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Data Backup Types Explained

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Not all are created equal

We all know the importance of backing up data. Viruses, malware, theft and hardware failure can all lead to data loss. Having a data backup will allow you to recover your important files if this should happen. When choosing the type and configuration of your business backup, it’s advantages to use a consultant. There are a lot technical details to follow, and expert advice can help avoid common mistakes. Knowing the terms and definitions, though, can help you get a better understanding of how it works, and what options are available.

Computers keep all information on a component known as a “hard drive”. This is a part installed inside the computer, and its job is to take data and store it for retrieval later. When you turn your computer on, it reads the information and loads the operating system – allowing you to interact with the computer as you normally do. When you save a document, webpage favorite, or install a new program, the data is written to the hard drive so you can access it later. Hard drives, like other mechanisms, wear out over time. They are one of the few components inside a computer with moving parts, and therefore can break down over time. When they fail, your important data may no longer be accessible – leaving your backup as the only method of recovery.

There are different methods for backing up data, each with its own unique uses and advantages.

File level backups

File level backups are the simplest method to backup your data. In essence, individual files are copied from the hard drive to a backup location. This could be an external hard drive, USB thumb drive, or other backup storage device. While manually copying your files to your backup storage device is a viable method for backup, it’s highly recommended to use a backup program to do this. If you use Windows 7 or 10, Windows Backup is included and works well in simple scenarios (Windows 8 removed this feature, for some reason). For additional features and options, such as cloud storage for offsite safekeeping, there are third party applications that can be used. Data backup programs allow you to automate the backup process, so that they can be scheduled to run on a regular basis.

Image backups

In addition to your data, hard drives also house the operating system and all your programs. If the hard drive fails, not only do you lose your data, you lose the operating system and programs too. While you can reinstall the operating system and all your programs, the process to do this can be very time consuming – and costly. For a business system with a complex configuration, it can be disastrous. Image backups allow for a backup of the entire hard drive exactly as it is configured, complete with all your programs, data and operating system. If your drive fails or becomes corrupt, you can restore the image to a new hard drive. This saves tremendous amounts of time and effort. Image backups aren’t designed to replace file level backups though. Image backups are designed to recover from a serious computer issue where all data is lost, whereas file level backups allows you to recover individual files easily.

Cloud backups

Cloud backups refer to the location of where the backed up data is stored. The term “cloud” refers to a shared environment where your pay to use a portion of a larger infrastructure. Much like renting a room is less costly than an entire house, but you get all the benefits a house has to offer. Cloud data backups are a good solution because they allow you to store your information off-site. This makes it impervious to theft, viruses, fire or physical damages. Some people worry that cloud backups aren’t secure. If configured correctly, your data is more secure than most other data backup methods. For one, the data is encrypted where it’s stored. Not even the provider of your cloud backup can read your data without the private “key” that only you know. Second, there is no media that can be stolen. With traditional backups, people would take a tape or external drive offsite – and there have been many cases where that device was lost or stolen.

Backup definitions

Every file on a computer has an attribute known as the “archive” attribute. If the archive attribute is active on a file, it tells the backup program “yes, I’ve been backed up recently”. If it’s not active, that tells the backup program “no, I haven’t been backed up”. Backup programs use this attribute to assist with backing up your files. When a file level backup runs, it modifies this attribute so that the file isn’t backed up again until it changes. The speeds up the backup process, since only files that you’ve modified since the last backup are backed up.

Customize Your Settings

Within the configuration of each data backup method, there are various settings that can be changed. One setting is the backup type, which usually consists of full, incremental, or differential. Full backups make a copy of each file, regardless of whether the archive attribute is set. This reduces the amount of time it takes to restore a file, but increases the amount of time to takes to run your backup. Incremental backups only backup the files that have been changed since the last backup. These make the data backup run quickly, but restoring your files may take longer. Differential backup’s only backup data that has changed since the last FULL backup. This results in quicker backups, but over time your backup storage can grow tremendously.

In addition to selecting the right data backup, there are many aspects to consider for a comprehensive backup strategy. Knowing the types and terms can assist in making the right choice, so your data is safe and secure.

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Matt Rice, CTO

Matt is a graduate of Central Maine Technical College. He has been with Burgess since 2001, acting as Service Manager, then General Manager, before becoming an owner. Matt focuses on developing and delivering technologies that fit best with customer needs.

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