Review

Making Your Data Immune To Zombie Apocalypse: As Easy As “3 – 2 – 1” – 2014 Update


Once upon a time, businesses and people had to rely on CDs, DVDs, and tape drives to backup their data. Hard drive storage space was not as affordable as today, nor was it as reliable or durable either. But today, you can get a good 1TB or 2TB hard drive for around $100 ~ $150. Price per GB has become dirt cheap, and hard drive manufacturers are producing a lot more durable external hard drives now. This has resulted in the vast increase of using external hard drives for backup purposes.

Yet having a good copy of backup data on a hard drive, or more than one hard drive, does not automatically ensure 100% safety of your data, nor it is a full backup process. There are so many things that can go wrong with your hard drive (some of which we will explain later). Good news is, there is a really good backup process you can follow. It’s simple and as easy as “3 – 2 – 1″.

Why use hard drives?

Tapes were really popular in the past with small to medium sized businesses, as were CDs and DVDs. So why are we using hard drives now? Fair question.

There are several advantages for backing up to hard drives. One very noticeable advantage is speed. Hard drives allow you to write data to them quickly, and thus significantly shorten the duration of your backup process (less than half the time of tape, and 80% faster than writing to CDs or DVDs). Backup success rates are also a lot higher (99% or even greater). There is a lot less overhead and hassles than with handling tape or troubleshooting backups. Storage is also easier as well. Plus, even a 2TB external hard drive is pretty small so carrying them around isn’t a problem.

So all is well and good in the land of hard drives, right? Well, not quite. You see, there are still some issues with hard drives. Sure, they have solved a lot of problems we’ve had in past, but here are just a few issues hard drives have:

  • Spilling a cup of coffee, glass of water, or simply dropping the drive can damage it physically
  • Vulnerability to theft and natural disasters such as flood, fire, tornadoes and earthquakes (okay, maybe not earthquakes, unless the drive is crushed by a collapsing building)
  • Hard drives are known to fail without any pre-warnings, as a vast number of people have found out. (over 5% of hard drives die randomly in the first year)
  • A zombie apocalypse may cause you to panic and forget to take your drive… (or zombies might eat the drives)

So yeah, now you see how good hard drives are for backups, but also why we need other solutions to safe-keep our data. There is no doubt that they are the fastest and most convenient to use now, so we don’t need to ditch them. What we do need, however, is implement additional layers of protection for personal users and small businesses alike.

So, what do we need?

  • Multiple copies of data to prevent against data corruption or loss
  • Offsite data for disaster recovery purposes and business continuity
  • Data storage on multiple copies and types of media to mitigate cost
  • Data secured to prevent it from security breaches

The list may seem boring and sound overly technical. But in fact, it’s not. TL;DR version is that you need multiple copies of secured data, both onsite and offsite, and on different types of media. Period.

If you are still a newcomer to all this, you may be thinking that the whole process includes magical words and mutant antibiotics to create such a failsafe backup system. But rest assured, it does not. There is a simple backup process that disaster recovery experts and storage professionals call “3 – 2 – 1″.

3 – Create Three Copies of the Backup Data

See? Simple as that. Now moving on.

Wait, what? If the title isn’t clear enough for you, or you still have questions like “why three copies?”, here are some answers for you.
Sufficient numbers of backup copies are essential because having just one copy is dangerous. That copy might be corrupted, or get eaten by a zombie. You never know. But if you create too many copies, then you have another headache – the overhead cost of creating that many copies and maintaining regular backups to them. Theoretically, having 3 different copies will lower down your chances of losing data when a backup copy is corrupted.

Why? Three copies can provide you a sufficient level of protection since even if the first and second copy of the data become corrupted and unavailable, a third copy will be still around the corner. Okay, not really around the corner. You really don’t want to go through all the troubles of creating three copies of backup data and store them in one location, do you?

This is where the other “2 – 1″ comes in. Simply creating multiple copies isn’t enough, it’s far from making your backups failsafe. You now need to pay attention to two more things: the type of media those copies are using and where you store those backup copies. This is THE crucial step.

It is almost a given that an online disk is where the first backup copy should reside. However it is advisable to store the second copy of data on near line media such as removable disk (RDX) or tape. Storing this copy on this near line media serves three purposes.
Due to high availability, read/write speed, success rate and the large amount of storage availability, external hard drives or NAS (using hard drives in it, so considered the same) is almost always where the first backup copy should reside. You should be running good scheduled backups with versioning onto your hard drives, and make sure your data is encrypted too so that nobody can snoop around.
After you have the first copy, it is advisable to have a second copy of your data on a removable media, like a tape drive, removable disk (RDX) or maybe DVDs. Optical discs like DVDs are not really recommended since they are better suited for archives and read/write speed is much slower, so maintaining regular backups is a hassle. You can also use SSD drives for these purposes too. For SMEs, we would strongly recommend to maintain a tape backup.

Why go through the hassles of having a second backup, you may ask. Here is why:

  • If and when primary backup copy is corrupted or unreadable, you will still have additional backups
  • Removable media like RDX or tape does not require constant power for data storage
  • It allows you to move your data offsite

You see, the third benefit we listed above – the ability to move backup data offsite – is very critical. If a big disaster strikes at your main office, you need a secondary location to have your backup data. However, the second backup copy is usually stored at same location or within the vicinity of first backup, since it is intended as an additional copy in case the first backup data is corrupted somehow, not because of disasters that can hit the whole area.

Sure, you can always have two copies of the second backup copy, and always transport one copy away from your primary site. For businesses, this is a good and viable practice too. Create a weekly backup of your first backup, then clone it to carry the cloned copy of second backup to an offsite location. Or you can do data replication remotely so that you don’t have to carry around your backup media regularly. This way, when the primary site fails, data recovery can still occur.

The flexibility to move a copy offsite is also why a third and final backup copy is needed. Should a major disaster hit the primary site (fire, flood, hurricane, etc.) both the primary and secondary copies of the data could be either destroyed or become inaccessible. Created by either transporting media to that site or data replication, a recovery can occur without any dependencies to the primary site.

The only problem is that not many offer full solutions that meet all such needs. It is worse for personal users since they may not be able to afford to pay for costly backup automation software packages or even have the technical know-how to effectively use them. We can still solve these issues by using a sophisticated but simple to use backup software though. More on that later.

  • If and when primary backup copy is corrupted or unreadable, you will still have additional backups
  • Removable media like RDX or tape does not require constant power for data storage
  • It allows you to move your data offsite

You see, the third benefit we listed above – the ability to move backup data offsite – is very critical. If a big disaster strikes at your main office, you need a secondary location to have your backup data. However, second backup copy is usually stored at same location or within the vicinity of first backup, since it is intended as an additional copy in case first backup data is corrupted somehow, not because of disasters that can hit the whole area.

Sure, you can always have two copies of second backup copy, and always transport one copy away from your primary site. For businesses, this is a good and viable practice too. Create weekly backup of your first backup, then clone it to carry the cloned copy of second backup to an offsite location. Or you can do data replication remotely so that you don’t have to carry out your backup media regularly. This way, when primary site fails, data recovery can still occur.

The flexibility to move a copy offsite is also why a third and final backup copy is needed. Should a major disaster hit the primary site (fire, flood, hurricane, etc.) both the primary and secondary copies of data could be either destroyed or become inaccessible. Created by either transporting media to that site or data replication, a recovery can occur without any dependencies on the primary site.

The only problem is that not many offers full solutions that need all such needs. It is worse for personal users since they may not be able to afford to pay high priced backup automation software packages or even have the technical know-how to effectively use them. We can still solve those issues by using a couple sophisticated but simple to use backup software though. More on it later.

2 – Store Data on at Least Two Types of Media

Since hard drives are so cheap, you may be tempted to store all of your backup data on hard drives, or any other chosen medium. It may sound like a good idea if you haven’t been paying attention so far. Cheap storage cost? Check. Fast data write/access speed? Check. What more can you ask for? Ah yeah, what about the hard drive failures we talked about, and all things that can kill a hard drive? Ring a bell?

Using at least two media types can offer four additional benefits, at the very least, for both personal users and SMEs.

  • Performance. You can use hard drives for regular, daily incremental backups since they are high performing media and facilitates a faster backup/recovery. Other slower media such as RDX and tapes can be used for keeping backups of older data.
  • Cost. Hard drives are very cheap, just not when you store all your backups on them and they fail. And although they are cheap, they still have upper storage limits. But with removable media, you can add as many as you need without having to worry about cost too much.
  • Security. Data encryption provides you with all the safety you need for your data. And having at least two different types of media means that the chances of both types of media failing on you are highly unlikely.
  • Portability. You can easily move your backup data out of your primary site. This is a no-brainer. Just put your backup media in a bag, drive over to your in-laws or bank, put your backup media in a safety deposit box. Done.

Something we would recommend you use is CrashPlan. Its a  free client software (CrashPlan charges a reasonable fee for online backup storage), will let you backup your data onto a NAS, external hard drive, a remote computer running CrashPlan or RDX drives without too much hassles. It also lets you have a lot of fine-tuning controls such as versioning, backup schedules and so on.

Oh and this allows us to have a third copy of your backup at a remote location too. Which comes to our last point…

1 – Secure Site

Now that you already have three backup copies, it’s pretty safe. But if you keep all of your backup copies at one location, you are still welcoming disasters.

Storing your backup data offsite is uber important and critical to complete your failsafe backup process. If your primary site goes down from zombie infestations or a flood, the second site will still keep your third backup copy safe and sound. Yeah, you may put your RDX catridge or tapes or hard drives at your in-laws place or in your car, but that doesn’t give you any assurance that those places are safe and secure.

So what do you do? Enter online backup. Yes, the backup speed will depend largely on your Internet bandwidth, but it is the best solution to keep your data at an offsite location without spending a fortune. In fact, almost all cloud backup service providers won’t store your data at just one location. They have data redundancy protocols implemented and all your data is likely to be mirrored and stored around the world in at least 3 locations. So you have even more redundancy there.

CrashPlan, Carbonite, ZipCloud and Backblaze are all amazing at that, without breaking your bank. For just $5 to $7 a month, you get awesome unlimited online backup storage and all you need to do is setup the schedules and what you want to backup… done. Some of them even allow you to send in a hard drive with your data on it and they will plug it into their server, speeding up your whole initial backup process.

By using the “3 – 2 – 1″ method we have outlined here, you will have a failsafe and a very simple backup process that will prepare you from any disaster. You will no longer feel like sky diving without a parachute, or that heart-wrenching feeling when 7 years of photographic memories, or important business documents are gone forever.

If you don’t know what online backup service provider to choose from, you can take a look at our top 10 list or search through all backup companies we have reviewed. We have 48 companies reviewed (the most comprehensive ever on the whole Web) and counting, with additional 15 to come more. So check them out, and oh let us know if you have any questions. You can easily follow @BestBackups and tweet to us too.


Published on: February 24,2014.
Pete runs Best Backups and wants to get detailed information to the readers. He is dedicated to being the best and providing the highest quality at anything he does. You can also find him on Twitter or Google+

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