Backup Retention

Most large businesses have IT professionals that design and implement data backup plans and disaster recovery plans. However, small businesses and home users can benefit from some of the standard practices used by larger businesses. Large businesses typically implement sophisticated backup retention policies and off-site backups that are costly and labor intensive, putting them out of reach of the typical small business or home office user. These practices are considered essential and are often regulatory or auditing requirements. While smaller businesses and home users do not have the same requirements, they do want to retain data for many of the same reasons. Recent developments in online backup services have made it possible for everyone to enjoy the benefits of robust retention policies and off-site storage without the cost or complicated procedures.

Most home and business users are not IT Professionals and they tend to make backups for the purpose of protecting against a hard drive crash. Hard drives do fail, but that is not the only reason to backup your data. Have you ever accidentally deleted a file? If so, you might be able to restore it from a recent backup. What if you deleted the file intentionally because you thought you were done with it, and then several months later discovered that you need that file again. Chances are that you will have overwritten whatever backup was made several months ago. Do you have files that you change frequently? Possibly a big spreadsheet that you use to track your budget? Have you ever deleted a part of the file or changed some data only to discover a few days later that you shouldn't have made that change? If your backup method is only intended to protect against a hard drive failure, then you might find it impossible to go back a few days or weeks and restore an older version of a particular file.

I once deleted an entire directory because the project I was working on had been canned months earlier and I was told the project was dead and would never be implemented. A year after the files were deleted someone decided to restart that project. Fortunately, a robust backup retention plan was in place and my files were easily restored. You might think that a robust retention plan will require lots of media and money. First of all the media requirements are not as big as you might first think, and second, online backup removes any manual efforts to manage and implement.

Most good retention policies are based on retaining certain backups for longer periods of time. I have consulted with numerous companies and helped them implement backup policies that require the End of Month, End of Quarter, and End of Year, backups to be retained on individual schedules. You might retain your daily backups for 31 days, and then run a special backup job at the end of each month and retain the monthly backup for a full year, and then run another special backup at the end of the year and retain that yearly backup for 7 years. Lets say you are still using tapes for your backup media, and each backup can be contained on a single tape; you would need about 50 tapes to implement the above strategy and retain 7 years worth of backups. You would need 31 tapes just to keep 31 days worth of backups on hand; 19 additional tapes would allow you to keep a fairly good set of backups for 7 years.

The retention policy outlined in the previous paragraph is essentially how most large business retain backups. The backups are probably run by some type of automated scheduling system. The tapes may be changed by a robotic tape library system. Human operators are required to review the results of each backup run and pull the appropriate tapes and place them in a container that is picked up by an off-site storage service. Every morning a courier arrives and picks up a few containers of tapes and drops off a few containers of tapes that are being rotated back on-site. The tape devices need to serviced frequently and the media is replaced after a set number of uses. This backup and retention policy requires significant investment to implement, often in the millions of dollars per year for large businesses.

Online backup systems, such as Rhinoback, allow you to implement the same backup and retention policies as outlined above for very little cost and effort. First of all you don't need any tapes, drives, or media. No human intervention is required for mounting or storing media.
No courier or effort is required to move media off-site. With Rhinoback you just download a simple agent, pick the files or directories that you want to backup, select a schedule for the backups, and then set a retention policy. You're done! Actually it is easier than that, just download and install the Rhinoback agent and by default your documents will be backed up every night with a default retention policy. Rhinoback has a very robust system of managing retention. You can specify that the backups made on a certain day of the month, quarter and year be retained for different periods of time.

The better online backup services actually offer better retention policies than what is found in commercial backup systems that use media. For example; Rhinoback maintains the current versions of your backup files indefinitely, older versions of files and files that have been deleted from your system are maintained according to daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly retention policies. There is no need to setup special jobs to run at the end of the week, month, quarter or year. The same job can run everyday, and if the date meets the criteria specified in the retention policy, then the files that are no longer current are retained according to the retention policy. Furthermore, Rhinoback can be set to maintain only one copy of each version of a file, unlike tape based systems that may keep multiple copies of your files on different media so that they can be retained for different periods. Rhinoback's ability to maintain a single copy, makes your off-site storage space more efficient, while having no impact on your ability to restore versions of files from any date that is within your retention policy.

The advanced retention and off-site capabilities that Rhinoback offers makes it practical and affordable for small businesses and home users to reap the benefits and protection that was previously only available to larger corporations with deep pockets. Check out and I think you will find that the simplicity and low subscription rates make this a no-brainer for anyone who is serious about their backups.


localizer method said...

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Anonymous said...

Very useful article! Thanks