesses close down within six months after a data loss event – Nirico

On the topic of securing your backups, ensure that the system you’re using has an actual backup agent. What this does is separate the backups from your hard drive, making it harder for malware and ransomware to infect your data. These are examples of systems that are NOT good backup options:

  • A network share
  • Data synchronization
  • RAID (Redundant Array of Inexpensive Disks).

Data loss window & when to backup

The data loss window refers to how much data you’re willing to lose. You can measure this by the amount of data that has changed since the last time you did a backup. If you’re routinely making hundreds of sales a month, your window will be a lot smaller than someone who has a blog with a couple of visitors a day.

So, the frequency of your backups will depend on how much data you’re acquiring and changing over time. The backup window also implies that you have an acceptable amount of data you’re willing to lose.

Of course, you’d like to minimize loss altogether, and you can do making use of incremental backups.

But what should you be backing up? It’s not a rhetorical question.

Backing up software and operating system files is unnecessary and wastes resources. If you’d like to keep them safe adding them to the monthly backup will do.

Take a look at this backup structure to get a good idea of how you should approach it if you’re got plenty of important data to preserve.

  • Archive a full image of your server that’s never overwritten. It should be renewed every one, three, six, or twelve months depending on you.
  • Complete a full file backup at least once monthly, but preferably once weekly.
  • Incremental file backups. Keep at least five to seven daily so you can take a step back to the last good copy if you need to. This is especially good if you like to tinker your website code or stats – an accident can happen at any time.


Best backup practices you can use now

Think of backing up your data as a lifestyle. You’ve heard every fitness fanatic talk about how it’s a lifestyle more than anything else.

You could say we’re the fitness fanatic in this case because backing up really is. Or at least a habit you’d benefit from forming.

These are the best practices for keeping your data safe and accessible.

A statistic showing how many PC users have had uncontrollable data loss events
A Boston Computing Network statistic showing how many PC users have had uncontrollable data loss events

Backup regularly

As we mentioned earlier, depending on the kind of operation you’re running with your data, you may need to back up more often than most people. Ecommerce websites for example will likely need to back up at least once a day. Orders and customer profiles should suffice.

Keep backups for at least three months

Don’t delete your backup as a new one is created. It may seem better as you’ll be saving space, but it could hurt you in the event of data loss.

If someone injects malicious code into your website, you’ll be able to review the site’s code over a number of weeks. This’ll help your developers pinpoint and isolate the problem.

Onsite and offsite backups

In reference to the 3-2-1 rule, you want to keep onsite and offsite backups.

Encrypt your backups

Encrypting your backup ensures that it remains ‘eyes only’. If any passer-by were to access your hard drives with backed up data, they could wreak havoc. Having it encrypted and password protected ensures your data can’t be viewed by outside parties.

This may be our protective nature speaking, but as a webhost we absolutely cannot have a data loss scenario where other people access any of our data. Although, again, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

A statistic showing how lax security is with regards to access to sensitive documents at companies
A statistic showing how lax security is with regards to access to sensitive documents at companies – Varonis


Ways to backup your data safely

Fortunately, like the numerous ways in which data can be lost, data can also be stored and backed up. Let’s get into some of the popular ways to keep your data alive.

Keeping it in the cloud

You won’t be the only one floating on cloud 9 in the event of data loss if you use this method. It’s one of the more common ways of securing your data and has nothing to do with the condensed water vapour floating in the sky.

You basically store your data on a server or hard drive in a remote location that you can access via the internet. In a sense you are storing it on a mega hard drive, just one that is not owned by or physically accessible to you.

A Netwrix report displaying what data organizations prefer to store in the cloud
A Netwrix report displaying what data organizations prefer to store in the cloud

The perks of this method means your data is in an offsite location and is encrypted so no one else can steal it. You can also access it at any time. The downside is that you need the internet to access your files and you also have a cap on how much space you can use when using only free services.

If you’d like your data to be a part of our backup plan, take a look at our cloud backup plans. We give you 20 GB free for 6 months!

HOSTAFRICA cloud backup price table
HOSTAFRICA cloud backup packages

Using an external hard drive

A bit archaic, almost, but definitely gets the job done. Backing up on an external means you’ll be saving data for one device at a time, so this method is less ideal for businesses. Imagine IT going around the office asking everyone to backup their PC at the end of the week.

It would work well for personal use, however, as you’ll likely have one or two devices that need data to be stored. It’s pretty easy to use and with some software updates you needn’t worry about your data.

The downside is that like all hard drives, they can reach their life expectancy and themselves fall prey to data loss. If you use a hard drive, they’ll usually be close by as well, which could be a problem in the case of a disaster.

Using a USB flash drive

Perhaps playing it a bit fast and loose with data storage, but it can also work if you’re in a pinch. What’s good about using a flash is that it’s portable, affordable, and most importantly comes in a range of novelty shapes.

They generally won’t be too big on the storage side compared to a hard drive, but they’ll suffice. The downside of these critters is that they can be misplaced easily and are susceptible to breaking. Not the storage per se, but just being smashed if they fall of get sat on.

We wouldn’t suggest these as a long-term solution.

Storing data on a NAS device

This method is better suited to businesses. NAS stands for network-attached storage. It’s a server that’s dedicated to saving data and can operate wired or wirelessly. It’s pretty handy in a business setting because it can be accessed like any other drive on your device and be set for automatic updates. It can also backup several computers at once which saves IT a bunch of time.

Take a look at our dedicated servers and cloud virtual machines to set this up. If you already have servers with us and would like to back those up, we recommend buying our cloud storage instead to ensure your backed up data is off-site (in a different place from your original data)


FAQs

Assimilating this amount of text can be hard if you’re strapped for time. For that reason, we’ve addressed all of the standard question you could have when thinking about backups.

What is a backup?

A backup is copied data that is held in an alternative location to the original for preservation purposes.

What are the components of a good backup plan?

A good backup plan entails regular backups on different devices. The 3-2-1 method is a safe choice. You should have three copies of your data, two of them onsite on two separate devices, and one cloud backup.

Where to store backups?

You should store your backups in different locations to the original data source, so it is unaffected by whatever happened to the original.

What is an incremental backup and a differential backup?

An incremental backup backs up the data that changed since the LAST backup. So, if you were doing daily backups, only the change in data from the previous day would be recorded.

 A differential backup backs up the files that changed since the last FULL backup. So, if you do a full backup up once a month, you’ll save a bigger number of files as the month proceeded.

Why backup?

You backup to record and protect your data from being erased or lost in the event of an accident or emergency. If the original source is lost or becomes corrupted, you have a copy.

How safe is cloud backups?

Extremely safe. Cloud storage companies tend to have vastly greater systems and defences against accidents, malware and ransomware, and general negligence. You may think the opposite since your data is stored on a server far away from you, but most cloud backup providers specialise in storing data in the cloud.

What are the 3 types of backups?

  • Full backup – A complete backup of your data.
  • Incremental backup – A backup of the data that changed since the most recent backup.
  • Differential backup – A backup of the files that changed since the last full backup


Conclusion

We’ve used the word backup 80 times in this blog post. If any of the information doesn’t stick, we hope your subconscious picks up the term and stirs you to action. It really is an imperative step for data protection and preservation.

So, now you know the importance of a plan B (for backup). Don’t wait until it’s too late, better safe than sorry.


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