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Which cloud backup type is best: Incremental or differential?

Backup types vary in size, complexity of restoration, cost and resources consumed. Is incremental or differential the right approach for your cloud backup?

As you prepare to back up your data in the cloud, one of the decisions you will have to make is which backup type to create. Generally, cloud backup should be seamless and easy on your infrastructure.

Two of the more popular choices for cloud backup are incremental and differential. Both types start with the creation of a full backup. After that, only newly created or modified data is backed up.

In the case of incremental backup, the backups eventually form a chain. Each backup within the chain has a parent-child relationship with the previous backup and the next backup. The first incremental backup, for example, contains all the data that has been created or modified since the full backup was taken. The second incremental backup contains only the data created or modified since the time of the previous incremental backup.

Differential is a similar backup type but works a little differently. The first differential backup contains all the data created or modified since the full backup was taken. The second differential backup also contains all the data created or modified since the full backup was taken. In other words, differential backups grow larger over time, because each differential backup contains all of the newly created or modified data since the time of the full backup, regardless of how long ago the full backup was created.

Both differential and incremental backups have their place. Incremental backups are small, so they can be created quickly. However, restoring an incremental backup requires you have access to all the backups in the backup chain. Differential backups are easier to restore. But, over time, they consume more storage space, and it takes increasingly more time to create the backup.

Cloud providers bill their customers based on the resources they consume. As a result, it is important to consider the storage space and the network bandwidth being consumed by the cloud backup process.

Generally speaking, incremental backups are a better fit for cloud backup environments because they tend to consume fewer resources. In fact, many organizations have adopted an incremental forever backup type for their cloud backups. This model requires only a single full backup, with all future backups being incremental.

Incremental backups are a better choice than differential backups for data protection in the cloud because they tend to be smaller. With cloud providers billing their customers for the backup space that they consume, it makes sense to pick the backup type with the smallest data footprint. This relatively small size also helps to minimize bandwidth usage when writing a backup to the cloud.

This was last published in March 2019

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Which cloud backup method do you prefer, incremental or differential, and why?
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