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How to select a comprehensive database backup strategy

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In today’s modern world, we can all recognise the fundamental need for data to be protected, especially with so many examples of high-profile incidents available at our fingertips.

Database administrators (DBAs) are on the front lines of this battle, responsible for ensuring data is efficiently stored, managed, and secured. The most efficient way for data to be protected is via data backups, a process designed to copy data from an existing database and save it somewhere else, where it can be recovered in the future.

Backups are central to any data protection strategy, and picking a suitable database backup strategy is no easy process. Businesses need to ensure they can identify the key areas to consider when ensuring a strategy meets their business requirements.

With data protection so integral to businesses and understandably so high on the agenda, how do organisations know what to prioritise when it comes to selecting a suitable strategy?

Understanding your business objectives

There are two main objectives any organisation or DBA should have front of mind when it comes to constructing a database backup strategy: recovery point objectives (RPOs) and recovery time objectives (RTOs).

RPOs refer to the point in time when they may be able to recover data, and RTOs refer to the amount of time needed to recover data. This enables DBAs to understand the urgency of a data loss incident. For example, a business may need them to recover data to the backup made within the last day (RPO) and may need it completed within an hour of an incident (the RTO).

DBAs need to be clear about these objectives to create a database backup strategy capable of delivering on important targets, especially as the restoration of data is so vital for businesses. It’s important for companies to therefore start creating a backup strategy by first looking at the recovery strategy and its intended goals.

Conducting a risk analysis of your database backup strategy

Like any strategy, it’s vital to conduct a risk analysis of every aspect. With a database backup strategy, this trickles down into both the frequency of the backups and where the backups are stored.

When considering where to store its data, a business can either choose to pay for this to be stored on-site or in the cloud. Whichever approach you choose, it needs careful consideration, as both can carry a hefty price tag. Paying for larger storage space and performing frequent backups will increase a business’ ability to recover and secure its data, but this also comes with a cost. Careful consideration of this essential element in a database backup strategy is integral to the planning process, especially when the business will see its data sets grow with the business.

Time is of the essence when it comes to data backups – wait too long between backups, and a business is left vulnerable. The same goes for monitoring the storage capacity of a database. This will lead to too much data with too little storage space and risks no protection for any surplus data. Furthermore, if the recovery process isn’t tested frequently, a business may find the backups are unusable or no longer meet the RTO/RPO requirements – a huge risk and the perfect conditions for a disaster to take place.

Optimising database backup strategies

Once a risk analysis has taken place and the pros and cons of different strategies have been weighed, organisations can begin considering options to optimise the selected database backup strategy.

It’s vital for DBAs to carefully monitor a database backup strategy, be ready to restore data when needed, and continue to ensure a business’ data is being stored efficiently. They also need to restore databases periodically to guarantee they can recover data when it matters most, such as when faced with a cyberattack. However, it just isn’t practical or realistic for them to constantly test each backup.

One way a business can optimise its strategy is by using statistical sampling. Using this method, DBAs can work out how many databases they should restore periodically to minimise costs and maximise their ability to restore all databases if they’re reacting to an incident. Instead of testing to make sure backups can be restored every day – wasting time, energy, and money – statistical sampling allows DBAs to be 95% confident all backups can be restored.

The process of backing up a database shouldn’t impact other operations. However, as they’re often stored on a shared system, they can be the cause of an internal holdup every time a backup is performed. The best way to resolve this is by staggering the backups at times outside of working hours. This avoids impacting and interfering with the wider network, systems, and continuing business operations. 

The necessity of implementing an effective database backup strategy is indisputable, but careful consideration and analysis are vital for it to be successful and long-lasting. Businesses need to appropriately recognise and prioritise their business objectives and analyse the risks and benefits of different strategies. This will help teams understand and identify the efficiency and suitability of a strategy for their business and determine the scale needed.

The process of selecting a database backup strategy isn’t one-size-fits-all. It requires a holistic approach to the entire plan from an IT and business perspective. No matter their business requirements, area of expertise, or size, ensuring a cost-effective and robust database backup strategy is in place is essential for modern businesses.

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