The best backup strategy in 3-2-1: Know the golden rule of protecting your data

If you’re like me you don’t really want to think about backups all day. On the other hand, there is this nagging voice in the back of my head which asks me whether I have backed up all important data yet. Since there were some situations were this nagging voice was not only bothering me, but was also right – most unfortunately – I decided to silent it forever. The backup strategy of choice, also considered the golden rule for backups, was the 3-2-1 backup strategy. Here’s what that means.

Essentially, the 3-2-1 rule can be summarized quite quickly: 3 backups in 2 locations, 1 of which should be external. If you already follow this rule, you’re all set – if you want to know more details and get some good tips on how to implement this rule with as little manual work as possible, read on.

Why 3-2-1?

The first question you might ask yourself: why would I need 3 backups? Well, although you might be lucky and your hardware never fails, the chance that it does is are roughly at 1:10.000. That might sound pretty low, but consider: the chances of finding a four-leafed clover are about the same. And you probably have found one in your life. Having said that, with three backups, your chances of one of them failing decreases to 1:1.000.000 – which is about the same probability as being struck by lightning.

The next question on the list, on the other hand, is a bit more self explanatory. You’d want to have your backups in two different locations, since, well, shit happens. For example, if your house burns down, most likely all of your hardware will burn with it – leaving you with no backup, unless you had your backups saved in two different locations, one of which being an external location.

Which brings us to the last question: you might want to consider having your data in an external location. Not only that, but especially these days it makes sense to have it in a location which is better equipped than you probably are. That should not be read as criticizing your hardware setup. It’s just obvious that a cloud provider, with a professional data center, professtional equipment and all types of disaster and recovery plans is probably better equipped to take care of all these bits and bytes than your average Joe. In fact, handing your data over to a cloud provider will probably give you an additional 3-2-1 plan, decreasing your chances of losing your valuable data even more.

How to go about it

Leaving the conceptual work aside, maintaining a 3-2-1 strategy for your backups is easier than ever. Our recommendations are therefore pretty straightforward, too:

  1. Use an external drive. These drives are cheaps as they come, and with USB 3.0, a backup – even the first full backup – should be ready in no time. Bonus points if you are observant enough to lock your drive in a fireproof safe every day after work.
  2. Use a NAS. A network attached storage (NAS) in its purest form is not much more than an external hard drive which sits in your network rather than being attached directly to your computer. Since most modern processors would be tremendously bored just storing files, most NAS providers today offer much more than this – media streaming, website hosting, calendars – anything is possible, depending on your needs. Market leaders in this area are Synology and Qnap, but if you’re a bit of a maker, you can easily build your own NAS from an old PC or a cheap raspberry pi (if you don’t know what that is, go for the ready-made model).
  3. Up in the cloud. As mentioned above, cloud providers know how to take care of data. And, despite what some people think, they are probably also much more secure than your home network. It’s therefore a good idea to store at least your most important data in the cloud. These days this won’t even strain your budget too much – you can get a terrabyte of data for the equivalent of a cup of coffee per month.

If you want to ensure the safety of your data, 3-2-1 is the rule to follow. Of course, the cybersecurity industry has a lot more to say about backups, especially on World Backup Day:

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