Five tips for data backups
I’m the guy at Urban Insight who is responsible for worrying about losing our data. Since we are a technology company pretty much all of our information is in electronic format. Here are a few tips I’ve learned from setting up and managing backups over the years.
Tips 1: Backup your backups
I learned an invaluable lesson in a network security course I took in college: Everybody Gets Owned (EGO). In your own life, you might call this Murphy ’s Law. In engineering, the mantra is redundancy, redundancy, redundancy.
No matter what you call it, just accept it: something will go wrong. It always does. A hard drive will fail. Your server room will catch on fire. Your building will be off limits for 24 hours for a homeland security concern. You will fall victim to petty theft.
Ensure that you have a secondary backup system that also backs up your data, and ensure it works differently than your primary system. If you primary system uses Western Digital hard drives, consider using Seagate’s for the secondary system. If you backup locally, backup to the cloud or store an extra set of backups off site. If you use service X for your primary backups, can you affordably use service Y for your redundancy?
Tip 2: Housekeeping helps
Backups only grow over time. Periodic housekeeping – deleting or archiving the largest unneeded files – will often yield substantial reductions in your backup sizes. We use a Windows program called FolderSizes to find out where we are using the most GBs. It works great.
Tip 3: Check your backups
Your backup needs will change often and issues will arise. Consider a few simple checks you can run weekly to review and confirm your backups files are working.
Tip 4: Backups are only as good as your restores
Backups are great, but you aren’t protected until you have validated the backups by actually restoring data. If you have never restored data from your backups then you aren’t backing data up. Joel Spolskly has a great write-up on this that is worth a read.
You need to test your restores regularly. Consider adding a restore test to your weekly checks (see tip 3).
Tip 5: Use credentials setup just for the backups
Don’t use the credentials of the sys admin team when configuring your backup software to connect to network resources. Your backups will be at the mercy of that team member leaving your organization or simple password changes. Setup credentials specifically for use by your backup software and use these instead.