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What makes a backup system bulletproof? (Behind the scenes of data safety)

Data is a company's most valuable resource, yet it's vulnerable to loss due to numerous factors, including:

  • Mistakes by individuals (either accidental or deliberate removal)
  • Cyberattacks, such as ransomware
  • Hardware malfunctions
  • Environmental catastrophes
  • Mishaps within the company's premises (like data center issues) or challenges in accessing the site, especially if it's overseas.

Whether data is stored in the cloud or physically on your own server, its location doesn't shield it from unintended erasure or other damaging events.

Safeguarding data is vital for every business. Backup solutions don't just recover lost information; they also prevent operational downtime. So, what makes a backup strategy effective? Which backup procedures should be adopted?

Why is backing up data important?

Failing to back up data or doing so too late, exposes you to the risk of losing data entirely or being unable to access it for an unknown duration. Discussing cloud security and SaaS platforms, it's important to understand that while providers ensure their software's functionality and the platform's security, they often don't guarantee the safety of your data, except in a few cases. There's also a chance of data being lost, whether by accident or deliberately. Additionally, some providers might only keep your data for a limited time, so it's wise to review their data retention policies thoroughly beforehand.

Even with cloud services, your organization should still perform its own backups. Backup-as-a-Service (BaaS) is one route, though it might come with restrictions, such as backing up solely to the provider's cloud or lacking detailed backup options.

Regardless, even with BaaS ensuring quick and direct access to your safeguarded data copies, it's advisable to maintain extra backups on-site. Multiple local backups secure your data against physical device failures and allow for swifter data restoration.

Selecting the right backup storage

The 3-2-1 backup strategy highlights the importance of having three copies of your data. You should keep two of these copies on different types of media at the same location, while the third should be stored off-site, such as in the cloud. This way, if one storage fails, you still have your data securely stored elsewhere. This approach ensures the safety of critical data even if an entire data center becomes inaccessible, with a cloud backup for MSP ready as a fail-safe.

For on-site storage options, consider how long you need to store the data and how quickly you need to be able to retrieve it. Some types of data may need to be kept for three years or more due to company policies or legal requirements, making tape libraries a popular choice for long-term archiving since this data is infrequently accessed.

However, if there's a need to swiftly pull up certain information, such as during an incident investigation, you'll need storage solutions that allow for quick data retrieval. For instance, the infosec team might need fast access to a former employee's emails from years back to address a specific issue.

Understanding backup systems' design and function

When setting up a backup system, two crucial metrics need consideration: Recovery Time Objective (RTO) and Recovery Point Objective (RPO).

RPO outlines the maximum period during which data loss is acceptable. Essentially, it determines how recent the backups need to be to avoid significant loss in case of a mishap. The backup schedule is then aligned with this timeframe.

RTO, on the other hand, is about the duration data or systems can afford to be down. It's the time it takes to get data, applications, virtual machines, or operating systems up and running again after a disruption. The time needed for restoration is what defines the RTO.

These RPO and RTO metrics are tailored based on the significance of different types of data to the business, the costs associated with their recovery, and the nature of the data, whether it involves virtual machines, applications, or data arrays.

A common pitfall in backup system management is failing to update the backup strategy and tasks regularly. With the growth and evolution of a company's IT landscape, including new services, data, and applications, outdated backup protocols can lead to data loss, integrity issues, or extended downtimes for crucial systems.

Another prevalent problem is skipping data recovery tests. To guarantee a system's ability to fully recover after a disaster, regular testing in line with established guidelines is essential.

Steps to create a backup system

· Conduct an evaluation

Begin by reviewing your infrastructure to identify the critical data, systems, and files that require backups. It's also beneficial to map out how these information systems interconnect, which will be useful when planning backups. Then, establish your RPO and RTO goals.

· Document your findings

At this point, you should have detailed assessments for each information system along with their specific backup needs. Organizing these details into a table format can be helpful. This analysis will help guide your backup strategy.

· Choose your backup solution

With a clear overview of the information systems needing backup, decide on the functionality your backup system needs to have. This choice should align with the requirements and strategy you've previously outlined.

· Specify hardware needs

Based on your backup strategy, outline what hardware will be necessary. This includes storage solutions, servers, tape libraries, and any additional components crucial for your backup setup. These specifications depend on various factors, such as the volume of data, the desired location and duration of storage, and the types and frequencies of backups required.

· Implement the backup system

Once your infrastructure is prepared, set up the backup software, set up policies and schedules, and initiate the backup process. This phase also involves troubleshooting any issues that arise to ensure the backup system operates smoothly and meets all specified standards.

Remember, as your infrastructure evolves, your backup system needs to adapt and expand to accommodate new growth and changes.

Final thoughts

Ensuring the safety of vital data is indispensable for any business. The recommended practice is to follow the "3-2-1" backup strategy: keep two local copies on different types of media and store a third in the cloud.

In crafting a backup system, two critical metrics need consideration: Recovery Point Objective and Recovery Time Objective. These are determined based on the significance of the data to the business operations and the costs involved in recovering it. Additionally, it's vital to regularly update your backup policies and conduct system tests to ensure effectiveness.

The process for establishing a backup system unfolds through five key steps: analyzing the infrastructure, documenting the audit findings, choosing a backup solution, specifying the hardware needs, and finally, implementing the backup solution.


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