Best Practices For Data Backup: The 3-2-1 Strategy

IT Solutions

Data loss is a disaster waiting to happen for most organisations – without access to essential data; businesses can be left unable to operate. The threat of data loss comes from many potential sources – hardware failure, lack of it security, theft, cyberattacks, fires, floods, and even natural disasters can all lead to the loss of valuable data.


Therefore, your business must have a solid data backup strategy to be prepared for the worst. Keeping backups is a crucial part of disaster recovery, allowing you to restore any data you lose due to unforeseen events, helping your business recover and resume normal operations.


Best practices for backup strategies will differ based on the size of your business, the data you use, and what you use it for, but most backup procedures stem from a core baseline: the 3-2-1 strategy.


What Is The 3-2-1 Strategy?


The 3-2-1 strategy is a basic framework for creating backups, used by all manner of organisations to develop a robust data backup strategy and mitigate the impact of data loss.


3-2-1 refers to the main principles of the strategy, namely:

  • Keep at least THREE copies of your data
  • Back up your data on at least TWO types of storage
  • Keep at least ONE backup off-site


These principles can be adapted and built upon to suit the needs of different businesses and organisations, but at their core, they provide a simple, reliable framework for backing up essential data.


But what are the reasons behind each step? Keep reading for a more in-depth explanation of the 3-2-1 data backup strategy.


3: Copies Of Your Data


The first part of the 3-2-1 strategy operates on a simple principle: the more copies of your data you have, the more likely you’ll be able to use at least one of them to restore data lost in an emergency.


The 3-2-1 strategy, therefore, suggests at least three copies – enough to be sure that you’ll have at least one copy of your data to fall back on even if both of the others fail. You can add more copies as necessary, but keeping additional copies of your data is more expensive and complicated, so three copies is the basic requirement you should aim to meet.


2: Types Of Storage


The next part of the 3-2-1 strategy is to ensure you use at least two different types of storage for your backups. Any storage device is susceptible to failure, either due to faults or simply due to degradation over time. Using multiple types of data storage ensures that even if one fails, the other is likely to be unaffected by the same issues.


For example, suppose you have data stored on an internal hard drive. In that case, you could back up your data to an external hard drive, the cloud, or a Network Attached Storage (NAS) device – a type of storage connected to a network but operated independently from it, allowing data retrieval if the network goes down.


1: Off-Site Backup


Finally, the 1 in 3-2-1 refers to having at least one backup at an off-site location. This is to ensure that any localised emergencies causing data loss – such as theft, fire, flooding, or even a natural disaster – can’t destroy all your backups in one fell swoop.


As an example, imagine there’s a fire at your office that destroys all your IT hardware. If you’ve only backed up your data to devices in the office, then your backups will all be destroyed along with the original copies of your data. If you’ve instead backed up the data to the cloud or an off-site data centre, then you’ll still be able to retrieve your data even if the rest of your hardware has gone up in smoke.


This is perhaps the most crucial part of your backup strategy, as the number of backups you make or types of storage you use won’t matter at all if they’re all kept in one location where they can easily be stolen or destroyed all at once. Using solutions like cloud hosting or remote data centres ensures that even if your on-site backups are damaged, you can still rely on off-site ones.



Do You Have To Follow The 3-2-1 Strategy?


While the 3-2-1 strategy serves as a valuable guideline for your backup policy, in reality, it might not suit the exact needs of every unique organisation. Different businesses may need to create a higher number of backups, use more types of storage, or keep multiple off-site backups instead of just one. Where 3-2-1 may work for one business, others could use 3-3-1, 3-2-2, or any other variation on the formula.


While there’s no universal backup strategy that will suit every business, the 3-2-1 method still serves as a helpful framework for adapting and building your own data backup strategy according to your business’s needs and resources.



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