Data Backup Strategies to Help You Sleep at Night

Julia Koelsch // Product Support
Visualization of backing up data to the cloud

Few people think about backups until they wish they had. I used to be one of those people. At a previous company early in my career, a hard drive on a database server failed, and we needed a backup to restore functionality for an internal computer system. I knew backups were run nightly, so I didn’t think the request would be difficult. And I was correct – the process did run every night. But over time, it took longer and longer, to the point where the backup didn’t finish before it was restarted.

We lost weeks of data. That painful lesson has stayed with me since and has shaped the care and attention that Spry puts into protecting and managing everything we do for our clients.

Smart backup strategies

Device backups are important, but even more so are strategies to make these backup processes invisible, automatic, and useful.

Limit the number of files to be backed up

One of the easiest ways to accomplish this is to use cloud services and apps for important documents and files. Spry has used Google Workspace from our first day and built processes around using Google Docs for office documentation.

This principle extends to other areas of document and asset management as well: We use Gitlab for our code repositories; Miro, Zeplin, Figma, and other tools for creative documentation; and Basecamp for client collaboration and asset sharing.

Having these tools available to our team is helpful, but it is more important to have a process around the tools to ensure they are used – and used correctly – from a document-retention perspective. Spry has established folder structures in Google Drive and set expectations that most documents will be stored there. This greatly reduces the number of documents created and stored on an individual’s computer.

Even backed up data can get corrupted. Test the restore process to ensure your backups are successful.

Use technologies that make backups easier

When evaluating new technologies, the ease of backups is a standard factor in our evaluation process. This can look quite different depending on the technology being evaluated. For instance, we have certain files that are not good candidates for storing on Google Drive. For these documents, we use a more traditional file server. When evaluating options for this, we considered how easy it is to work with the files directly from the server and how well we could integrate the system into our processes for working with these files.

Backing up content management system (CMS) and platform configurations

Thinking more broadly about how technology can support backup processes, we weigh this factor when evaluating Content Management Systems for projects. Drupal has the ability to export website configuration settings into code, allowing developers to commit the configuration to the code repository along with the website code. For platforms with more complex configuration requirements, generating configuration exports and managing it with the code is the preferred approach. This way is more seamless, automatic, and less prone to error than restoring from database backups or manually recreating configuration across environments.

Make sure your backups are secure

Backups that are saved to the same place as your files aren’t backups; they are just duplicates. It's important that backups are saved and easily accessed from another location, and for us, that means backing up to the cloud. For our file server, our web servers, and other assets, we make use of Amazon’s S3 service, which is a low-cost, high-availability service that can be very secure through AWS’s granular permissions structure. For cloud services, we read the fine print on data retention practices and ask vendors questions about their practices to make sure we understand and feel confident in their backup policies.

Test your backups

Don’t wait until you need a backup to determine if your backup process is solid. Monitor automated processes to ensure they complete without failure. Make sure you have access to your backups, and that what you access is usable. You should also ensure you have a documented process to restore from backups and test the process periodically. A great way to test this is to pick a day once a quarter to test your backup process. Ideally, the testing should be completed by someone who didn’t write the process documentation. Pick a system or business process, and see if you can restore from backup and how long it takes.

Why talk about backups

Backups are not exciting or flashy. If everything goes as planned, backups should be unremarkable. But you will thank the stars when you need them. Backups are important to Spry for several reasons. Certainly from a risk prevention perspective, backups are critical to how we run our business. But we also think about backups, security, and related topics from the perspective of our core values. We place importance on our backup process as a way to demonstrate our commitment to drive to the best outcomes, for ourselves and our clients. It demonstrates the care and thoughtfulness we put into our work and into supporting our clients.

This post is published on World Backup Day to show our support for an important topic. But I hope this also encourages you to think more broadly about backup strategies and to consider every day as Backup Day.