Backups are a critical part of preserving an organization’s information. RAID, clustering and other real-time copies of data do not help when the data is deleted, the buildings containing these live sources are compromised by weather, human intervention, or facilities failures.

Could the organization survive if part or all of its information were lost?

Remember, RAID is not a backup solution. RAID protects against the loss of individual drives, but if data gets corrupted or deleted, RAID will replicate that corruption across all RAID stripes. Making backups on separate media is the best way to protect yourself against both “hard” and “soft” data loss.

Designing a backup policy

Operations needs to work with organizational leaders to develop a backup policy that protects the organization’s information while balancing cost and other factors important to the organization.

Operations engineers need to be able to understand organizational needs in order to evaluate backup solutions, strategies, and current best practices. They must then translate this knowledge into recommended solutions which management can use to make a sound business decision. The ability to assemble a cohesive plan, including a cost-benefit analysis of available options, can help the organization make the right decision for the business on an appropriate backup policy.

Deciding what to backup

Consider cost, time, and staff resources when deciding what to backup. Does it make sense to backup every client hard drive when a system can be re-imaged over the network? Does the configuration management solution maintain client customizations? If so, operations may not need to backup the operating system on clients and can focus on user data. Ideally, the goal is not to restore clients starting at the operating system level.

Where is organizational data stored? Is data local on each client or does the organization use a file server? Do users actually store their data on the file server? Some users have had bad experiences using the network and move all of their data locally, or refuse to store anything on the server in case the network becomes unavailable. If users travel frequently, they may store all of their data on a laptop. This poses additional backup challenges when laptops are not always on the organization’s network to talk to the backup server.

Some organizations perform incremental backups on all clients to protect against users who decide where best to store their data.

What about data stored on servers? Do all servers need to be backed up? What is the available backup window and will the organization’s network push enough data to a backup server to fit within that window? How will taking the backup affect each application’s performance?

Ultimately, deciding what to backup is a business decision. What information is critical to the business and how much is the organization willing to invest to protect that information? There may also be laws requiring the organization to retain certain data that will influence this decision.

When not to backup


restoring? what not to backup, regulations on same, how to store them (PCI)

Retention periods

Is there a risk to having a long retention period?


The idea of such a risk may not be immediately clear to a beginning ops person.

What is the cost to retain backups for a 30-days, 6-months, or 1 year?

Is there a business requirement for keeping backups for a specific length of time?

Are there laws for maintaining electronic records for a specific period of time?

If the organization is required to adhere to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) law, sometimes long retention periods are a detriment. FOIA requests can cover any kind of data including individual emails on a specific subject. If the information doesn’t benefit the organization, then it might be a liability due to labor-intensive searches through ancient backups.


How does FOIA affect what information an organization needs to have available? Assume the reader is a civilian and doesn’t know how FOIA affects an organization.

Offsite backups

How sensitive is the organization’s information? Storing a copy of the organization’s crown jewels in an insecure location can expose the organization to loss, unauthorized modification, or theft of intellectual property.

Is the organization required to encrypt offsite data?

Does the organization have a second geographically distributed location that could house an off-site backup of the organization’s information?

Designing a Backup System

Backup type and frequency

What kind of information does the organization rely on to do business? Do hourly changes need to be captured or can the organization survive with backups every 12-hours or once per day?

  • Full backups
  • Incremental backups
  • Replication
  • Snapshots
  • Bare-metal restore vs data only
  • online/offline


media – should someone address the state of backup media? Some places are still doing tape. What about orgs who rely on standalone consumer-grade disks for client backups (e.g. Time Machine)? Risks, cost to maintain.

Cost of backups

What is the cost of not doing backups?


Test backups. If data cannot be restored then what was the point of backing it up in the first place.

Recovery testing

How long does it take to restore the largest backup set?

Integrity of backups

Completeness of backups

Security implications


Using backups to restore to a known “good” state after an incident just serves to put the machine in a known vulnerable state (security hole that was exploited is now back in operation)


can be used to restore system state that can be useful in a post mortem after an incident (say the attacker covered their tracks but backups were able to capture a rootkit before it was removed or before logs were tampered with)

Recovery basics

Secure data destruction

Information Lifecycle Management in relation to backups

Main goal of backups is restore system state including data in case of issues and ILM, have data available for functional reasons other than uptime.

Main items to cover in this chapter are:


Data replication