There are several different types of backups. Here's how to choose the best way to protect your data and recover properly if an incident occurs.

What is data backup?

Data backup is the practice of copying data from primary storage to secondary storage to protect it in the event of a disaster, disaster, or malicious act. Data is the lifeblood of modern organizations, and losing it can cause serious damage and disrupt business operations. That's why backing up your data is critical for all businesses, big and small.

What does data backup mean?

Typically, backup data means all the necessary data for the workloads your server is running. These may include documents, media files, configuration files, machine images, operating systems, and registry files. Basically, any data you want to save can be saved as backup data.

Data backup includes several important concepts:

  • Backup Solutions and Tools – While it is possible to back up data manually, to ensure that systems are backed up regularly and consistently, most organizations use a technology solution to back up their data.
  • Backup Administrator - Every organization should have a designated person responsible for backups. This person must ensure that backup systems are configured correctly, test them periodically, and ensure that important data is actually backed up.
  • Backup scope and schedule—The organization must choose a backup policy, specifying which files and systems are important enough to be backed up, as well as how often data should be backed up.
  • The recovery point objective (RPO) is the amount of data an organization is willing to lose in the event of a disaster and is determined by the frequency of backups. If systems are backed up once per day, the RPO is 24 hours. The lower the RPO, the more data storage, computing, and networking resources are required to ensure frequent backups.
  • Recovery time objective (RTO) is the time required for an organization to restore data or systems from backup and resume normal operations. For large volumes of data and/or backups stored off-site, copying data and restoring systems can take time, and reliable technical solutions are required to ensure low RTO.

The Importance of a Disaster Recovery Plan: Alarming Statistics

To understand the potential impact of disasters on a business and the importance of having a data backup strategy as part of a complete disaster recovery plan, consider the following statistics:

  • Cost of Downtime – According to Gartner, the average cost of downtime for a business is $5,600 per minute.
  • Survival Rate - Another Gartner study found that only 6% of disaster-hit companies that did not have disaster recovery survived and remained in business more than two years after the disaster.
  • Reasons for data loss. The most common causes of data loss are hardware/system failures (31%), human error (29%), viruses and ransomware (29%).

Why are data backup methods critical?

Failure to properly prepare for an event can cause irreparable damage, permanently stunting a company's growth and stability. Your backups are your last line of defense and may be the only way to recover your data if your data is changed, lost, or corrupted due to an unexpected event or malicious attack. With extreme weather events, cybercrime and other threats on the rise, data is at greater risk than ever. That's why it's important to understand the different data backup methods at your disposal.

So let's look at nine data backup methods every business should know.

1. Full backup

A full backup is the process of creating at least one copy of all the data a company wants to protect in a single backup operation. This method gives you a complete copy of all your data, making versioning easier and faster recovery because it's always available.

The disadvantage of this method is the amount of time it requires. While this is generally considered the safest approach because it backs up everything, it is also the slowest of the data backup methods due to the amount of data that needs to be copied. Full backups also require the most memory and network bandwidth. Technologies such as deduplication and data compression can help reduce space footprint and, in some cases, speed up the full backup process. If a simple and fast recovery model is required, and backup space and speed are not an issue, then restoring from a full backup will be very effective.

Keep in mind that it is extremely important to ensure that your full backup is encrypted; otherwise, all your data will be vulnerable.

2. Differential backup

A data backup that copies all files that have changed since the last full backup is called a differential backup. Differential backups include any data that has been added or changed in any way. This approach does not copy all the data each time - only what is different from a full backup.

Differential backups require less storage space than a full backup, which is cost effective. But keep in mind that restoring differential backups is slower than restoring a full backup. They can also be more complex to manage because differential backups require two files. But using differential backups can potentially provide faster recovery times than incremental backups, although this will depend on where your data is stored. Differential backup is a good way to simplify recovery by reducing backup time. However, each difference will increase as you get closer to the next full backup time.

Again, storage reduction technologies such as deduplication can help, since each delta array will contain data similar to the previous ones.

3. Incremental backup

An incremental backup always starts with a full backup. Like a differential backup, an incremental backup copies only the data that has been changed or added since the previous backup was performed. But where a differential backup is based on the changes from the last full backup, all incremental backups (after the initial) are based on the changes from the last incremental backup.

Typically, incremental backups require less space than differential and full backups. To use the least amount of disk space, you can perform incremental byte-level backups instead of incremental block-level backups.

Of all three data backup methods we've explored so far, incremental backups are the slowest to recover. They can also be more difficult to manage because recovery requires all files along the entire backup chain.

This method is good when you are limited to a narrow backup window; this allows smaller amounts of data to be collected and moved across the infrastructure to the desired destination.

4. Synthetic full backups

Synthetic full backups are a great way to reduce the impact of long incremental chains without re-extracting all the data as with a full backup. A synthetic full backup is created by using a previous full backup and incremental backups to create a new full backup with all incremental changes. This is the reset point for your incremental backup strategy. This method is sometimes called "incremental forever". A good solution would be to synthetically create full backups at the storage level. Synthetic full backups allow you to simply move incremental data across your infrastructure without sacrificing the recovery time associated with very long incremental data chains.

5. File-level backup

While traditional file-level backup methods may have a reputation for being outdated, they are not. This data backup method can be a key component of a larger strategy data protection and disaster recovery.

With this approach, you choose what you want to back up. The file system is scanned and a copy of each data set is created at a different destination. These backups are typically performed daily or on a similar schedule.

You don't have to use just one of the data backup methods described so far. Most organizations will use some combination. This approach will help you reduce the risk of data loss. It also provides the added benefit of allowing you to achieve better recovery point targets. This is a great way to work with large, unstructured data sets when they reside either on a physical machine or on a very large virtual machine that cannot be backed up at the block level. File system backup has evolved to use heuristics and multi-threading to enable faster data movement for large data sets through more powerful infrastructure.

6. Image-level backup

If your primary goals are improving recovery point targets and providing near-continuous data protection, image-level backup is a great option. Sometimes called infinite incremental backup, image-level backup performs multiple backups over a short period of time. This works well for data recovery as you can quickly restore your system after a disaster, regardless of whether the OS is running or not. Image-level backups come in many forms, from a volume on a physical machine to a full image of a virtual machine. Backing up virtual machines at the image level has become the most popular approach to reduce management costs.

If you are looking for a quick way to recover from a disaster and you have physical machines, you should consider bare metal recovery, which is another type of image-level backup. With this approach, you back up not only your data, but also your OS, applications, and configuration settings, speeding up recovery and post-event recovery. Often, a bare-metal recovery can be performed on a virtual machine, which helps with disaster recovery when access to the physical machine may be very limited.

7. Continuous data protection

You've probably heard of Continuous Data Protection (CDP), which has grown in popularity recently. Businesses use this method of data backup to speed up recovery and achieve more targeted recovery points.

CDP commits any new or changed data blocks to the subfile level at very frequent intervals. You can recover a failed virtual machine or server in minutes or even seconds with some modern CDP approaches. This is the case when recovery points are created using a snapshot or volume filtering device to track changes to the disk.

To ensure data integrity and prevent recovery problems, these backups are consistent with the applications. Verifying the latest backup using an integrity check will ensure recovery is possible. CDP and flash recovery technologies are good for business critical systems. This approach reduces the amount of potential data loss and can speed recovery, reducing the financial impact of downtime on the business.

8. Array based snapshots

Array-based snapshots are low-efficiency and require less storage space than other data backup methods. With this approach, you can quickly recover volumes of data at a granular level. After a base snapshot of any data written to the volume is taken, subsequent snapshots capture only incremental changes. This saves disk space and speeds up local recovery. You can create multiple snapshots without allocating additional disk space. All snapshots can be scheduled at short intervals to suit your recovery point goals.

Because they operate outside of normal backup operations, snapshots can add complexity. Backup applications that complement array-based snapshots can help you overcome common problems. The ability to create, schedule, and restore snapshots using the same user interface makes it easy to manage this backup method.

While storage snapshots are a good component of an overall recovery strategy, they still reside in the primary storage and can be lost in the event of a disaster. Best practice remains to create copies of snapshots or back up data to an alternate destination.

9. Data deduplication

If data growth is putting a strain on your backup storage budget, data deduplication can help. Data deduplication finds and removes blocks of duplicate data and saves only those blocks that have changed since the previous backup. This significantly reduces the storage requirements and costs of data backups. Deduplication solutions can also offer “offload” options that provide source-side deduplication. This further reduces backup data traffic across the infrastructure and can reduce backup time.

Adding a software-defined approach to data deduplication can complement your existing backup system. This gives you more flexibility to manage resources, automate provisioning, and quickly provision local or cloud storage capacity. A software-defined approach can better meet new requirements than hardware devices and support a wider range of cloud providers, storage devices and virtualization platforms.

As data growth continues with no signs of slowing, data deduplication can help you control backup storage costs.


Cyberattacks, natural disasters, and even mundane hazards such as human error put data at risk every day. The question is no longer if the event will happen, but when. Implementing the right backup and recovery methods at the right time will help protect your organization from growing threats that could cause irreversible damage. Immutable backups will additionally protect data from threats such as ransomware. Ultimately, your backups are your last line of defense. Creating a data backup strategy, based on the techniques we just learned is the best way to keep your data and your business safe.

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