Protect Yourself from Data Loss with the 3-2-1 Backup Strategy

Tech Talk show notes for Tuesday, May 26, 2020. Listen live Tuesday mornings on WTCA FM 106.1 and AM 1050 in Plymouth, Indiana.

The 3-2-1 backup strategy has been around forever. It’s a simple and effective method to keep your data safe. It works to protect data loss from fire, flood, tornado, ransomware, hard drive failure, or a multitude of other problems. So let’s break down what the 3-2-1 strategy actually is and how it can be applied to home users and small businesses. By the way, this strategy is endorsed by the United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security.

Three copies of your data. So in a typical home or small business environment, you’re going to have one copy of your data on your computer. Follow this up with two backup copies. So in total, you should have three copies of your data. But simply having multiple copies isn’t enough (keep reading).

Two different media types. Media types refer to the storage method of your data. For example, if your first copy is stored on your computer’s internal drive, it’s going to either be a regular old “spinner” drive (HDD, a traditional hard disk) or a solid-state disk (SSD). If your first copy is on an HDD, consider using something like an external SSD or flash drive. If the first copy of your data is stored on an SSD, we recommend your backup is stored on something like an external HDD. Other less common options now days include floppy drives, optical disks, or magnetic tape.

One copy offsite. One backup copy should actually be stored somewhere else other than your home or office. The location of the third data copy should be geographically separate from the original location. You could do this by having a set of external hard drives that you rotate in and out on a daily basis. Two could work, but three is best. That way, one copy is always away from the office. The biggest problem with this method is that it requires human interaction in order to work. And as you know, humans aren’t perfect. We forget to do things. The best and easiest method of backing up your data offsite is with a remote cloud backup. It’s automatic and doesn’t require much thought.

So there’s your basic 3-2-1 strategy. These recommendations are actually the MINIMUM required for safe backups.

Our Recommendations for Businesses

With many of our business clients, we recommend backup solutions with multiple layers of protection. For customers with critical data concerns, we employ a more robust strategy.

Multiple Servers. We set up multiple servers in critical settings to protect data. So long as the servers are located on the same network, we always recommend having two servers onsite, but in separate locations. Data between the two servers are mirrored, creating multiple copies. Multiple servers should be located in different buildings to improve protection.

Multiple Hard Drives. We set up RAID 1 arrays in all of our servers, but RAID arrays can also be used in most workstations to protect critical data. In a RAID 1 array, an exact copy (or mirror) of the data is copied between multiple drives. The array will continue to operate so long as one of the drives is operational.

External Hard Drives. Whenever possible, external hard drives should be used to copy data from one of the servers. External hard drives on both servers would be ideal, but not always recommended. The biggest problem with an external hard drive is that someone could walk off with your data. External hard drives are usually just plugged into a USB port, so it’s really simple to unplug it and go. In this case, consider securing your equipment in a rack.

Cloud Backups. Our preferred method of offsite backup protection is the simplest one to employ. This backup option allows your business to constantly backup your data to the cloud. The only problem is the weakest point in the distribution chain, which is your internet connection. If your internet is slow, it’s going to take a while to backup all of your data, especially if you have a lot of data to backup.

Our Recommendations for Home Users

Home users are mostly concerned with protecting their photos and documents. Digital cameras are quite prevalent with very few home users still using film to capture memories. The biggest mistake home users can make is put all of their eggs into one basket.

Check Your Hard Drive. Hard drive failures are very common. You don’t want to store your memories on a hard drive that is ready to fail. And hard drives can fail at any time. I’ve seen hard drives that have lasted for decades and drives that fail only a few days out of the box. There’s no formula to predict when or how a hard drive will fail. But sometimes a hard drive can give you clues that it’s having a problem. If it’s making noise, is painfully slow, or has corrupt data, there’s a good chance you have a bad hard drive. Talk to your local computer guy for a fix.

External Hard Drives. Just like business customers, we recommend that home users have an external hard drive. This is the second copy of your data and can help ease recovery in case your internal drive fails.

Cloud Backups. Home users can take advantage of cloud backups just like business users. This gives you a place to store your data offsite, is easy to set up, and usually quite affordable. You can get a cloud backup solution for as low as $10 a month. Take advantage of it.

Final Thoughts

You need to protect your data and memories. There’s no choice. Sadly, not all of our customers follow all of our recommendations and end up losing valuable data. We custom tailor each backup scenario for the individual customer since it isn’t always black and white what a customer may need. If you need help understanding the 3-2-1 backup strategy, please contact us for assistance.