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How a 3-2-1 backup strategy could save your business

Today’s businesses depend on their digital assets – and losing them can be fatal. But local backup strategies only provide some degree of security. Here’s how cloud storage helps turn a potential disaster into a 3-2-1 backup strategy, letting you focus on your business’ future.

By: Lydia Bird


It’s no exaggeration to say that your business may depend on its data. Data is the lifeblood of the modern business, increasingly essential to managing customers and suppliers, and providing services and products. It’s why companies typically spend up to 11% of their revenue on information systems[1].

When things go wrong, the effects can be brutal. When British Airways suffered a huge 2017 systems loss[2], the fallout wiped 2.8% off its parent company’s stock value. In the same month, the WannaCry cyber attack caused chaos in the NHS, cancelling appointments, disrupting radiology services, and even forcing emergency ambulances to divert[3].

The costs of lost trade, customer compensation, and reputational damage mount quickly, and where systems and data remain offline, they can be insurmountable. Gartner[1] estimates that network downtime costs an average $5,600 (£4,000) per minute[4], and that that two out of five businesses that experience a disaster will go out of business within five years[5].

How do you avoid this happening to you? Effective and secure backup should be at the heart of every organisations’ disaster recovery planning. But it’s not enough to simply have two copies of everything. A 3-2-1 backup strategy adds the flexibility and resilience you need to minimise business disruption.

Why backup?

Before we get to the advantages of the 3-2-1 backup approach, it’s important to stress the importance of making regular, validated backups of your data. The first and most obvious reason behind this is that IT equipment can fail. While solid-state disks are increasingly common, mechanical hard disks are still in widespread use for storage – and they don’t have a great reputation for longevity.

An analysis by cloud storage provider Backblaze found that, in 2020, nearly 1% of its 162,000 hard disks failed. In an SME[2], this could translate to more than two disk failures per year. If either happens to a disk containing unique data, a backup is the only way to recover it. Hardware failures aren’t the only cause of data loss. Businesses regularly cite human error, with some research suggesting simple mishaps account for more than 30% of incidents[6]. These could include anything from the accidental deletion of data, through to misplacing it or failing to store it in a suitable place.

In recent years, cyber attacks have become a more significant threat to information[7]. The rise of ransomware – where disks are scrambled and their contents held to ransom – presents some organisations with an agonising choice. Where there’s no secure backup, 3-2-1 or otherwise, it means weighing a risky payment to criminals against the value of the data they’ve encrypted.

3-2-1 backups in a nutshell

A 3-2-1 backup strategy means having your eggs in more than one basket. Specifically, it means:

● Three copies of your data. One is the live or production data, while two are backups
● Two different media. Data should be stored on more than one media type, for example, across local hard disks and a local server
● One copy offsite. Local data and backups are vulnerable to site-wide disasters like a fire. Having an offsite copy is a failsafe

3-2-1 backups: essential to data continuity

A proper backup strategy calls for automated, regular copies, but it also demands a degree of resilience. There’s little point in backing up to a second drive in the same PC, for example, if that PC is then stolen.

Enter the concept of the 3-2-1 backup. This requires you to keep three copies of your data, spread across two different storage types, with one copy kept offsite. It’s a simple plan that adds both data and platform redundancy. If an employee deletes a vital folder, you’ve got another copy. And if a cyber attack locks all your PCs, your network-attached storage may well[3] remain unaffected.

Adding the third element – offsite storage – provides an extra level of protection. If a virus corrupts all your local data, or a flood destroys your PCs and data centre, you can still recover everything from the backups stored elsewhere.

Head to the clouds

In the past, having an offsite backup usually meant transporting tapes or other media to an archival centre. While this ticked the ‘offsite’ requirement, it was a costly burden – and data recovery could take days. But increasingly, organisations are realising the value of cloud-based alternatives. Highly automated and transparent, archiving to the cloud can ensure there’s a near real-time copy of all your business’ critical data stored out of harm’s way. With embedded metadata and powerful search features, cloud-based storage makes it simple to recover anything from a single file, to entire projects or databases.

In fact, the cloud is so flexible that it’s rarely seen as simply an archive destination. For example, in a cloud-based environment like Google Workspace, the cloud is likely to hold the live data, with local synchronisation simply used to add convenience and provide local backups.

The same is true for other systems, such as Imagen’s digital asset management (DAM) and media asset management (MAM) platforms. In a typical deployment, the cloud-based DAM is the authoritative store for an organisation’s assets. Stakeholders work with local copies – for example when editing a video – while the business often maintains its own local copy to satisfy a 3-2-1 strategy.

A cloud-based DAM or MAM brings benefits far beyond data storage and retrieval. For companies who license, sell or otherwise distribute media assets, the cloud allows controlled and secure content sharing with partners across the globe. This ability to provide direct access to the archive saves time and money, too. For example, Imagen helps Auburn University’s media partners satisfy their own content demands, and lets NatureScot staff find resources across more than 40 locations.

Other Imagen customers are in the process of migrating existing physical formats to cloud-based storage. In the case of the ITF, Imagen is the main repository for a five-year plan to completely digitise the sporting archive. Among the many benefits of cloud-based offsite storage, having both new and historic footage quickly to hand amplifies the ITF’s ability to license and re-use its content.

“With Imagen, our marketing teams are now able to quickly make use of winning points and celebrations, and the opportunities for clip sales and licensing has increased too.”

Bethany Lowney, Commercial Department, ITF

Passing the test

However you implement a 3-2-1 strategy, it’s critical to regularly test your data recovery plans. Your strategy should include regular validation and recovery tests that prove your plans work in practice. The worst time to discover a failure is when you depend on success, yet it’s a surprisingly common oversight – research suggests[8] 35% of businesses haven’t tested their disaster recovery plan in the last year!

Considering creating a cloud-based archive, asset store or media centre? Imagen has decades of experience in protecting critical assets for some of the world’s leading brands. Why not get in touch to talk about what you need from a data partner?


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