WOOF! Newsletter

March 11, 2020

How to Verify That Your Backups Actually Work

When was the last time you tested your backups? If you're thinking, "I don't know…never?" this WOOF is for you. It's important to have daily backups of your company systems. It's also important to verify those backups will provide the business continuity you'll need in an emergency.

TIME TO READ: 7 MINUTES

 

We can all agree—having viable backups of your business systems is critically important. Right?

So how can you ensure that once you've set up your backups, they remain functioning and viable in the event of a computer crash, accidental file deletion, natural disaster, or hacking event? 

Schedule regular testing of your backups. That's how. We call this 'backup verification' and it's the subject of today's WOOF.

 

Types of Backups

First off, we're only addressing cloud backups in this article.

We don't consider backups on an external drive, or on the same server as their original files, a "business-grade" backup. Why? Because they have a host of failure points that make them unreliable.  Please do not use them as your only source of backup.

That said, here are the different types of cloud backups:

  • FILESHARING SYNC – Dropbox, Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive, Box, Anchor, etc. Syncing copies of files to a cloud service. Okay for creating a second image of files in a geographically diverse location.

  • DEVICE BACKUPS – iCloud, Time Machine, Windows 10 File History. An automated backup routine. Good, but doesn't normally include system/OS files.

  • SYSTEM BACKUPS – Windows Backup, disk cloning, Veeam. This kind of backup includes the computer's entire disk contents.

  • CLOUD BACKUPS – Combining system backups with an offsite cloud storage location. The safest & most complete form of backup. Has built-in countermeasures for ransomware.

With all these options, it's easier than ever to make backups. Among these, the Cloud Backup conveys the most overall value to business continuity...if it's kept safe. Let's discuss the types of issues that can affect the integrity of your cloud backup.

 

The Risks Facing Backups

Several points exist where backups can fail, either due to accident or to malicious actions:

  1. Virus/Malware:  One of the most common reasons for backup file corruption. If a virus gets into a drive where you've stored backups, it will corrupt those files. 
    • Note: The versioning in most cloud backup solutions will allow you to restore an earlier version of the files, prior to the infection. If it doesn't have versioning, don't use it!

  2. Hardware Failure:  If a server or computer crashes, it can damage the data on it, making the data inaccessible or corrupted/unusable. Even if you can restore it, you may end up with an un-viable backup.

  3. Sudden System Shutdown:  In the event of an unexpected power failure, the applications and files open at the time of the system shutdown could suffer damage.

  4. Interrupted Backup Process:  During a backup process, an impatient person may halt the backups. This can lead to incomplete or corrupted backups.

  5. Incomplete Backups:  Sometimes the backup "seed" (the first version of the backup) took so long to run, it never completed before the process started over. This creates an incomplete backup—a backup routine that only backs up a portion of your files, over & over.

  6. Errors in the Backup Application:  The program you used to create backup files may itself become damaged/corrupted. Every time we've seen this happen, the corruption passed to the backups as well. Updating the program and re-running fresh backups will fix the issue.

  7. Software Malfunction:  Software collisions, viruses, outdated software on your computer/server...all of these can damage data.

Given all these risks, you can see how important it is to verify the integrity of your backups. The question now is, how do we do that?

 

How to Verify Backups—4 Ways

  • Manual Check/Access the Backup Files. Many cloud backup applications allow a user to view the contents of a backup, like it was another disk. This way you can spot check that certain files made it into the backup. You cannot confirm backup stability, however.

  • Run a Backup Verification Application. Sometimes you need a third-party app for this; other times, the backup application itself offers a verification process. Either way, you're running tests on the backup files.
    • Verifying the files' integrity/they have no corruption
    • Checking for ransomware traces
    • Making sure the filesystem is stable
    • Checks to make sure a restore will work properly, if needed

  • Health Check. Some backup platforms do this. The software that performs the backup also does a check on the backup's data blocks (pieces of data) to verify their integrity. This way it can say that the most recent backup will work if you need to restore data from it.

  • Perform a 'Test Restore.' The gold standard of backup verification. An IT professional restores data from the backup onto a computer similar to the one backed up. Usually done with a system backup/disk clone, to verify that the backup contains all of the computer's data.
    • Test Restores are the most intense verification method, but also the most reliable.
    • Bonus: Running test restores familiarizes your team with the process. That way if a real emergency hits, you know how to get your data back fast.
    • We generally recommend test restores at least quarterly (monthly, if possible).
      • PlanetMagpie's cloud backup solution includes scheduled backup test restores, but we'll perform the same testing with third-party clouds.

 

Keeping Up-to-Date, Verified Backups Offsite = Business Continuity

The best business continuity plan for servers is a full system backup. Without one, you can not only lose priceless data, you may lose the ability to access secured data (e.g., password-protected files). Most such data requires an authentication key—a file with secondary credentials to match up with your login & password. No key, no access.

Plus, with full system backups, when an emergency hits, you can have your company up and running in a matter of hours or a few days.

"Aren't device backups (iCloud/File History) enough?" While the low cost of device backups appeals to Accounting, it's a nightmare for business in general. If you had only "data/device" backups and suffered an emergency, you're looking at 1-2 weeks or longer before systems restore.

According to ITIC, enterprise businesses estimate that 1 hour of downtime can cost over $100,000. Waiting 1-2 weeks on faulty backups, while everyone's twiddling their thumbs...that's a tremendous loss of time and money. Businesses have folded for less.

By storing full backups in the cloud, with regular verification and restore testing, you guarantee your backups will do their job if you ever need them. Your team gets back to work. Everyone breathes easier.


IMPORTANT:

PlanetMagpie maintains our customers' cloud backups in a data center in Atlanta, Georgia, with a mirror copy to our data center in Fremont, California. This separates the backups geographically, in case of a natural disaster. It also means we have fast access to a backup from either data center location, in case you need a restore.

We use the Health Check and Test Restore methods to manage our customer’s cloud backups. Customers also receive daily monitoring and remediation, if we find any data corruption. Those backups will stay safe and ready for use on our watch!

 

Are your backups safe & verified?  Email us at sales@planetmagpie.com to make sure!