World Backup Day: The 3-2-1 Rule
March 31 was something of a… busy day on the calendar, so some people may not have noticed that it was also World Backup Day. It’s as good a day as any to remind people about how important it is to back up your data.
People today are generating more and more data. As our infographic shows, the mobile devices that are part of many of our lives generate – and store – amounts of data that would have been unthinkable not too long ago. Add to that what we generate elsewhere and people have significant amounts of digital “stuff”.
Important data needs to be backed up, because losing them could cause all sorts of damage: from the emotional (say, lost family pictures) to the financial (business records). How can you do it?
The accepted rule for backup best practices is the three-two-one rule. It can be summarized as: if you’re backing something up, you should have:
- At least three copies,
- In two different formats,
- with one of those copies off-site.
Let’s go through each of those rules. They’re all based on one concept, really: redundancy. Each of those rules is meant to make sure that your data is stored in multiple ways, so that at least one backup will survive.
Three different copies means three different copies in different places. (Different folders on the same hard drive or flash disk does not count.) Why three? In the digital era, it is very easy to make digital copies, and it’s better to have more copies than too few. By keeping them on different places, it reduces the risk of a single event destroying multiple copies.
Now, why two different formats? What this means is that you must use at least two different methods to store your data. For example, burning your photos to a DVD from your PC’s hard drive counts (hard disk and DVD). However, copying them to an external disk does not (as they’re both hard disks.) If you do both, then you satisfy this rule (and the first one as well). Again, using different formats reduce the risks that all your backups will be damaged, as different formats have different strengths and weaknesses when it comes to redundancy.
Keeping one copy off-site ensures that even if something happens to where your data is – like a fire, or a break-in – at least one copy is safe somewhere else. If something does go wrong where you are, at least your data will be safe.
What about cloud services? Is it a substitute for backups? No, they are not. Cloud services are not immune from data loss or disasters. You should consider them as just another potential way of storing data. Data in the cloud should be backed up as well. Cloud services are a good place to back up your data, as (by definition) they are offsite.
Another thing that cloud services are good at is making backing up a much less difficult thing to do. Perhaps the top reason many users don’t back up is simple: it can be a bother to back up. Many cloud solutions include software that will automatically sync the files on your computer to your cloud storage, meaning that you’re automatically backed up. (Of course, this includes our own SafeSync product.) Some storage products like external hard drives and network attached storage (NAS) boxes will frequently include software that does the same thing – automate the backup process – for their own solutions.
Backing up should be something you consider part of your regular routine, much like maintenance is part of owning a car – and not a one-off activity that’s only done once a year. Hopefully this reminder will set you on the path to good backup practices.