Your Data Matters: What Is Backup and Recovery?

August 23rd, 2019

So you’re in the market for data center backup software, or you’re just curious about what exactly data center backup software is. Data center backup software is designed to provide business continuity and prevent critical data loss, even while data centers grow more complex. 

Recovery is a key component of backup software. Not only is it important for your data to be securely stored, but you need to be able to effectively retrieve it in the case of data loss. As mentioned in our Data Center Backup Buyer’s Guide, only about 3% of backed-up data was ever restored in a given year. However, ransomware attacks are on the rise, making backup and recovery more salient than ever. 

Let’s dig into just what backup and recovery is, and why they are important to every business and organization, including yours.

What is backup, and why is it important?

Backup is a simple but fundamental operation that creates a copy of the data, as an insurance policy against the occurrence some kind of disaster. Data backup is important not only for protecting an organization’s crucial data, but also for helping maintain SLAs and ensure business continuity. Backups can be used to recover data after data loss due to deletion or corruption, or to recover data from a previous point in time. 

On their own, backups can act as a rudimentary form of recovery, but not all backup systems can recreate intricate configurations such as an entire computer system or database server. Two important factors for data backup to consider first are 

  • where you would like to backup your data, and 
  • how you would like to backup your data.

Where to back up your data

There are real tradeoffs to be made in deciding where to store data. Most backup data today is stored on dedicated backup disk, either conventional disk or purpose-built appliances. Backup software, sometimes integrated into the appliance and sometimes running on a different server, manages the process of copying data to disk and handles things like deduplication and indexing to help compress the data.

Traditionally, data was stored on magnetic tape using digital recording. However, disk-based storage replaced magnetic tape as the backup medium of choice 10 to 15 years ago. Tape is still used today for archived data that does not need to be restored very rapidly, or as an additional copy of backup data. 

Another option is to store backup data on centralized Storage Area Network (SAN) or Network Attached Storage (NAS) devices. There are some issues to consider regarding backup of SAN and NAS devices themselves. NAS devices in particular run proprietary operating systems optimized for storage performance. It is not possible to install backup software agents on a NAS device. 

A more modern option is to store backup data in the cloud. The options here are public cloud storage like AWS, Google Cloud or Microsoft Azure, or private cloud storage where the data is stored behind the firewall in an on-premise data center and a secondary disaster recovery site.

The most recent innovation is hybrid storage. With this solution, archived and long-term retention data is stored on a public cloud and more critical data is stored in the private cloud.

How to back up your data: 4 types of backups

In terms of how you would like to backup your data, there are several options, but these are the leading methods:

Full backup

A full backup is a complete copy of an entire data set. This provides the most comprehensive protection for your data and is the most common type of backup, but because it is so time-consuming and requires a lot of disk or tape capacity, it is typically only used on a periodic basis.

Incremental backup

Incremental data backups save only what has changed since the last full backup. It’s quick, and one of the most efficient storage options. A drawback to incremental backup is that when it comes to restoring data, it takes a bit longer. In order to do so, the incremental data has to be weaved back into existing data to form a full backup.

Differential data backup

Differential backup is somewhere in between full backup and incremental backup. Differential backup makes a copy of all changes made since the most recent full backup, which is a contrast to incremental backup that just records changes since the last backup run of any type. This type of backup consumes less time and space than a full backup, but is still longer than incremental. 

Mirror data backup

With mirror backup, data is saved as an exact copy instead of incremental changes, creating a duplicate or “mirror” of all data now present. However, this also means that if you lose or delete certain files from the source, they will be lost in the next mirror backup as well. This type of backup can help you save on restoration and storage space, but runs the risk of permanently losing valuable data.

Keep in mind that these backup types can be used autonomously or in combination to create a comprehensive data backup solution. Monitoring your data backups is important since backup failures can leave data vulnerable, and because recovery relies on the protected copies of data to repair or restore data.

Recovery vs. backup: what is recovery?

Recovery, which is interchangeably used with disaster recovery, is a comprehensive strategy designed to allow an organization to maintain or quickly resume mission-critical operations following a natural disaster or other unplanned data loss events. While backup is the process of storing a copy of data, recovery is the process of obtaining that data when something goes wrong. 

A combination of backup and replication is often the best strategy for disaster recovery. In this scenario, both production data and local backup data are replicated to a remote site in real time. In its most simple iteration, what makes data recovery possible is hosting a file and the information about that file in different locations. In this way, the backup data with long retention periods are made available for restores and is highly available because it’s replicated to the disaster recovery site. 

A major value proposition for disaster recovery software is how fast data can be restored, with many vendors promising “instant” recovery for lost data. An important distinction with disaster recovery is that not all production data at a remote location may be needed to resume operations. Therefore, it is a good idea for organizations to decide what data isn’t crucial and what data absolutely must be recovered.

Want to learn more about Data Center Backup?

If you want to dig deeper into data center backup software, and identify what tools might be right for your organization, check out our new Data Center Backup Buyer’s Guide. It can help you make better-informed purchasing decisions and highlights real opinions from users of the 7 leading data center backup products on the market.