Five ways traditional backups can fail and how to avoid them


Backups are the cornerstones of disaster recovery and ensure the sustained viability of your business.

Statistics show that many organisations with an inadequate backup and disaster recovery plan go out of business within a year after disaster strikes.

However, backups are not foolproof. They are susceptible to the same issues which plague most technology implementations and face the same risks with regard to process and technology.

This article aims to highlight these potential shortcomings to help you ensure your backups are robust ensuring you can recover your data when you need to.

1. Incomplete Backup Plan

Your data backup plan must include several vital elements to ensure your data is safe and recoverable. Any shortcoming in any one of these elements could put your chance of performing a successful recovery at risk.

Backup Method – A comprehensive backup plan should first identify which backup methods you will be using for which types of data. These could be file-based backups or image-based backups. For example, if you are backing up a file system where you may need to perform granular restores of specific files and folders, a file-based backup method would ensure you are able to accomplish this in the most efficient way possible. Whereas a backup plan designed to enable disaster recovery may require image-based backups where you have the requirement to restore entire virtual machines in the event of a failure.

Backup Type – A backup plan also needs to consider the backup type i.e. full, incremental or differential. Each has their own risks and benefits. Full backups ensure you can recover quickly but require much more backup storage space. Incremental backups are great for organisations who have very small backup windows, but the recovery process is much longer, and differential backups are somewhere in between. Your backup strategy should take all these factors into consideration to ensure your backup type is the best possible fit for your business requirements.

Storage – Storage media is the next part of the backup plan which needs to be thought through and implemented to ensure alignment with your organisation’s operational requirements. The faster the storage media the faster the backup and recovery time but the higher the cost. In addition, different storage types such as tape, disk or even cloud, each have their own unique risks and benefits which you must consider when developing your backup plan.

Backup Scope – Finally, the data you will be backing up completes the backup plan checklist. To be able to restore data it must have been backed up in the first place. This risk is particularly relevant to file and folder backups. For example, if a new folder is added to a file server, you must ensure it is part of the backup scope. Backups should therefore not be treated as ‘set and forget’ technology. It is imperative that the data being backed up is regularly reviewed to ensure no vital information is missing from your daily backup schedule.

2. Storage Device Failure

Storage devices fail. A good backup plan must ensure test restores are done on a regular basis to mitigate this risk as a backup is only truly successful if the data can be restored.

To mitigate this risk, organisations should consider migrating their backup solution to a cloud-based backup and recovery service. Moving backups to the cloud means you no longer run the risk of storage device failures. The onus falls on the cloud provider who has made the necessary investment to create a redundant and resilient service which you simply subscribe to.

3. Backups Software Failure

Backups software is also prone to failure. IT environments are dynamic in nature. Software is added, and existing software is updated on a regular basis. A service pack on an operating system may result in a backup agent running on a server failing.

In addition, modern on-premise backup solutions are highly configurable and as such need to be constantly monitored and managed to ensure backups are running and, more importantly, completing successfully.

4. Data Corruption

Backup data is data which has been compressed, encrypted and stored in a specific format. However, it is still data and it suffers from the same weaknesses as any other data type in that it can be lost, destroyed or corrupted.

The risk of backup data corruption can be mitigated by regular data restore testing. In addition, different data storage types have different levels of data corruption risk associated with them. Organisations must, therefore, take this factor into consideration when determining backup risk.

5. Human Error

Human error is inevitable in any technology undertaking and backups are no different. Human error which negatively impact backups can range from accidental deletion of backup data to backup scope misconfiguration.

The risk mitigation for human error is a mature backup strategy plan which is well documented and actively managed. By ensuring your staff adhere to the scope, the process and the relevant procedures, human error can be avoided, or at the very least, its impact on your organisation diminished.

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