When it comes to backup, there are a lot of options. For some, the process of selecting what backup method to choose can feel a bit overwhelming. The end goal is to keep your data safe, but how you go about doing so can differ drastically depending upon the method you choose. This article should give you a thorough understanding of the different server backup methods, so you can make an educated decision on how to setup your backups based on your specific needs.
1. Full Backups
A full backup is the simplest form of backup, which contains all of the folders and files that you selected to be backed up. A full backup is also the easiest type of backup to restore, because it only requires a single backup file set to be restored.
Full backups are usually stored in a compressed, proprietary format that requires the software that created the backup to restore the files. Full backups are commonly used as the first backup followed by subsequent differential or incremental backups.
Since full backups contain all of the files and folders that were selected for the backup job rather than just the changed files, they are usually larger in size and thus requires more storage space.
For virtual machines, a full backup is a backup of the entire virtual machine. These backups can be relatively large in size so it’s important to be aware of how much storage space is available on your storage destination device.
2. Incremental Backups
Incremental backups allow for substantial storage space savings as they only back up files that have been created or changed since the last full or Incremental backup. Incremental backups are also faster, thus requiring a shorter backup window.
Incremental backups are often used in conjunction with full backups. A common backup strategy would be to run a full backup once a week, and then to do Incremental backups on each subsequent day.
For example, if you were to run a Full backup on Monday, you could then run Incremental backup jobs Tuesday through Friday (if you are not working weekends). With this configuration, your backup on Tuesday would only contain new or changed files that were made since the Full backup on Monday. On Wednesday, an Incremental backup would run again, only this time it would only backup any new or changed files since the incremental backup that ran on Tuesday. This schedule would continue throughout the rest of the work week, giving you 1 full backup and 4 Incremental backups. The cycle would start again the following week.
When it comes time to restore, incremental backups take longer as you will first need to restore your full backup and then each subsequent incremental backup in order to locate the exact file iteration you are looking for.
Given the nature of incremental backups, they also tend to use more computing power due to the fact that they have to compare each source file to the last full backup and then to each subsequent incremental backup in order to determine if there were any changes made to any of your files.
If you decide to go with this approach, you may want to consider rotating media devices so that you always have a secondary, unconnected (and preferably offsite) backup device that can be used to restore from in case of a virus or other disaster.
3. Differential Backups
Differential backups fall somewhere in between Full and Incremental backups. A Differential backup is essentially a cumulative backup of all changes made since the last full backup. This means that Differential backups are larger in size than Incremental backups, because they are more like a rolled up version of all of the Incremental backups done since the last Full backup.
Given the nature of Differential backup, you could set your Differential backups to overwrite your last Differential backup to save storage space. Some programs even set this as the default option for Differential backups to conserve storage space.
Like Incremental backups, Differential backups also require additional network bandwidth to compare current files to those that are already backed up in order to find and backup just changed files.
Differential backups are definitely faster to restore than incremental backups as each Differential backup is independent from each other. This means that only the Full backup and the desired Differential backup are actually required to restore a particular file.
4. Image Backups
An image-based backup, also known as disaster recovery or disk imaging, allows you to create a full disk backup of your entire system (or one or more partitions), including your operating system, your applications and all of your data rather than just your files and folders. This type of backup is saved as a single file that is often referred to as an image.
Image backups are very effective in disaster recovery scenarios when you need to restore your entire system to an entirely new system. When you create an image backup of your server you can quickly restore your entire server exactly as it was, to a new server, even if that server contains dissimilar hardware. Image backups offer a secure means to save a snapshot of your entire system, which can be saved to multiple storage devices, giving you a backup of your backup.
Image backups offer the absolute fastest recovery option available when you need to restore your entire system. Image-level backups also have the option to be restored to physical or virtual machines. Image backups can also be mounted to restore just a single file without having to restore the entire system.
5. Copy Jobs
Copy jobs differ from backup jobs in that they result in the exact same set of files selected, saved in their native and uncompressed file format. These files are simply being “copied” or transferred to your desired storage destination device on a manual or scheduled basis, but should never be considered a backup or take the place of regular backups.
With Copy jobs you can select the exact directories and files you want to duplicate in their native file format. Copy jobs result in files that are the exact same size as the original files, so you will need to make sure that you have enough storage space on the destination device before starting the copy job. Copy jobs are helpful when you want a secondary set of your files that you can access at any time without requiring any backup software to recover the files.
Which server backup methods are right for you?
Now that you are educated about the different backup methods, it’s time to decide what method is best for you. Here are a few options to consider:
- Monthly Image Backup, Weekly Full Backup, and Daily Differential Backups
- Monthly Image Backup, Weekly Full Backup, and Daily Incremental Backups
- Quarterly Image Backups, Monthly Full Backups, and Daily Incremental Backups
While it is best to set your backups to automatically run on a set schedule, it is also a good idea to backup your files or create an image backup before making any type of system changes like updating your Windows operating system or updating your Windows service pack, adding new hardware, updating drivers, or making edits to your Windows registry.
What backup storage device to choose?
Now that you know what type of backup schedule you want to use, you will need to decide what backup storage destination to select. Here are a few options:
- External Hard Drive
- NAS or SAN Devices
- Tape Drives
- USB Media (Flash, Thumb Drive)
- Network Storage
- RDX Removable Disk Drive
- Online Backup (Amazon S3 or other storage provider)
- File Sharing Services (Dropbox, OneDrive, etc.)
There are a lot of options to choose from, but ultimately the decision as to what storage device or destination you choose is up to you. We recommend selecting more than one option or buying two of your device of choice, so that you can have a secondary backup location that is preferably stored offsite.
Some NAS devices have built-in replication so you can have one NAS device onsite and a secondary NAS device stored at an offsite location and the NAS will replicate your backup to your secondary NAS device.
For the pros and cons or USB, NAS and Tape, check out this article on offsite backup storage device options.