5 Principles of Data Backup and Recovery

It is difficult to overstate the importance of having a rock-solid backup and recovery plan for your company’s data. Although nearly every business has some form of backup plan in place, many fail to take all the necessary steps to ensure that their plan will deliver when they need it most. Here are five simple principles you can follow to improve your company’s backup and recovery plan:

1. Optimize your database backups

There is at least one important exception to the rule that you should back up every single bit of data in your system. There are some forms of data, such as session data, that you might want to exclude from your backups, at least in some situations. For example, if you’re running a content management system (CMS), and you’re backing up the database, you may have a large number of options with respect to the data sets you wish to include, and those that you wish to exclude, from your backups. In many cases, you will find that excluding certain data sets, such as cached settings, from the backup, will make it easier to perform a recovery, or to test your backup in a development environment. However, be sure to consult with your system administrator or an outside expert before excluding any data from your backups.

2. Backup more than your database

Generally, when we think of backing up data, we have databases in mind. However, associating data purely with databases can mislead us into thinking that as long as we have our databases backed up, then we’re on safe ground. Unfortunately, this is far from the case. The truth is that some of your most important data exists outside of your database. If you’re running a website, for example, in addition to your database, you will need to regularly backup the entire file directory.

3. Automate your backups

Manual backups should never be your sole backup plan. It’s simply too easy to forget to perform a backup yourself. For this reason, always setup your system to perform periodic, automatic backups. Depending on the sophistication of your system, you should be able to adjust the frequency and timing of your automated backups. Many site owners perform daily automatic backups, but the frequency will depend largely on the type of site. If you have an active site with important content added all throughout the day, you may need to perform automatic backups more often. On the other hand, if your site rarely changes, once a week may work. The rule of thumb is to match your automatic backup frequency to the frequency at which you and your users update your site. If the system also gives you the option of choosing the time of day that your automatic backups will run, you will usually want to choose a time when the site is least likely to experience any updates, such as the middle of the night in your time zone.

Finally, your system should give you a choice for your backup location. Take note that this choice is just as important, if not more important, than your choice of backup frequency. The universal principle to follow here is that you must always choose a backup location that is outside the system you’re backing up. Otherwise, when the system crashes or otherwise suffers data loss, your backup may go down or disappear along with it.

4. Test your backups

Site owners often feel that as long as they have a recent set of backup files on hand, then they are covered in the event of a crash. However, if you haven’t tested your backup files, you may get an error when you try to use them to recover your data. Backup files, like any files, can become corrupted or unusable. Additionally, they may be error-free, but incomplete, the result of a backup that missed a core data set or file in your system.

The only reliable way to guard against any of these dangers is to test your backups regularly. This is the part of your backup plan that requires the most discipline, because it is the one step that you generally can’t automate and must do manually. Naturally, you can’t test your backups on your live environment. Therefore, part of the testing process will require having a development or staging environment that is identical to your live system. If there is any significant difference in the configurations, you may find it difficult or impossible to perform a complete test of your backup.

5. Keep backups in multiple locations

There’s an old principle among system administrators: “If the data doesn’t exist in at least three separate locations, it doesn’t exist at all.” Many site owners prefer to keep one copy onsite; one copy in a nearby physical location; and one copy in the cloud. However, your specific needs will depend on the type of data; your security concerns; any rules surrounding various types of encryption; and so on. Yet the general principle is to have a number of duplicates of your backups in physically separate, secure locations.

Revamping your backup plan

Developing a rock-solid backup and recovery plan is one of the most important tasks you can perform as a site owner. As you get started, be sure to follow the five principles above: optimize your backups for easy recovery; backup all your data, not just your database; automate your backups; always remember to test your backups; and keep copies in multiple separate locations.

Contact us for more information on how to create a solid backup and recovery plan for protecting your valuable data.