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Data Backup: Definition, Options, Types and Solutions

Data backup is an indispensable part of modern business operations. Whether you are an IT professional responsible for safeguarding your company’s data or an individual looking to protect your files, you need a robust backup solution to defend against failures, ransomware attacks, or other disasters.

Explore topics such as the importance of IT backup, different backup options, recovery time objectives (RTO) and recovery point objectives (RPO), types of data backups, and data management solutions. With an in-depth understanding of these concepts, you will be better equipped to make informed decisions about guarding your valuable information.

What Is Data Backup?

Data backup is the process of copying data from a primary location to a secondary destination in case of loss of the original data to a disaster, accident, or malfunction. In many instances, backups can help recover older files that have already been deleted. Essentially, data backup is one of the essential tools in the arsenal of a modern enterprise, as data protection is critical for the survival of any organization.  

The Importance of IT Backup

It is impossible to stress enough how important data backups are for businesses. IT departments are usually responsible for managing backups, and it is indeed a struggle. Unlike ordinary users, organizations need to back up client databases, operating systems, registries, and anything that has to do with how a business functions.  

While it all may sound pretty straightforward, data backups are anything but easy. Protection of critical infrastructure requires a compelling IT backup and recovery plan considering anything life might throw at you, from employee mistakes to fully-fledged disasters. In particular, businesses always need to operate seamlessly, and they must have a resilient infrastructure.  

What does that mean? When a disaster occurs, the system will be up and running in no time, no matter what happens, be it power loss or a ransomware attack. A successful and efficient IT backup and recovery plan must have a precise recovery time and recovery point, combined with independent action plans that assign clearly defined responsibilities to each one of the key employees. IT backup is always complex, but a comprehensive approach and taking steps that account for the most likely possibilities may help simplify the task.  

Data Backup Options

There is more than one way to backup your data. Ideally, one should decide upon their choice concerning their individual needs in terms of data backup and recovery: 

  1. Media. CDs, DVDs, Blu-Ray discs, flash drives, you name it. Any small media device that can be connected and removed with apparent ease is fit to be used for backup and recovery, albeit the use is limited to private users.
  2. Redundancy. An external replica of the system’s drive or infrastructure. It either replicates the system at a specific time or entirely, such as an external email server, to backup a primary email server. System redundancy can be a lifesaver, but only if the external replica is located remotely.
  3. External Hard Drive. There is also a possibility to use archive software for saving changes to local files to the external hard drive. The recovery process is swift, but the drive needs to be located in your network, which brings specific risks. Data volume growth is also problematic because it requires more than one external hard drive.
  4. Hardware. Buying a complete backup hardware appliance is one of the simplest ways to go. They are popular because they usually have extensive storage capacity and pre-configured software. Once the backup schedule is set, data will be streaming to the device. As with the external hard drive, a more reliable option is to keep it in a remote location.
  5. Software. Unlike their hardware counterparts, software-based backup solutions are more complex but allow more operating freedom. You can decide what you need to backup, where, and when. The whole process can be automated as well.
  6. Cloud. With the rise of the cloud, another data option is becoming increasingly popular. A BaaS (Backup as a Service) solution enables you to store backup data in the cloud and recover it quickly in the case of disaster. It is easy, reliable, and seems to have zero to no disadvantages. However, in the long run, cloud backup services eventually cost much more than their on-premises analogs.

What are RTO and RPO?

We have previously mentioned a backup schedule, and now is the time to discuss it in detail. In a large organization with dozens of employees, files are changed constantly, and the frequency of backups is essential. More specifically, the recovery process restores data only up to the latest backup. Anything beyond that is lost indefinitely.  

So, the amount of data doomed to be lost is decided by the RPO (Recovery Point Objective). Essentially, it defines how much data will be lost in case of failure. If the backup is performed once an hour, the RPO is 1 hour. In layperson’s terms, the lower the RPO, the better.  

The latter is also true for the RTO (Recovery Time Objective). This parameter measures the time it takes to restore all systems to normal from a backup after experiencing failure. It can take some time if we’re talking about large data volumes or remote backups. Vendors are constantly improving their solutions to guarantee that the RTO is as low as possible.  

Different types of Data Backups

The backup appliances and various methods to back up your data are numerous. Still, every single one falls into one of the four primary types: full backup, differential backup, incremental backup, and mirror backup. 

Full Backup 

Even if you have yet to perform a full backup yourself, you probably have at least heard of the concept. Full backup explains itself: it is a complete, comprehensive, and coherent copy of all the selected organization’s data, be it files, objects, or bytes.  

This option is most favored for its impeccable speed of recovering data from the storage device it resides on. Nevertheless, copying the data can take a long time and require substantial space.  

How Does a Full Backup Work? 

Imagine you are performing full backups regularly with the RTO set to 24 hours. That means, once a day, the entirety of your data on selected devices is replicated to a full backup copy, allowing you to access it anytime if you ever need it. However, this is where things get tricky. A full backup means FULL. It cannot be limited to specific categories of files or separate directories. Once started, it covers all the data available, which means a lot of time per backup and storage space. 

Essentially, a full backup covers all the accessible data without any regard to changes made. For instance, even if you decide that a certain amount of data is unnecessary and delete it, it will still be accessible through backups. You can easily end up having the same data replicated several times and stored within several backup copies.  

Advantages and Disadvantages of Full Backups 

Here are the basic pros and cons of the full backup: 

Advantages: 

  1. Speed. Restoration time is near perfect, making this type of backup particularly popular in some instances.  
  2. Management. One copy of all data is infinitely easy to use and manage. Operating the storage has never been simpler.  
  3. Versatility. Since the full backup method means storing all the data from daily backups, it creates different versions of data that might even be deleted from the source version. It is relatively simple to use and organize, and the file search is not a problem.

Disadvantages: 

  1. Cost. The comprehensive approach of the full backup method has a downside as well. It takes a LOT of storage space, and you will need to expand by purchasing additional storage sooner or later.  
  2. Backup Time. Whereas nobody will argue the benefits of fast recovery granted by the full backup method, creating a full copy of all data requires a lot of time, depending on size.  
  3. Vulnerability. The relative ease of operations with one single copy makes it all the more vulnerable should this copy get lost for any number of reasons.  

Differential Backup 

Of course, regular full backups are only available to those with near-infinite budgets and storage. It takes a lot of time, money, and resources to maintain. So, how do you keep your data safe without spending a small fortune? The answer is quite simple: a differential backup.  

This category is all about backing up the data that has changed since you’ve made a full backup. That’s why it has become a go-to scenario for several organizations to do a full backup and then keep track of changes with differential backups.  

How Does a Differential Backup Work? 

Instead of scheduling regular full backups, you do it just once. Furthermore, you can schedule differential backups with the RTO set to 24 hours. Each differential backup saves the changes made to the source data throughout the day.  

You can add, delete, copy, or create new bits of data, which will be stored using differential backups. Such a structure enables you to access all the necessary changes and files without vast chunks of repeat data taking up storage space.  

Advantages and Disadvantages of a Differential Backup 

Let’s take a closer look at what makes a differential backup useful and vice versa: 

Advantages: 

  1. Cost. Due to the noticeable structural differences, unlike the full backup method, the differential backup method does not require constant storage expansion due to it not taking nearly as much storage space.  
  2. Speed. Since there is no need to create an extensive copy of all data each time, differential backups usually take much less time to copy the data than full backups.

Disadvantages: 

  1. Restoration Time. Differential backups are more complicated than more straightforward full backups. That’s why recovering the data from differential backups can bring complexity and require a lot of attention and time.  
  2. Vulnerability. The data recovery may or may not fail, depending on whether the backup sets were complete.  

Incremental Backup 

As perfect as it may seem, the potential of creating numerous differential backups is finite. Sooner or later, the number of changes done to the source data will exceed its amount. There will be no functional difference between full and differential backups on that day. Where do we go from here? 

This is where the incremental backup method comes in. Unlike the other types, this one gathers all the changes since the last backup. Cool, right? Whether it was the initial full backup or secondary incremental backup, any changes that come after the most recent data backup will be saved.  

How Does an Incremental Backup Work? 

Think of it like this. You have several files that take up about 6GB and up to a full hour for backing up. After a full backup, let’s say you make minor changes to some files. Whether you are deleting data or adding it is unimportant. What is important is that when you’re running an incremental backup the next day, it will only copy those minor changes. The backup process will be done in minutes.  

Advantages and Disadvantages of an Incremental Backup 

Here are the essentials of what is beneficial about the incremental backup method and what may hold you down: 

Advantages: 

  1. Cost. Since the incremental backup method does not involve replicating such vast chunks of data as full backups and differential backups, it costs practically nothing. It is probably the best way to utilize storage space if you can’t expand it.  
  2. Backup Time. Since incremental backups are particularly selective, they usually take less time. Moreover, you can run them as often as possible because each separate increment is a unique recovery point.

Disadvantages: 

  1. Restoration Time. Unfortunately, the very thing that makes the incremental storage method so worthwhile is also its most significant disadvantage. Data is scattered throughout many backups. It will take a lot of time and effort to restore it. Under such circumstances, file search becomes a miserable experience.  
  2. Vulnerability. Files need to be damage-proof. Otherwise, recovery won’t be successful. 

Incremental vs. Differential Backup 

It may seem as though there is no particular difference between differential and incremental backups. That is both true and false. Yes, both differ significantly from full backups, and both are designed to make the most use of limitations on time and storage space, saving only recent changes. However, that is where the similarities end.  

Differential backups pick up any changes made since the last full backup. In other words, you may add twice as much data or delete it, and both will exist as two separate backups. Incremental backups, however, are dedicated to saving the changes made since the last backup. This means it doesn’t have to copy a redundant amount of data, which is the difference between the current version and the version of the previous full backup.  

Mirror Backup 

Well, there’s nothing much to say about this backup type except that structurally, it is identical to the full backup method. More specifically, the only difference are that, in this case, files are neither archived nor password protected. You may need to use mirror backups if you require the exact copy of the source data.  

How to Choose the Right Type of a Backup 

As you can see, choosing the right backup type can be pretty confusing. Each has its strengths and weaknesses. It’s necessary to decide which will fit in nicely with your environment – depending on your needs.  

Ask yourself: what is more important to you? Is it the backup time or the restoration time? The efficient use of storage space or backup sets that are easy to manage and maintain? How much are you willing to invest in your backup strategy financially? These are the kind of questions that are unique to each separate organization. The answers to them determine what will suit you best: regular full backups, the initial full backup followed by differential backups, or, finally, one full backup and numerous incremental backups in dozens of backup sets. 

Data Management Solutions

We have already mentioned how data backup/management solutions are one of the primary options for data backup. It is essential to know what they are and how they work: 

Hardware Appliances

These backup solutions typically include storage devices provided by a vendor which you connect to your system. In practice, you barely need to do anything except for installing backup agents. Then configure the frequency of backups, and let them do all the work. The appliance is easily accessible through a graphical interface. Remember, though, that failure can become quite a nuisance if it’s your only backup option.  

Software Solutions

Software-based data backup solutions are installed on your infrastructure. Occasionally, they would require a dedicated server, but primarily they utilize the existing environment, which makes it all easier. More likely than not, you’ll even be able to install backup software on a VM (virtual machine). Software solutions often offer a great deal of flexibility and prices.  

Cloud Services

Backup as a Service Solutions is the most straightforward choice. Essentially, it is what it sounds like you run and manage data backups on a provider’s cloud. In terms of simplicity, it beats even software since all you need to do is install lightweight agents on the systems you need to back up, and it is good to go.  

Data Backup Storage

Configuring storage space is a significant part of a successful IT backup and recovery process. Data backup storage can go in different ways. Some of the most common methods to store data are: 

  1. Local or USB Disks
  2. NAS (Network Attached Storage)/SAN (Storage Area Network)
  3. Tapes
  4. Cloud

Defining what data backup storage solution is best for your system is subject to many factors that need to be considered. Since the emergence of object-based storage, it has been clear that it has great potential. After all, it is hardly a coincidence that all major cloud providers utilize object storage. However, it generally isn’t appropriate to serve as a primary storage, just a secondary one. Only lately, Object First has provided the marketplace with quite a unique storage appliance (leveraged specifically for Veeam users) that allows using object-based storage as primary storage. It has effortless immutability and easily scales up to half a petabyte.

If you are interested in finding out how to utilize object-based data backup storage capacity to its fullest, you are welcome to look at our product page. 

Summary

The importance of data and its availability for an organization cannot be overestimated. No business will survive without a robust data backup solution to protect against failures, ransomware attacks, or other disasters. What solution would be better for you depending entirely on your needs? What kind of storage is the best financially? What are your RPO and RTO? Are your backups going to be kept on-premises or cloud?  

Each enterprise is unique in a certain way, and there’s hardly a universal solution. Data backups cover all the information the company is working with, which is a LOT (configuration files, machine images, etc.), and we can’t stress enough how important it is. IT departments usually manage backups, which sometimes take up a significant portion of their work. 

What Is Data Backup, and Why Is It Important?

Data backup is copying data to a secondary location to protect against data loss due to disasters or malfunctions. It’s crucial for organizations as it ensures data recovery and business continuity in case of unforeseen events.

What Are the Common Methods for Data Backup?

Data backup methods include physical media (CDs, external hard drives), hardware appliances, software solutions, and cloud services (Backup as a Service). The choice depends on your specific needs and budget.

What Are RTO and RPO, and Why Do They Matter in Data Backup?

RTO (Recovery Time Objective) measures the time it takes to restore systems after a backup, and RPO (Recovery Point Objective) defines how much data might be lost during recovery. Lower RTO and RPO values indicate quicker recovery and less data loss, which is generally preferred.

What Are the Primary Types of Data Backups?

The primary types of data backups are full backup, differential backup, incremental backup, and mirror backup. Each has strengths and weaknesses, so the choice depends on factors like backup time, restoration time, and storage efficiency.

What Are the Primary Data Backup Storage Options?

Data backup storage options include local or USB disks, NAS (Network Attached Storage) or SAN (Storage Area Network), tapes, and cloud storage. The selection is determined by data volume, accessibility, and budget.

Who Typically Manages Data Backups in Organizations?

In organizations, IT departments are usually responsible for managing data backups. This task can be time-consuming and requires a well-thought-out backup strategy to ensure data protection and quick emergency recovery.

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