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Backup scheduling best practices to ensure availability

For daily work files, databases, and mission-critical systems and data, the more frequent the backup schedule, the better. But how often should you back up all your data?

With all the backup-focused products available on the market today, there is no excuse not to back up systems and data. The key to making all of this work is having a backup schedule.

In this article, we'll examine how to create a backup schedule and offer tips for better scheduling.

The principal goal of backup scheduling is to establish time frames to back up an entire system, multiple systems, data and databases, network files, and other critical systems and data.

Reasons for using a backup schedule and backup procedures include:

  • Disaster recovery. Recovering and restarting critical systems, virtual machines (VMs), data files and databases.
  • Restoring files that are accidentally deleted. It's happened to all of us at some time and it helps to have a safety net in case work files or other critical data are erased.
  • Impact of backup activities on production activities. A backup schedule can help keep production systems operating at peak performance, with backups occurring outside of production schedules.

Key issues in backup scheduling

What needs to be backed up?
System owners should specify the frequency of their backups and what they need to back up. Normally, administrators should back up everything in the IT environment with variable frequency.

However, each organization should consider issues such as the cost of backups and the impact of backups on system performance. It may make sense to replicate the entire system or critical portions of the system to an alternate storage medium and perform incremental backups to that system.

Location of systems and files to be backed up
Identify if the working location will be an on-site server, storage device or perhaps a cloud-based backup arrangement.

Who performs backups?
The data backup administrator's activities should be governed based on discussions with the system owner and the data owner. Individual users may also back up their own data files; this should be addressed by the IT policy for data management.

Time frames for backups
This activity has several components:

  1. the system or service that performs the backups;
  2. the location of the backups; for example, on site or remote;
  3. the time of day for performing backups; and
  4. the use of mounted or unmounted file systems.

Backup administrators should consult with system owners on these criteria.

Typical backup schedule

How frequently do backed up files change?
Some files are updated often during a typical day; admins ought to back up these files more frequently. They might consider backing them up at the end of each day -- factoring in all incremental revisions -- so that an up-to-date backup is saved.

Other situations may require the immediate backup of changes so files are always current. Other files may not need to be backed up regularly and, as such, could be candidates for alternative storage, such as tape.

Restoration of data from backups
Backups are created to ensure that if the restoration of a system or data is needed, those resources will be as current as possible. An organization should consider the criticality of systems and files at this point so it can establish the priority of backing up and the priority of restoration. You should factor these elements into your backup scheduling.

The increased use of VMs makes efficient and timely backups even more important.

Location of restored systems and data
In an emergency, it may be necessary to restore systems or data to an alternate platform, as opposed to the original system. This is a key consideration for disaster recovery.

Types of backups

The following are the typical types of backups:

  • Day zero backups are performed when a new system is fully installed and accepted by the system owner. It establishes the initial baseline for future updates.
  • Full backups store all the systems and files within the system, or they store selected systems and files as defined by the user. Companies should perform these on a regular basis, such as once a week, and they should also consider backups when a major change to the IT infrastructure occurs.
  • Incremental backups create a copy of all the files that have changed since a previous backup.
  • Differential backups create a copy of all the files that have changed since the last full backup.

Examples of frequently used systems and files for backup scheduling include:

  • Individual user files
  • Databases
  • VMs
  • Password and group files
  • Accounting files
  • Configuration files
  • Terminal and port files
  • Network files

Setting up your backup schedule

Organizations may need to perform some incremental backups several times each day, whereas others may need more infrequent updates. The increased use of VMs makes efficient and timely backups even more important. In a disaster, enterprises will need to recover and restore quickly to resume operations with minimal downtime.

Backup scheduling is a critical IT activity, as it ensures the availability of critical systems and data, especially in an emergency. As the number and frequency of backups increases, the need for a backup schedule also increases.

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What's the most difficult part of creating a backup schedule?