Guide to Server Backups: Creating a Backup Strategy

It’s common for businesses to store huge amounts of information from customer and financial records to emails and business-critical documents. Servers are used for almost everything, making server backups necessary for any business continuity plan.

Let’s explore the role that server backups play in modern backup and recovery strategies and what considerations you need to make when creating a server backup strategy.

What Is a Server Backup?

A server backup is a copy of the data stored on a server. The backup should be made to a different media and ideally stored in a different location.

Backups provide an accessible copy of the data on the server, allowing it to be recovered if the original data is lost or corrupted. Common causes of data loss include:

  • Human error, such as mistakenly deleting a file or dropping data from a database
  • Corruption due to hardware or software issues
  • Hardware failure
  • Viruses/malware/ransomware
  • Fires, natural disasters, or other events damaging a data center

Server backups provide an action plan for any of these events. Whether you have dedicated servers or rely on virtual machines, backups are essential.

Types of Servers

Depending on the nature of your business, you may rely on several types of servers.

  • Physical servers: A physical server is a single-tenant, bare metal machine that’s typically powerful and may be used to run a lot of applications
  • Virtual servers: These types of servers run on a more powerful physical server. The host machine uses a hypervisor to allocate computing cores, memory, and storage to guest virtual machines, allowing resources to be used by multiple tenants
  • NAS devices: Network Attached Storage devices are used to store large amounts of data and make it accessible to other devices on the network
  • Cloud servers: It’s possible to rent virtual machines and other computing resources from cloud service providers, such as storage or databases. These instances typically run on shared hardware and may be leased long-term or on an ad hoc basis

Why Are Server Backups Important?

Whether you have dedicated servers or use cloud hosting, server backups ensure your data is always available.

Nowadays, organizations must contend with potential hardware failures, cyberattacks, and other security concerns. Cloud service providers may offer some guarantees about the availability of their infrastructure, but they typically use a shared responsibility model. This means they’ll take care of the parts they control, but if you can change it, you need to take care of it.

Under the shared responsibility model, the customer is responsible for the data stored on servers. With IaaS models, the customer is responsible for almost everything except the physical infrastructure.

If you’re hit by a ransomware attack or fail to patch an OS or application-level vulnerability, your data is at risk. With the number of ransomware attacks almost doubling between 2022 and 2023, cybersecurity and backups should be a priority for all organizations.

What Are the Methods of Server Backup?

There are a few ways of approaching backups, and the proper choice depends on how much data you need to back up and how often that data changes.

  • Full backups: With a full backup, all data on the server is copied and sent to a different location
  • Incremental backups: Incremental backups use a full backup as a starting point. That backup can be the most recent (for reverse incremental backups) or the first backup taken (for forward incremental backups). In a forward incremental backup, each time a new backup is taken, any changes from the initial backup are recorded in a separate file. With reverse incremental backups, restore points are made to allow the client to restore to an older version, and the newest copy is a full backup
  • Differential backups: This type of backup was popular in the days of backing up to tapes. The first backup would be a full backup, and future snapshots would record all the changes since the last full backup. Differentials typically result in more storage being required due to all changes being copied each day, which is why this type of backup is being used less often as organizations continue to modernize

How to Develop a Server Backup Strategy

Before developing a server backup strategy, you should understand what data you need to protect, how often it changes and how any backup plan would fit in with a disaster recovery procedure.

Assessing Data Criticality

Consider what data you store on your server and whether that data is available elsewhere. For example, if you run an online store, your customer details and order/stock level data is considered critical. Product images and descriptions pulled from a supplier’s API may be less important.

Establishing Backup Frequency

How often you should back up your data depends on what the server is used for. Taking backups every 24 hours is a good idea if the data changes regularly. Weekly backups may be acceptable for data that isn’t mission-critical, but taking infrequent copies could result in a backup with stale data. Additionally, to get a holistic view of backup frequency, backup admins should work with key stakeholders to determine how often the data that needs to be protected is changed.

Selecting Appropriate Backup Methods

Consider whether you’d like to use full or incremental backups. Full backups could be costly if you’re backing up a lot of data and have to pay storage or data transfer costs for your off-site backups. However, the ease of restoring a full backup may make it worthwhile.

Consider making multiple copies of your backup on different media, with at least one being off-site and immutable.

Defining Storage and Retention Policies

Consider where your backups will be kept and how long the data will be retained. Traditionally, backup policies have taken a grandfather-father-son approach, so there are always three generations of data to recover from.

Retaining some older copies of data gives you an insurance policy in the event of tampering or a ransomware attack, and it reduces the risk of accidentally overwriting a good backup with corrupted data.

Planning for Recovery

Once you have your backup policy in place, test it to ensure the data can be recovered. Your simulation should consider whether the technical process works and whether the data you need is included in the backup.

If possible, set up a sandbox environment, and pretend you’re recovering from a data center outage. Did the backup include recent customer support tickets, emails or order records?

Finally, be sure to evaluate the SLAs of any companies that might be involved in the backup process. Would you be able to operate if there was an outage at 2 a.m. the day before your busiest sales period? Plan for the worst so if something does go wrong, you’re ready.

Best Practices for Server Backups

Don’t get complacent when it comes to backups. Consider the following best practices so you’re always prepared for outages and data loss.

  • Automate your backups: Schedule your backups to run automatically so they’re not forgotten.
  • Practice redundancy: It’s better to have multiple copies you don’t need than one corrupt copy that’s useless.
  • Test your backups regularly: Your backup policy was fine a year ago, but did you update the script when you switched database platforms?
  • Encrypt your backups: If you’re backing up sensitive data, make sure it’s properly protected
  • Use the 3-2-1-1-0 Rule: Have at least three backups of your data on two different media, with one off-site and one that is offline, air-gapped, or immutable for zero errors after automated backup testing and recoverability verification with Veeam Data Platform.
  • Consider regulatory requirements: If you’re required to retain data for auditing purposes or the data is sensitive in any way, are your backups being held in accordance with the relevant regulatory requirements?

Following these backup best practices will ensure that if you’re hit by a ransomware attack or server outage, you’ll be able to recover quickly, with minimal disruption for your clients.

Common Challenges Backing Up a Server

Once you’ve set up a backup system, it shouldn’t require much attention, except for occasional testing and reviewing of your backup procedures to ensure they cover all your mission-critical data.

However, there are some challenges that IT teams sometimes face when setting up backups for the first time.

  • Lack of permissions: Depending on how the server is set up, you may not have the permissions required to interact with the guest operating system, or the proper permissions for your cloud provider
  • Networking issues: If certain ports are firewalled or there are restrictions on data transfers, it could cause backup issues
  • Slow transfers: Large backups may be slow to complete, depending on the server’s connection speed
  • Limited storage: Capacity planning is an integral step for all types of backups, so if you’re taking multiple backups, confirm the server you’re storing the backup on has sufficient capacity
  • Damaged or incomplete backups: Unreliable or slow connections could lead to corrupted backups, as well as storage and disk issues. Confirm the backup solution you’ve chosen includes some error checking and recovery options
  • Backup lifecycle management: Not all tools offer an easy way to manage the lifecycle of your backups. Do you have a plan for rotating them and ensuring off-site copies are kept up to date?
  • Testing issues: If you’re not testing your backups, you’re gambling with your data. Use business continuity and disaster recovery tools, such as Veeam Recovery Orchestrator and SureBackup, to test your backup and recovery systems. It may take some planning and testing to get your backups working perfectly, especially if you’re running a hybrid or multi-cloud environment. Once it’s running well, you can automate regular backups and feel confident that your business-critical data is safe and secure.

Protect Your Server Backups With Veeam

Take regular backups and follow best practices to ensure your backups are valid, reliable, and always available. If a backup policy isn’t part of your business continuity plan, you’re at risk of serious data loss.

If you do have a backup plan, review it regularly to confirm it covers all your organization’s critical data. Test your backup recovery procedures so you can feel confident they’ll work in an emergency.

Veeam Data Platform can help you overcome many of the hurdles commonly faced when it comes to data protection. Whether your servers are virtual or physical, running in AWS, Azure, or Google Cloud, Veeam can back it up.

Identifying gaps in your protection, whether it is data not protected with immutable backups or anomalies in your RPOs, can be accomplished using the advanced monitoring and analytics provided by Veeam ONE. Automating your customized recovery testing and keeping your documentation fully up-to-date is where Veeam Recovery Orchestrator is the hero you are looking for. Let Veeam help remove the risk, pain, and challenges from your environment when it comes to keeping your data safe.

Learn more about Veeam’s backup solutions and how they can protect your business data. Contact us today to request a consultation, or arrange a trial of Veeam’s backup and data protection solutions.

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