NovaBACKUP Security Blog

Server Backup Methods: Five Ways to Keep Your Data Safe

When it comes to backup, there are many different backup methods. 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 achieve this can differ drastically depending on the backup method that 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 set up your backup jobs based on your unique needs as they relate to the types of backup available.

Which server backup method is right for your business?


1. Full Backup

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 access to a single backup file set.

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 performed 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 require 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.

Note: When performing your initial backup to the cloud, the size may be such that backup seeding (using NovaBACKUP Cloud) can save organizations significant upload time.

2. Incremental Backup

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 much shorter backup window.

Incremental Backup

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 a daily Incremental backup 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 back up 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.

The biggest advantages of incremental backup are a reduced backup window and smaller storage space requirement as it only stores data since the last backup - regardless of type.

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 require 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 data backup 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 in case of a virus or other disaster.

3. Differential Backup

Differential backups fall somewhere in between Full and Incremental backups. A Differential backup means you essentially have 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.

Differential 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 to find and backup just changed files.

Differential backups are definitely faster to restore than incremental backups as each Differential backup is independent of the other. This means that only the Full backup and the desired Differential backup are actually required to restore a particular backup set.

4. Image Backups

An image-based backup, also known as disaster recovery, disk image, or system image backup, 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 Backup

A full system image backup is 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. A Windows image backup offers a secure means to save a safer snapshot of your entire system, which can be saved to multiple storage devices, giving you a backup of your backup.

Image backups are performed using disk imaging software and offer the absolute fastest recovery option available when you need to restore your entire system. Image-level backups also have the option to restore an image to a physical or virtual machine. A system Image backup 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 copy 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.

Copy Job

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 Windows file copy job. Copy jobs are helpful when you want to create a fast file copy to have a secondary copy 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 better understand the differences between backup methods, it’s time to decide what method or types of backup are best for you. Here are a few options to consider:

  1. Monthly Image Backup, Weekly Full Backup, and Daily Differential Backups
  2. Monthly Image Backup, Weekly Full Backup, and Daily Incremental Backups
  3. 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.

Note: Whatever backup method you choose, it should at minimum follow the 3-2-1 backup rule of keeping 3 copies of data, in at least 2 different media formats, with 1 copy or more kept offsite.

What server backup storage device to choose?

Now that you know what type of backup schedule you want to use, you will need to decide what server backup storage destination to select. Here are a few options:

  1. External Hard Drive
  2. NAS or SAN Devices
  3. Tape Drives
  4. USB Media (Flash, Thumb Drive)
  5. Network Storage
  6. Online Backup (Amazon S3, NovaBACKUP Cloud, or other cloud providers)
  7. File Sharing Services (Dropbox, OneDrive, etc.)

There are numerous server backup storage options to choose from, but ultimately the decision as to what data storage device or destination you choose is up to you. We recommend selecting more than one data storage option or buying two of your storage devices of choice so that you can have a secondary backup location that is preferably stored offsite.

Some NAS devices, such as Buffalo TeraStations, offer built-in replication and multiple backup options. For optimum data protection, we recommend that you 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 of USB, NAS, and Tape, check out this article on offsite backup storage device options.