In a recent Backblaze survey, 54% of people said they either know someone, or have themselves recently lost data. Most of those surveyed were individuals. If you consider how many businesses have hardware that gets lost or stolen each year as well, the total amount of hardware lost each year is staggering.
Additionally, the study concluded that even with those losses, out of all the companies polled, “Two-thirds do not take advantage of even basic security practices, such as encryption, backup and anti-theft technologies.” While Backblaze can’t help with computer encryption or anti-theft technologies (though we can locate a computer), we can help with backup, and that’s what I’m going to focus on today.
Some cloud service providers suggest that encouraging people to keep multiple copies of their data reflects a lack of faith in our product, but redundant failsafes should always be part of your plan. The truth is that anything and everything can fail. Hard drives fail. Good employees make bad mistakes. Bad employees make worse mistakes. And, whether it was the Amazon Web Services outage that took down a large swath of the internet or the Google Cloud Storage outage that affected platforms like Snapchat, Shopify, and Discord, even the biggest providers can let you down in your time of need. That’s why the 3-2-1 strategy exists.
What Is a 3-2-1 Backup Strategy?
A 3-2-1 strategy means having at least three total copies of your data, two of which are local but on different mediums (read: devices), and at least one copy off-site. We’ll use “kitten.jpg” as an example for this scenario. Kitten.jpg lives on your computer at home; it was a picture that you took of your cat in 2012. That’s one copy of the data. You also have an external hard drive that you use for backing up your computer; if you’re on a Mac, you might be using it as a Time Machine drive (and Backblaze loves Time Machine). As part of its backup process, that external hard drive will back up kitten.jpg. That’s a second copy, on a different device or medium. In addition to that external hard drive, you also have an online backup solution. The online backup continuously scans your computer and uploads your data off-site to a data center. Kitten.jpg is included in this upload, and that becomes the third copy of your data.
Why Two On-site and One Off-site?
Whether you are interested in backing up a Mac or a PC, an on-site backup is a simple way of having quick access to your data should anything happen to your computer. If your laptop or desktop’s hard drive crashes, and you have an up to date external hard drive available, you can quickly get the majority of your data back, or use the external on another computer while yours gets fixed or replaced. If you remember to keep that external hard drive fairly up to date, the exposure for data loss is fairly minimal, as you might only be exposed to losing the files that were on your laptop that had not yet been copied to the external hard drive. Most external hard drives even come with their own software to make sure that they are kept readily updated.
Having an on-site backup is a great start, but having an off-site backup is a key component in having a complete backup strategy. On-site backups are great if you need to get to them quickly, but unfortunately, having a backup near the device that it’s backing up (for example, having a desktop PC and an external hard drive on the same desk), means that both of those copies are susceptible to data loss. I try not to be too “doom and gloom” on the website but floods, fires, and theft can, and do, occur. Most often, if the two devices you have as your local copies are close together, they’ll both be affected if the unfortunate should happen. A continuously updated copy of your data that’s not in the same physical location as the other two is paramount in protecting your files.
Is 3-2-1 Perfect?
There is no such thing as a perfect backup system, but the 3-2-1 approach is a great start for the majority of people and businesses. Even the United States government recommends this approach. In a 2012 paper for US-CERT (United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team), Carnegie Mellon recommended the 3-2-1 method in their publication titled: Data Backup Options.
Backing Up Is Like Investing!
The 3-2-1 plan is a great start in getting your files backed up. If you view your files as your investment capital, you want to diversify them as much as possible to limit your exposure should the unthinkable happen. Liquidity also matters; having a local backup and an off-site backup gives you more options for backup recovery. That’s why Backblaze recommends starting with a 3-2-1 approach. For more information about different backup methods and which might work well for you, please visit the new Backblaze Computer Backup Guide.