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Five tips for scheduling backups

When it comes to the natural disasters and catastrophes in whose wake your data may become corrupt or destroyed, it is not a matter of if but rather when they will occur. Not having a solid backup and disaster recovery plan is like jumping from an airplane without a parachute and hoping for a large body of water to break your fall.

However, simply running an occasional random backup is not much better than not backing up at all. You must have a practical plan for backing up and protecting your data so that, in the event of a disaster, it is still there.

Here are five tips for creating an effective backup strategy:

Tip #1. Choose your backup medium. You can back up computer data to a wide array of media. You can completely duplicate your hard drive(s) onto another hard drive. You can use a hard drive to store backup data. You can use tapes, recordable CDs, recordable DVDs or even USB flash memory. Some are faster or have larger capacities. And some are easier to transport and store. You need to investigate the pros and cons of each and then choose the one that works for your situation.

Tip #2. Determine the frequency of your backups. Frequency is critical. If your data changes infrequently, you can probably get away with doing a weekly backup, or maybe even every other week. However, if you are dealing with a database server where transactions are constantly occurring, there can be a significant difference between the data today and the data

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last week. How often your data changes and how critical it is will determine how often you need to back it up.

Tip #3. Rotate backup data. Rather than pitching the previous backup or overwriting it with the most recent backup information, you should have multiple sets of backup media so you can rotate them. By using two or more sets, you can ensure that you still have some level of backup data to restore even if the most recent backup data becomes corrupted or lost. You can also rotate between doing full backups of all critical data and doing incremental backups that only save data that has changed since the previous backup.

Tip #4. Verify the integrity of the backup data. If you do not discover that the data was not backed up properly or was somehow corrupted during the backup process until the time you are restoring it, it is too late. You need to verify the integrity of the data as it is being backed up so that you can have confidence in your ability to restore it. Most backup software offers some type of bit-level integrity check as the data is being backed up so you don't have to do a complete restore just to prove the point.

Tip #5. Store backup data safely. Now that you have the backups scheduled onto your selected backup medium, it would be a shame if a fire took out your servers and your backup data at the same time. You should store your backup data off site or else somewhere on site where it will not become compromised or destroyed by the same disaster that caused the initial problem. If you rotate multiple backup sets, you could also store those at separate locations for additional safety and security.


Tony Bradley is a consultant and writer who focuses on network security, antivirus and incident response. As the About.com Guide for Internet/Network Security, he provides security tips, advice, reviews and information. He also contributes frequently to other industry publications; a list of his freelance writings can be found at Essential Computer Security.

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This was first published in January 2006

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