Data is one of a company’s most valuable assets in today’s digital world. From customer information to financial records, emails, and proprietary files – losing data can be devastating. Just imagine if your company’s server crashed and you lost everything with no backups. It would be incredibly disruptive, not to mention the potential legal and compliance issues. That’s why having a solid data backup strategy in place is critical for every business.  

When data loss occurs, it often happens unexpectedly through hardware failure, cyber attacks like ransomware, natural disasters, or even simple human error. The best way to protect your data is to regularly back it up and store copies in multiple secure locations. Following backup best practices will provide you with the peace of mind that your data can be quickly recovered if disaster strikes.

In this article, we’ll explore some key considerations for developing a robust data backup strategy to keep your business protected.

Have a Backup Policy in Place

It is important to create secure policies

The first step in creating a backup strategy is to have a formal policy in place. Your backup policy should outline:

What data will be backed up – Identify your critical data and systems that need to be protected. This may include databases, file servers, email, ERP systems, and more.

  • Backup schedule – How often backups will run such as daily, weekly, incremental vs full.
  • Retention period – How long backup copies will be stored before deletion.
  • Responsible parties – Who is in charge of managing and testing backups?
  • Backup methodology – Will you use storage media like tapes or prefer a cloud backup provider? 
  • Testing procedure – How often backups will be tested to verify they can be restored.

Documenting these details in a policy will help ensure your backups are run consistently and provide clear procedures for your team. Be sure to keep the policy updated as your backup needs evolve.

Use the 3-2-1 Backup Strategy

What is the 3-2-1 backup strategy?

A best practice used by many organizations is the 3-2-1 backup strategy. This approach recommends maintaining 3 copies of your data, on 2 different media types, with 1 copy stored offsite. 

For example, you may have daily backups to an onsite NAS device, weekly backups to a data tape, and then monthly backups to a cloud storage provider. This covers the 3-2-1 rule to protect against both physical loss and cyber attacks.

Some key advantages of the 3-2-1 approach include:

  • Protection against hardware failure – Disks in a NAS may fail, but tapes provide an alternative medium.
  • Defense against ransomware – Keeping offsite copies prevents malware from infecting all backups.
  • Recovery from natural disasters – If your office is damaged, offsite data remains accessible.

Following the 3-2-1 rule provides complete, resilient data protection.

Determine Backup Frequency Based on Data Sensitivity

While daily backups are recommended for most data, you may require more or less frequent backups depending on how critical the information is. Here are some guidelines:

  • Highly sensitive data – Finance systems, healthcare records, and proprietary IP may need real-time or hourly backups.
  • Business critical systems – Core databases, ERP systems, and CRM may need daily and weekly backups.
  • Email servers – A daily backup is typical for email data.
  • File servers – Backup daily at a minimum for shared files and folders.
  • Desktops/laptops – Back up user documents weekly. Rely on central servers for daily backups.
  • Historical records – Data that is not accessed frequently may only need monthly or quarterly backups.

Adjust the backup frequency based on how much data you can afford to lose and the rate at which it changes. Find the right balance for each system.

Manage Data Retention and Archiving

As the amount of data you back up grows over time, your storage needs will increase as well. Develop a data retention policy to address:

  • Backup cataloging – Tag and categorize backup copies for easy lookup and restoration.
  • Retention schedule – How long backups should be stored locally before deleting or archiving.
  • Archiving plan – What historical backups should be moved to cheaper storage tiers? 
  • Deletion process – How expired backups will be permanently deleted.
  • Capacity monitoring – Watch for backup storage to reach limits and proactively expand.

With proper retention policies, you can reduce backup storage costs while still preserving needed recovery points. Archived backups provide insurance against catastrophic data loss.

Maintain Business Continuity with Disaster Recovery

While backups help recover lost data, you also need a business continuity and disaster recovery (BCDR) plan for when systems fail. 

Your BCDR plan should cover:

  • Backup retrieval process – How to restore data from backups if infrastructure is damaged.
  • Critical system recovery – Steps for recovering core IT systems and databases. 
  • Alternate work facility – Designate a temporary workspace with backups/hardware if offices are inaccessible.
  • Communication plan – How will you notify employees and stakeholders during an outage?
  • Recovery time objective (RTO) – The timeline to restore business operations, such as 24-48 hours.  
  • Recovery point objective (RPO) – Acceptable data loss if backups are incomplete, often a few hours.

With BCDR planning, you can minimize downtime and continue operations even during an incident.

Educate Employees on Backup Best Practices

Your employees play a key role in safeguarding data by following proper protocols day-to-day. Be sure to educate them on:

  • Storing critical files/folders on networked drives, not local devices. This ensures backups capture the data.
  • Avoiding disabling or modifying scheduled backups. This can impact job completion.
  • Reporting issues like significantly slow backups which could indicate problems.
  • Not deleting or moving originals after backup. If the backup fails, source files will still be available.
  • Encrypting sensitive data before storing/sending it. This adds another layer of protection.
  • Watching for warning signs of ransomware like renamed files. Alert IT immediately if detected.

Providing training resources can help reinforce the role of backups and the importance of upstream data security for employees.

Be Proactive About Protecting Your Data!

Implementing strong data backup policies takes an investment of time and money up front. However, the payoff comes when disaster strikes, and your business can rapidly bounce back with minimal data loss.

Follow best practices like the 3-2-1 rule, create recovery plans, test backups regularly, and get staff trained on backup processes. Being proactive now will save you from devastating data loss down the road. Safeguard your digital assets by making data backup a priority for your organization.

For further reading, The National Institute of Standards and Technology provides an excellent guide on Protecting Data from Ransomware and Other Events

Protecting data is a constant, evolving effort. But with the right backup strategy, you can feel confident your business is resilient if things go wrong.

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The 3-2-1 backup rule recommends keeping 3 copies of your data, on 2 different types of media, with 1 copy stored offsite.

The 3 principles for backing up data are using multiple backup destinations, multiple backup media types, and at least one offsite backup location.

The golden rule of backup is to maintain at least three total copies of your data, stored on two different media, with at least one copy located offsite.

The best place to store a full backup is an offsite location that is physically separate from your primary data center or office.

A Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery (BCDR) Plan outlines how a business will maintain or quickly resume operations in the event of a disruption.

A backup strategy is a documented plan for regularly backing up data to protect against loss using processes like incremental and full backups, retention schedules, and media rotation.

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