How do I back up my computer safely?

7 Aug 2020 Lumina Technologies

Everyone knows the importance of regular backups, but an effective solution is more than simply remembering to back up onto a tape at the end of the working day or copying files onto a USB stick. 

Whatever the size of your data, always use the 3-2-1 principle in order to back up your computer safely: 

  • 3 is the total number of copies you need
  • 2 is the number of different locations you need to keep backup copies
  • 1 is your original data 

You must keep copies in different locations because there is the possibility of data being destroyed if the physical surroundings come to harm, such as during a fire or flood. One of the copies needs to be kept on the premises to be available quickly if it is needed; the other kept off-site so the data survives even if your on-site hard drives and backups do not. It is good practice to always create off-site backups at the same time as your on-site. 

If you are backing up smaller amounts of data for personal use, internet-based backup solutions will make life easier in terms of logistics. Or it should be enough to copy your files onto an external hard drive such as a USB stick, thumb drive or portable hard drive.  Windows 10 has a feature which will automatically back up selected data onto an external drive. 

How often you back up your data depends on how valuable that data is. If it is easy to recreate, then perhaps you do not need to back it up at all. However, if it is something that you cannot afford to lose, e.g. photos or a music library,  or something that is going to take a long time to recreate, e.g. a thesis or a novel, then you must back it up safely. 

RTO and RPO

To calculate the optimum number of times you need to back up your data, balance the Recovery Time Objective (RTO) with the Recovery Point Objective (RPO) parameters. 

RPO is the length of time you or your business can tolerate the loss of data. Many SMEs will back up data at the end of every working day, but what if there was a failure just before the backup was due – you would lose a whole day’s work. If that is not acceptable for your business, then you must schedule more frequent backups. For example, a professional photographer might want to back up data every couple of hours; a financial institution will need to back up data every few minutes. 

RTO is the length of time your company can afford to take to restore your data after a disaster has occurred. If a week’s break in continuity could prove fatal for your business, it is not a good idea to back up your data onto a format that will take longer to restore. In the corporate world, it has become standard practice to back up data onto tape, but tape is slow to recover, and it can take six weeks to fully restore your system. Backup technologies that offer quicker restoration times are more expensive but could save your company from disaster in the event of a too-long break in business continuity. 

It is therefore important to find the right balance in terms of RPO and RTO and use the technology that best meets your needs. 

Testing testing

The cardinal rule is that you must test your backups. There is absolutely no point in backing up if you cannot be certain that you will be able to recover your data in the timeframe you require. We have seen a number of cases where organisations have never tested backups, and when they needed to recover the data, they found it took far longer to recover than they had expected. In other cases, vital data had been corrupted and was unusable – a technical glitch that would have been discovered during testing.

During lockdown, many businesses had to swiftly set up remote working for staff, and some of those solutions have been shoehorned in very quickly. This means many employees are using Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) to connect to your system; if they are saving data onto the local hard drives of their machines, it may well be that your data is not being backed up, so you must test the remote working system to ensure the synch is being maintained and functioning correctly. 

If your company uses Real Time Display, Citrix or a Hosted Desktop Solution, everyone will be working on the same server which will automatically back up. However, you will still need to be mindful of how your users are working so the risk of losing data is limited as far as possible.

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