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Ask a Carbonista: What are the best backup techniques for my business?

March 30, 2016

How often should you back up your data? How much storage do you need? Do you need more bandwidth to back up offsite?

The answer to these questions is different for every business. It all depends on your company’s data growth, the rate at which your data changes, which type of media you plan to use, and how much downtime you can withstand.

Based on these factors, you can decide among three different backup techniques – Full, Differential, or Incremental – to meet your company’s backup needs. You may find that the most effective strategy for protecting your company’s data involves a combination of techniques.

Full backups
Full backups are complete replicas of your source data on a backup target. This target could be a local disk or networked storage, for example. And this target may sit within the same building as the source data. Or, the target might be at a remote location, or a large data center in the cloud.

Full backups are ideal for protecting your most mission-critical data. They also serve as reference images for Differential or Incremental backups. Be sure to run a Full backup before performing system upgrades or major changes.

Full backup

Full backups provide complete copies of your source files. The downside is that – because Full backups copy every folder and file selected for backup – they can be time consuming and use up a great deal of network capacity. That’s why most businesses complete Full backups periodically – usually once per month or once per week – and augment them with regular Differential or Incremental backups, which use up less space and bandwidth.

Differential backups
Differential backups capture the changes made to the source data over a specified interval of time since the last Full backup. Differential backups are ideal for updating Full backups at more frequent intervals, and Differential backups are typically completed much faster than Full backups.

Differential Backups

Differential backups are fast, space-efficient and capture only the changes made to data since the last Full backup. Important to note: A key drawback is that Differential backups increase in size every time they are taken until the next Full backup is completed. This means Differential backups can take longer and require more bandwidth, depending on how long it’s been since your last Full backup.

Incremental backups
Incremental backups capture any changes to the source data that were made since the last backup. The key difference between Incremental and Differential backups is that Differential backups capture only the changes that were made since the last Full backup. Incremental backups, on the other hand, capture only the changes that have occurred since the last backup regardless of whether that last backup was Full or Differential.

For example, suppose a business completes a Full backup on Day One and a Differential backup on Day Two. For this business, an Incremental backup on Day Three would capture only the changes that occurred since the Differential backup on Day Two. If this business instead chooses to run another Differential backup on Day Three, that Differential backup would capture all the changes since the initial Full backup on Day One.

Incremental Backups

Incremental backups are the most space-efficient form of backup. But with Incremental backups, recovery and restoration processes can take a relatively long time to complete. That’s because when you initiate a restoration, the system has to piece together the most recent Full backup as well as every subsequent Incremental backup that has been performed.

For example, suppose you have a business that completes a Full backup once a month along with daily Incremental backups. Restoring data will be faster for this company than it would be for a company that completes a Full backup once a year with 365 daily Incremental backups.

Choosing the right backup solution
Each backup technique presents its own particular strengths and weaknesses. To make the right selection, you need to have a clear understanding of your company’s application environment, pace of data growth, data volatility, and the amount of downtime your business can tolerate.

When choosing a backup solution, make sure that it not only supports all three of these techniques, but also that fine-tuning them (or even overhauling them) won’t be time-consuming. Certain advanced products, such as Carbonite Server Backup, enable you to change backup settings – and bandwidth management preferences – quickly and easily. Keep in mind that business models and application environments will remain subject to change as your customer tastes, market conditions, and technology landscapes evolve.

Learn more about Carbonite's business backup solutions today.

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