April 12, 2021

Tech Tips: Protect your data with 3-2-1 backup method

Backups are vital, but making a single backup isn’t enough. If something happens to that one, your data could be lost. Fortunately, there’s a simple strategy called the 3-2-1 backup method that can help you preserve and recover your data.

The 3-2-1 method consists of keeping at least three copies of your data, on at least two different storage types, with at least one off-site backup. The idea is to avoid a single point of failure. If you're only using one backup method and it fails, your data might be
irretrievable. By diversifying your backups, you reduce the risk.

Keeping three copies of your data ensures that if one fails, the others will be available. But if you were to keep those three copies on a single storage medium – say an external hard drive – and that medium fails, all three backups would be lost. Similarly, using two different
storage types but keeping them in the same physical location poses a risk. If disaster should strike that physical location, all of your backups could be wiped out.

Here’s an example of the 3-2-1 method in play. Let’s say you want to back up your computer. You might choose to use your computer’s built-in backup program (like Time Machine for Mac or File History for Windows 10) to back up your data to an external hard drive. So that’s one method, to one type of storage.

Then you could run the built-in backup program again, only to a different hard drive. That makes two backups, to two different storage devices. But we still need a third backup, and it needs to be stored off site. You could enable cloud backups, giving you that third backup as
well as the off-site backup you need. There you go! Three backups using two different storage types, one of which is stored off site.

It’s equally important to keep your backups current. How often should you back up? Ask yourself how much data you can afford to lose. If losing a week’s worth of data is no big deal, then maybe a once-a-week backup is good for you. If losing an hour’s data would be a catastrophe, you need real-time backups that run continuously.

I also recommend that you periodically test whether or not you can recover your files. The last thing you want in a computer crisis is to find out that your backups are blank or corrupt. It's also a good opportunity to familiarize yourself with the recovery process before you
have to use it, so you'll know what to do in an emergency.

Pick a few sample documents, images and videos, and try to restore them. Most backup programs will let you restore files to a temporary location so you don’t overwrite your originals. You could even make yourself a tip sheet outlining the process, so you remember all of the steps if you need them.

It’s well worth it to spend a little time organizing and checking your backups. Then you’ll have peace of mind knowing that you can access your data whenever you need it.

Triona Guidry is a computer specialist and freelance writer offering tech support, web design and business writing services. For computer help, visit her Tech Tips blog at www.lightningtechsupport.com.