Apr 23, 2015

Backup Strategy: What Should I Back Up?

Paul Painter, Director, Solutions Engineering

At HorizonIQ, we know that data protection is essential to make businesses work, and losing critical data can make businesses disappear.

According to PricewaterhouseCoopers, 94% of companies that suffer a catastrophic data loss without backup will go out of business within 2 years. The firm also estimates that 15,000 hard drives around the world fail every day. And, according to web security firm Symantec, the median cost of downtime for a small or medium-size business is $12,500 per day.

Backup can save your company from lost revenue, lost sales, lost development time and lost, well, everything.

But what should you backup? Do you need to backup everything, or just certain files? How can you assess that? We’d like to offer you some tips in this article about how to approach your backup strategy.

Defining file backups and bare-metal backups

Let’s start with two definitions to understand the difference between file backups and bare-metal backups. Then, we will discuss some common use cases.

File backup — By definition, a backup refers to a copy of computer data, as a file or as the contents of a hard drive. The most common way to take backups is on the files level. Determining the most critical files is the first step in defining your backup strategy.

Bare-metal backup — A bare-metal backup refers to a full backup of everything in order to restore the server to a previous state. “Everything” in this situation refers to the operating system, the configuration of the operating system, the application code, and the application and user data, as illustrated in this image.

Backup use cases

We’ve observed that our customers’ backup strategy evolves according to a few factors, including company size, the criticality of their data, and restoration time tolerance. Bare-metal backups usually help decrease the restoration time, since you don’t need to reinstall the operating system, re-configure it, and reinstall your applications.

Bare metal or file backup for startups
A startup may not have the luxury of backing up everything, because the process may represent a lot of data, including the operating system and configurations. It can also involve some high costs that can’t easily be justified. Plus, is it worth your time to work overnight to re-install the operating system and re-configure everything like it was before the disaster event? In this scenario, backing up only your critical files may be sufficient.

Backup for SMB & enterprise corporations
As the company grows larger, you usually end up using both types of backup. Some servers are not worth the expense of performing bare-metal backups, because this can require significant offline time. But, if one or two servers are business-critical, you may need to take bare-metal backups in order to be able to restore them in a timely manner in the event of a disaster.

Can I still perform some file restoration when taking bare-metal backups?
By taking bare-metal backups, you usually are protecting yourself against file loss, since the backup solution should be capable of extracting one specific file or set of files from this bare-metal backup.

Backup best practices

We’d like to remind you that regardless of which backup strategy you choose for your specific case, the most forgotten best practice is the most important one: testing your backups. We advise you to try and restore your files and your servers on a regular basis. Why test restoration? Because you don’t want to test a restoration for the first time when you’re experiencing an actual disaster scenario. You want to make sure your backups are not corrupted, or that you missed a critical file when determining which files were essential for backup.


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About Author

Paul Painter

Director, Solutions Engineering

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