How To Prepare an Incremental Backup Strategy

Is the information stored on your office servers critical to the continued operations of your business?  Can you restore operations after an unexpected disaster (e.g. fire, theft, flood, etc.) within a reasonable amount of time in order to minimize losses?  There are backup strategies that you can implement like full, differential or incremental backup.

Unfortunately, disasters can strike at anytime and mostly without warning. These could range from a fire, flood, theft, and hard disk crash to just simple human error. During these times, it would be better to have a backup copy than lose all your data.

Common Backup Strategies

  1. Full Backup. This is the best backup strategy. It will allow you to restore your server to its present state at the shortest possible time. The potential drawback though, is that it could be very costly. As your business and data grows, you will need to purchase more backup media and the backup itself will take more and more time.
  2. Incremental Backup. An Incremental Backup only contains files that have changed since the last Full Backup. This method makes the backup time much shorter and the backup space much smaller. The drawback is that it will take you much longer to recover all your information to the state before a disaster hits, as you will need to first restore the last full backup and then sequentially apply all incremental backups since then.
  3. Differential Backup. This backs up all files that have changed since the last full backup. This approach will take a little more time than incremental backups, but it will be faster when it comes to restoring data as you will only need the last full backup and the last differential backup to get you up and running again.

For you to implement an incremental backup strategy, it is assumed that you already have a full backup solution in place. This consists of:

  1. Backup software and hardware. Backup program/utility like Symantec’s Backup Exec and CA’s ARCserve Backup. Hardware like LTO tape drives, loaders, jukeboxes and the like.
  2. Backup media. Examples are tapes, external disk drives, CDs and DVDs to name a few.
  3. Storage location. The backup storage media can be stored onsite, offsite, or a combination of both. Wherever you choose to store the backup media, make sure it is in a fire proof vault.

In preparing your incremental backup strategy, decide on the following:

  1. Frequency of backup. Choose a backup schedule. How often to do the incremental backup:  daily, weekly or n times per week/month?
  2. Time of backup. Decide on the time you want to perform the backup. Ideally, this procedure is performed when data access by users is minimal to none. For example, early morning, late at night or during weekends.
  3. Media quantity. You can perform incremental backups using just one tape. However, if you have the resources, you may want to use different tapes per incremental backup. This minimizes the risk of data lost as a result of faulty media.
  4. Backup copies. You can choose to create more than one incremental backup copy and store one on-site for easy access and another off-site for added security.

Once you have addressed the items above, you are ready to implement your incremental backup strategy.

In the end, whatever backup strategy you choose, whether a full, a differential or an incremental backup strategy, will depend heavily on how important the information is to your business. The higher the importance of the data, the greater the need for making a backup copy and investing in a sound and tested restore strategy.


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