Data Storage Concept Illustration


What is conjured up in your mind when you hear the phrase 3-2-1? Perhaps it’s a countdown, maybe to the start of a race or some other contest. Possibly it’s the catchphrase of a famous 80’s TV show (sorry, I’m showing my age there!). Or maybe it’s a defensively minded six-a-side football formation.

Whatever it conjures up, if you’re on the ball with your IT provision it may well be a phrase you associate with a good backup strategy. The 3-2-1 backup concept is a good way of ensuring that you have a backup system in place that covers you in the event of the unexpected. No strategy is 100% foolproof, but by the same token many people are one step away from disaster, and you don’t want to be in that category, so if you can get 99% of the way there then you are as prepared as you can be.

So what is a 3-2-1 backup strategy?

Quite simply, it means you have 3 copies of everything, 2 onsite but on different devices or media and 1 offsite (eg in the cloud). At it’s simplest that could mean one copy on your computer, another on an external hard drive and another on a cloud service such as Dropbox or iCloud. And don’t keep that external hard drive with your computer. If your computer gets stolen, the hard drive will likely be stolen also (that’s two copies gone). Or if there is a fire and your computer is destroyed, so is the external drive (you get the idea).

In an office environment it might look like this – one copy on a central server that is backed up to a NAS that is backed up to the cloud. Same principle, just different devices.

However, it isn’t always simple. One environment we see that is quite common is a small office using Dropbox and nothing else. This isn’t a bad strategy and can fulfil the 3-2-1 aim. Each computer in the office has its own copy of the data AND it is held in the cloud on Dropbox. The only thing to watch out for is that where you are using permissions to control access to certain folders, you might find that only one computer actually has all the data. So you only have one local copy and one in the cloud. At least you have two copies, but it’s not quite as robust as a proper 3-2-1 setup. Also, some computers, often mobile devices such as the Surface Pro or iPad, or computers with just an SSD installed, don’t actually keep a copy of all of the data – they just draw it down as needed. So if you are relying solely on Dropbox, you need to know exactly what devices are storing what data!

Going back to the first scenario, where you have a copy of the data on your computer. It is good practice not to store data on your system drive – that is the same hard drive (or hard drive partition) as your operating system. There are a few reasons for this but in the context of backups, unless you are taking image backups as well (a subject for another article!), if Windows needs to be reinstalled you will lose the files and data stored on that drive. Better to to have a separate drive in your computer for data. However, you’re probably out of luck if you have a laptop as most only support one drive. Even some small form factor desktop pcs only support one hard drive too.

The solution here is to think carefully before purchasing any computer and make sure you know what your back up strategy and plan is before buying, and make sure that what you buy fits with that plan. It can all get a little overwhelming so this is where a company like RedFez can really help you to buy the right equipment for your needs and ensure you have the right backup strategy.

Whatever your setup, you DO need to take backup seriously. We frequently deal with instances where computers or drives stop working and the only copy of important data is contained on those computers or drives. Sometimes we can recover it, but not always. But why take the risk? After all, your business and reputation could be at stake.