Written by Clare Stouffer, a NortonLifeLock employee
Feb. 25, 2021
Have you ever lost a lot of really important data? Or, short of that, have you ever felt a moment of panic where you thought you did?
Whether it’s images of a family vacation, a report from work, or a semester’s worth of homework, you probably have data on your computer’s hard drive or your mobile device that’s too valuable to lose. That’s where a data backup comes in — there’s even an entire day dedicated to its importance, World Backup Day.
But a backup strategy isn’t something to focus on just one day of the year. It should be a part of your cyber hygiene. To that end, consider this your ultimate guide to backing up your data
What is a data backup?
Plainly put, a data backup is a copy or archive of the important information stored on your devices such as a computer, phone, or tablet, and it’s used to restore that original information in the event of a data loss.
Data losses can occur in many forms, from hard drive failures to ransomware attacks and even human error or physical theft. No matter the misfortune, a data backup could be the respite you’re looking for to restore the data stored on your devices. It’s typically stored in a secure, separate location from an original device, such as a cloud.
This way, whenever you have that crushing feeling that all your hard work and treasured memories are gone, you can rest assured that a data backup has your back.
What is the importance of a data backup?
The main reason for a data backup is to have a secure archive of your important information, whether that’s classified documents for your business or treasured photos of your family, so that you can restore your device quickly and seamlessly in the event of data loss.
Laptops are stolen every 53 seconds in the U.S. (Kensington)
Over 70 million cell phones are lost each year. (Kensington)
So, think of a data backup as the bedrock of your digital disaster recovery plan. By backing up your devices, you’re already one step ahead of any cyber threats that might result in data loss.
It’s worth noting, however, that data loss isn’t always the result of cyber threats. It can also be the case that your external hard drive or computer wear out and you lose your data. That’s just the nature of any piece of hardware, and backing up your data can help you restore it on a new device.
What data should I back up?
As a baseline, you should back up anything that can’t be replaced if it’s lost. For individuals this might include:
For businesses, data backups become a bit more technical — think of backing up customer databases, configuration files, machine images, operating systems, and registry files — and there’s typically an IT department in place to manage them.
Data backup solutions and backup storage options
In choosing a data backup solution, individuals can take cues from how businesses develop their own data backup strategies and do this by considering the recovery point objectives (RPO) and recovery time objectives (RTO):
RPO is the amount of time between your data backups, whether that’s 24 hours or a month, and understanding that this is the span of time in which you’ll lose your data in the event of an incident. The shorter your RPO, the less data you lose and vice versa.
RTO is the time it takes to restore your data. Generally, the faster or more streamlined your storage solution, the faster your recovery time will be.
At the end of the day, the best data backup solution is one that suits your needs — and that’s different for everyone. For this reason, you also might want to consider:
Ease of set up
The security of your data
How quickly your data can be backed up
Ease of access to your data backup
Here, we’ve highlighted four common data backup solutions and storage considerations.
1. Removable media: The smallest storage
Removable media generally refers to small portable devices mostly used to transfer files from device to device. This includes CDs, DVDs, and USB flash drives, also called pen drives, thumb drives, or jump drives, all of which are compatible with laptop and desktop computers.
Unlike other backup storage options, removable media does not come with a large storage capacity and does not have additional security features should your drive be lost or stolen.
Their size is an indication of their storage capacity, with some supporting as little as 128MB but others capable of storing up to 256 GB.
2. External hard drives: Ample storage
As the name indicates, an external hard drive is connected to the computer or laptop on the outside via cables or wirelessly. Examples of external hard drives can include USB flash drives and solid-state drives, also known as SSDs.
Like removable media, external hard drives are portable and easy to use, but they’re capable of storing larger files — anywhere from 128 GB to 10 TB. They are most compatible with computers and laptops.
3. Cloud backup: Flexible storage
Cloud backups, or “the cloud” as some affectionately refer to it, allows users to back up their data to hardware that’s in a remote location. Users can access and manage their data anytime on any device via the internet.
Most cloud storage services provide a large amount of storage space — by some counts, infinite amounts — and encrypt the content for data security. Some common cloud storage solutions you probably already use include iCloud, Google Drive, or Dropbox*, all of which are compatible with cell phones, tablets, desktop computers, and laptops.
4. Backup services: The most storage
If you have a trove of important data and treasured files, you might want to consider calling in the pros to help with your data backup by hiring a backup service.
This method of data backup is similar to that of a backup administrator in a business, meaning you’re putting a person or service in charge of your data backups because they have access to robust backup softwares, hardware appliances, or even hybrid data backup solutions.
Essentially, you’re paying a service to manage and help secure your data — most backup services offer encryption. Like the cloud, you can consider the storage options for this unlimited.
Backup storage considerations
As individuals, we’re left to our own devices to figure out how much backup storage is needed for our devices. For perspective, here are the general storage sizes across some common gadgets:
Cell phones: 32GB – 128GB
Tablets: 16GB – 64 GB
Desktop computers: 250GB –320GB
Laptops: 16GB – 512GB
However, these can vary widely depending on manufacturers and types of devices.
Data backup guidelines
There are a lot of options when it comes to backing up your data, each with its own procedures and parameters. Still, there’s one rule of thumb—and a few best practices—that apply to any data backup.
Consider all of the following when creating your own data backup strategy.
Deploy the 3-2-1 backup strategy
Backing up isn’t a one-and-done approach. You want as many layers of data backup as you can get. For this reason, the 3-2-1 backup strategy is the gold standard for backing up your data.
The concept: create three copies of your data on at least two storage solutions, one of which is stored remotely.
Backup best practice #1: Back up regularly
Remember your RPO? The longer the span of time you leave between your data backups, the more data you might lose. So, back up regularly and often.
For cell phones especially, application data is one of the more difficult things to back up because the data can change daily. If you rely a lot on apps, you might need a data backup solution that backs up regularly — daily or more often — without you having to take action, such as by enabling auto-updates.
Backup best practice #2: Always opt for more storage
You might save a few pennies by only storing what you absolutely can’t replace. But data storage can be cheap, so why not just back up everything?
In doing so, consider what data storage options make the most sense with which data. For instance, if your house is flooded, a physical data backup like removable media might be lost. But data that’s backed up on the cloud will not, so you might want to consider storing your irreplaceable information there.
In the end, you don’t have to pick between a physical data backup and backing up in the cloud.
Choosing both is your safest bet because the more places your data is backed up, the better.
Backup best practice #3: Don’t underestimate physical copies
Don’t underestimate the value of having physical copies of things like your bank statements and tax records or even home title. It’s a good idea to keep a file of your most important documents, in addition to any digital data backups you have.
Your documents are likely the most important part of your data backup. So take time to organize them. That way, you can be confident you’ve backed up everything you need.
As we evolve into a world filled with digital citizens, data backups shouldn’t feel like a chore. They should provide peace of mind that you’ve done all you can to safeguard your important information and treasured memories against life’s unknowns.