How to Properly Test your Backups


Studies say almost 50% of backups fail during the recovery stage! If you don’t test your backups properly there’s an excellent chance you won’t be able to recover them successfully when you need to.

While most large companies test disaster recovery plans at least once a year, small business and home users almost never exercise this activity. Most of us assume that once we’ve backed up our data those backups will not be corrupted if and when we need them! As most utilities have the ability to check blocks as they are written to a drive, usually using some type of checksum we naturally assume there are no errors and our data is safe. This is where backups fail: Testing needs to be a separate part of backups.

How to Test Your Backup

Backups should be tested much more frequently, at least quarterly and whenever there is a major hardware or software change to your backup system. Your tests should simulate the conditions you will face when you need to actually restore. Ideally, you want a complete restoration of all your data to a second system with an identical configuration, which is not always possible; but you should test restoration on the hardware you will be restoring to. For example, test restore of your backups on a laptop in case it was a backup of your desktop computer and vice versa.

This obviously does not mean you should overwrite applications, data and setting saved on the other machine. One thing that you may find while testing is that your backups will work just fine, but only if you restore them to the exact computer from which you backed them up. This becomes a particular problem if you have to restore to a system other than the one that created the backup. Some backup systems expect the hard drive to be exactly the same size as the one the backup was taken from. Drive technology is advancing at a fast pace and today’s standard size may be hard to find a couple of years from now, so that should be taken into consideration as well. This is where a virtual machine may be handy to use, as virtualization software can configure machines to mimic existing hardware, including disk sizes and other configurations.

Restore the entire backup, because if you just restore a couple of files you can’t be sure that all your directory trees and other features are working as they are supposed to. So, take a minute to study restored folders to make sure everything is that the way it should be. The test should include restoring entire folders, complete with sub-folders, as well as one or more critical applications.

Write down any procedures, notes and install tips and save them safely along with your backups; a simple text file will do, and save those where you store your backup. Make sure to keep a copy of the install disks for your backup software with your backups, too.

When it comes to backups the best approach is to use what we call the 3-2-1 backup strategy. However, no matter which strategy you choose, backups should be tested, and if they fail call Data Analyzers to assist you with any issues you may have related to your data. You can always reach us at 866-456-DATA.

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