Data is the lifeblood of modern organizations, yet many still need to pay more attention to the criticality of comprehensive backup and disaster recovery (BDR) strategies.
Unfortunately, data loss events remain too common for companies that neglect proper precautions.
According to a 2022 report from CyberProof, 58% of businesses experienced a ransomware attack in the past year, frequently targeting backups as part of the scheme.
After surveying 6,200 IT users and IT managers from small businesses to enterprises across 22 countries, Acronis exposes some of the most critical shortcomings that 76% of organizations experienced downtime due to data loss in 2021.
The costs of such downtime and data loss can be staggering. Gartner estimates that the average cost of IT downtime is now $250,000 per hour, which, according to them, is conservative.
Organizations must take backup and disaster recovery seriously in today's data-driven business environment. A robust BDR strategy is essential to mitigate revenue loss, reputational damage, penalties, and customer churn when the inevitable outages, cyber incidents, or disasters occur.
A report from Veritas found that the inability to recover data and systems properly following a disruptive event costs enterprises an average of $1.13 million. Sony outages in services like the PlayStation Network cost the company an estimated $171 million.
A solid backup and disaster recovery strategy is critical for any business to protect its data assets and ensure business continuity when unexpected disasters or outages occur.
While essential backup solutions like copying files to an external drive may work for small amounts of data, more advanced strategies are required as data volumes and complexity increase.
This article provides an in-depth look at advanced backup and disaster recovery approaches, best practices, and technologies organizations should consider to build a robust data protection strategy.
The Importance of Backups
Before digging into specific tactics and tools, it's essential to understand why backups matter in the first place.
Data is one of the most valuable assets for any company today. If essential business data is lost or corrupted without good backups, it can have severe consequences such as:
- Loss of revenue and productivity
- Regulatory non-compliance and legal repercussions
- Permanent loss of intellectual property, assets, and institutional knowledge
- Reputational damage and loss of customer trust
Having reliable backups can prevent or minimize these outcomes by allowing the restoration of data and systems after data loss events. Backups provide insurance against data loss, corruption, and disasters.
Backup vs. Disaster Recovery
While the terms backup and disaster recovery are related, they refer to distinct strategies and concepts:
Backups: Focus on capturing and regularly storing point-in-time copies of data, applications, and system state. This allows restoring data to a previously uncorrupted state.
While most companies believe having backups means they are insulated, having just files/data backed up and not the actual state means there will be downtime during a disaster or hack.
Having a comprehensive data recovery mechanism in place to restore the system and processes back up in record time.
Disaster recovery: Comprises policies and procedures for restoring full system functionality and access to data after a significant disruption or disaster like data center loss, ransomware attack, or natural hazard.
Disaster recovery capability relies on an underlying foundation of solid backups combined with redundant infrastructure. Backups make disaster recovery possible by providing the data needed to rebuild systems.
There are different advanced methods for backing up data; we will look at some common methods and also see why Kinsta's integrated backup and recovery architecture is top-rated and one of the best.
Disk Imaging Backups
One advanced backup technique that all organizations should consider is disk imaging. Disk imaging goes beyond copying individual files and folders to take a complete snapshot of everything on a hard drive or server.
This includes installing the operating system, system settings, programs, and all data.
These full system images can be backed up periodically and restored entirely in case of a system failure or recovery scenario.
Key benefits of disk imaging backups:
- Restore entire systems without having to reinstall and configure Operating System (OS) and applications
- Guaranteed recovery of all data, including open files and OS settings
- Faster recovery time
- Help recover from ransomware or other system corruption issues
- Simpler backup administration without selecting specific files/folders
The main downside of disk imaging is that these backup images can grow very large. Full images may not be practical for large servers with constantly changing data. Incremental images can help address this issue.
Incremental and Differential Backups
Performing full disk images every time can require excessive storage capacity and be inefficient if only a small portion of data changes between backups. Incremental and differential backup methods optimize this process.
Incremental backups only capture data that has changed since the last backup. This minimizes storage requirements and speeds up backups by reducing the data copied each time. Restoring incremental backups requires applying each incremental version in sequence.
Differential backups capture all changes since the last full backup. So they grow more extensive but only require the last full backup and latest differential to restore the system completely.
A best practice is using full disk images less frequently (weekly) and incremental or differential backups to protect changing data efficiently.
Backup Storage Targets
Where you store backup data is a critical consideration for reliability and security. Getting your data back in case of a disaster or hack is critical, and knowing your data will be in a state of use is critical.
The following are some basic rules to follow, and they include:
- Use disk-based storage for shorter-term backups and rapid restores
- Replicate backups to remote locations for protection against local failures
- Consider cloud storage services for offsite storage and automation (Azure, AWS, GCP)
- Follow the 3-2-1 backup rule
Securing Backups: Encryption and Access Control
Since backups contain sensitive information, they must be appropriately secured. Organizations should Encrypt backup data to prevent unauthorized access and restrict access with role-based permissions.
Isolate backups on separate network segments with restricted connectivity and never have backups permanently accessible from end-user devices.
Properly secured backups can't be directly accessed or tampered with by ransomware, helping avoid situations where backups are rendered useless during an attack.
Backup Testing and Validation
The only way to know backups are working reliably is by performing tests and validation. Running constant testing should be prioritized and ingrained into organization policies. Best practices include:
- Test restoring backups on isolated non-production systems
- Schedule regular tests of different backup types
- Ensure different teams can successfully restore critical data
- Fix any faults revealed through testing to improve the overall process.
Documented testing plans and procedures prove that your backups provide the recovery capability you expect. Testing and Validation can be expensive, but the cost of data loss outweighs it.
Backup Retention and Rotation
Organizations accumulate large amounts of backup data over time, which can only be retained temporarily. Retention policies balance recovery requirements with available storage capacity. Common retention schemes include:
Grandfather-father-son rotation (GFS): Keep a limited number of weekly, monthly, and yearly backups. For example:
- Daily backups for the last seven days
- Weekly backups for the last four weeks
- Monthly backups for six months
- Yearly backups for three years
Adjust schedules and retention periods based on legal obligations, use cases, and available storage budget.
Disaster Recovery Planning
While backups capture a copy of data at a point in time, robust disaster recovery (DR) can restore business functionality in adverse scenarios. This relies on an overall IT and data center architecture and how well-planned the recovery mechanism is structured.
Elements of effective disaster recovery include:
Alternate processing sites - Dedicated DR data center or cloud capacity that can take over if the main site is down.
High availability - Clustering, replication, and redundancy of critical infrastructure like firewalls, storage, and servers.
Failover orchestration - Tools to automate cutover when disasters occur to minimize downtime.
Tested recovery plans - Documented plans with defined roles and procedures regularly tested via fire drills.
Backup power - Local generators, UPS systems, and power redundancy to keep sites operational during power outages.
Business continuity planning - Policies for continuing critical business processes during prolonged outages. This could involve relocating staff, etc.
Cyber Resilience and Ransomware
As organizations have seen in recent years, ransomware and other cyberattacks represent a major threat. Attackers often target backups to increase payment likelihood and create a serious threat to company continuity.
A December 2021 study by Positive Technologies shows that hackers can penetrate 93% of corporate networks' infrastructure and deploy ransomware, trojans, spyware, or other malicious exploits, crippling entire infrastructure.
Comprehensive cyber resilience strategies are essential and must include Isolating backups from network connectivity and spreading them across multiple locations on the cloud or different storage on-premises.
Organizations must maintain offline, air-gapped backups out of reach of malware with no end-user endpoints and block suspicious activity.
Finally, Companies can consider cyber insurance to mitigate financial risks and provide a cover-up in case of data breach and loss.
The ability to recover quickly from ransomware relies on an overall defense-in-depth approach.
Evaluating Backup and Disaster Recovery Solutions
With many backup products and disaster recovery solutions, evaluating options and choosing the optimal tools can be challenging. Some key considerations when researching options:
- Recovery point and time objectives
- Data Volume
- Support for all essential platforms and applications
- Security and encryption features
- Reliability of vendors
- Costs for primary storage, network utilization, and retention
New solutions emerge rapidly; here are some top picks for products
Backup and disaster recovery may seem like the least exciting aspects of technology, but they are critical for safeguarding any organization against data loss and existential threats.
While basic backup practices help, following advanced strategies like disk imaging, incremental backups, multi-site redundancy, and secure archival enables robust data protection at the enterprise scale.
Regulatory mandates and customer expectations for uninterrupted access to data make comprehensive backup and DR capabilities more critical than ever. IT teams can architect resilience even in turbulent times by investing in skills and solutions in this area and continuously evaluating new technologies.