Understanding What Business Data to Back Up and for How Long: Building a Smart Retention Policy

Posted on December 04, 2014 in Backup Schedule, Retention Policy by Chris Paufler

One of the most critical things when it comes to a company powered by technology – Backups! Disaster Recovery (DR), data security, retention policies, failover, high availability, etc. All of these words relate to the same thing; keeping your company’s data safe and productive. It is the answer to the “What-if” scenarios:

  • What if a tornado came through and destroyed the servers?
  • What if a piece of hardware fails?
  • What if a user somehow deleted all company accounting data since 2004?

These are the scenarios that executives and IT personnel have to consider when putting into place a plan for data security – or backups.

There are some common misunderstandings between what different terms mean in the backup world. The primary ones that I am going to focus on here are the following: Backup Schedule and Backup Retention.

  • The backup schedule directs when a backup is performed
  • Retention policy specifies how long that backup is stored.

Many times a customer will state that they want backups every night, covering all of their company data. While this is all well and good, they must also specify a retention policy, or at least be aware of what it is. Just because you take a backup every night for six months, it does not mean that you have a backup of every night for six months. A retention policy is just as important as a backup schedule.

When a backup is taken, that data is stored somewhere. Typically this is off-site at a location with redundant storage units. Once the backup has been taken and stored, the retention policy comes into play. A retention policy is a policy that the backup provider has in place to specify how long a backup is stored for, and how many backups are stored. It is the answer to the questions, “How long do you keep a backup job for?” and “How far into the future, will restoring to that backup be viable?” Retention policies can vary from a 1 week policy to a 5 year policy, or even longer.

The retention policy largely depends on the nature of the business. For many businesses, if they restored to a backup that was older than seven days, they would lose critical information and it would be an extremely painful return from that disaster. That being said, many companies are required to keep data for an extended period of time due to industry standard. These may include things such as medical data or bank data. Typically those industries have a standard set of requirements that they must meet, which includes a specific retention policy.

Keep this in mind the next time you are shopping for a backup solution. Be sure to know the answer and not assume that you have nightly backups from 10 years ago. Storing a backup every night for an extended period of time can raise costs quickly. Virtual Systems is glad to work with you on finding a policy that works for whatever your company needs. We can help you get setup the way that you should be, and we can give you the peace of mind that your backups are in place, and that you have a plan if the time comes to restore your data.