Managed IT

3 Types of Data Backups: Full vs. Differential vs. Incremental Backups

3 Types of Data Backups: Full vs. Differential vs. Incremental Backups

by Chris Graves - August 26, 2015

According to the Small Business Administration (SBA), 25 percent of small businesses never recover from a data loss. Every organization should have a disaster recovery and business continuity plan — and a key component of that plan should include a data backup system.

Data backup is a big topic, and businesses first must to determine what type of backup is the right choice for their business (full back up, differential back up, incremental back up, or a combination). Then, they must decide on how to implement it (tape storage, hard disk, optical storage, solid state storage, cloud providers, etc.).

In a different blog post, I'll detail the specific hardware and software backup methods available to SMBs in order to implement a data backup plan. In this article, I'll stick to outlining the 3 basic types of data back ups:

  1. Full backup
  2. Differential backup
  3. Incremental backup

RELATED: Be Prepared: Avoid Data Disasters with Backup and Disaster Recovery Planning

1. Full Data Backups

The name says it all. The entire data set is backed up and stored either onsite, at another location, or at both places. A full data backup is generally the easiest to perform, but not necessarily the simplest system to administer.

First, they require a lot of initial implementation time, depending on the size of the business. Second, if the data set is a large one, a full backup often requires large number of tapes or disks. Retrieving and/or recovering specific data from a fully backed up data set may be time consuming.

Full backups usually provide the best protection against critical data loss, but because of the time and expense involved they are often just done periodically. However, any good backup plan should include a full data backup, at least once, as a foundation.

The other two backup types — differential and incremental — are basically offshoots of a full data backup in that they work with a full data backup. The differential and incremental backups are similar, and have some subtle, yet important, differences.

RELATED: 5 Facts You Should Know About Data Loss Prevention (DLP)

2. The Differential Data Backup

These backups start with a full backup to store all files. Then, differential backups are run that store only the data that has changed since the last full backup. This saves much of the storage space, time and resources that would be needed to just do continual full backups.

A differential backup is cumulative. Therefore, a full and a differential backup together include all the files in your data set, changed and unchanged.

3. An Incremental Data Backup

This type of backup is similar to a differential backup, but an incremental backup includes only the data which has changed since any previous backup. The differential backup, however, contains all data since the last full backup.

Incremental backups require the least amount of storage space, but because they must be run separately during a recovery they can take more time to retrieve data. However, they usually require less restoral time because they are much smaller than either full or differential backups.

This is an outline of the three main types of data backup types. Choosing the one that is right for your SMB depends on several factors, including:

  1. How much data are you backing up?
  2. How much time can your organization devote to the process?
  3. How quickly will you need to recover lost data in case of a disaster?
  4. What operating system(s) and software programs does your business use?

An assessment by a managed services provider can provide an SMB with the answers to these and many other data backup, disaster recovery, and business continuity questions.

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