The 3-2-1 backup rule has been a tried and true backup method for years, weaving together the principles of protection, redundancy, and accessibility (not to mention peace of mind). But is this approach still relevant as teams migrate their data to the cloud and SaaS applications? In this post, we explain the 3-2-1 rule and how it can apply to cloud backup.
The 3-2-1 rule was created by digital photographer Peter Krough, and debuted in his 2005 book “The DAM Book: Digital Asset Management for Photographers.” The concept clicked with more than just creatives–it quickly became a gold standard for IT teams across different industries.
The 3-2-1 rule says to:
3-Keep three (3) copies of your data.
This consists of one production copy and two backups.
2- Keep your data on two (2) different storage types.
The thought here is that if one type of storage is compromised, you can rely on the other to keep your business up and running.
1-Keep one (1) copy offsite.
Store the copy outside of your business premises. If a fire, earthquake, flood, or any other unexpected event impacts your office, your data will still be accessible by taking this step.
At the heart of it, the 3-2-1 backup strategy is all about insulating your organization from a single point of failure. While the foundational principles are still valid, the 3-2-1 manual method is proving to be less efficient in the cloud era. Gone are the days of storing backup tapes in the trunk of your car, which makes you wonder why some organizations are still backing up like it's 2005.
So, how can you apply the 3-2-1 rule to cloud backup? It’s easier than you think.
Streamline the backup process
The 3-2-1 rule is accurate in emphasizing the importance of having copies of your data, but was in desperate need of a 2023 facelift. While backups have been automated from the start, the manual process of sending physical hardware offsite is stuck in the early 2000’s. Having daily cloud backups ensures that your data is off premise and instantly available, setting you up for protection success and greatly reducing your recovery time. Plus, think of all the valuable time you’ll save by eliminating the transferring, cataloging, and tracking of tapes.
Make your data work smarter, not harder
Redundancy and availability are the capstones of the 3-2-1 backup rule, and have transformed (for the better) in the cloud age. Before the cloud, IT departments were relying on tapes and hard drives to protect their data–a much more tactile approach than how we operate now.
With cloud backup, you can seamlessly create a second offsite copy, satisfying both the “two storage types” and “one offsite copy” requirements. Plus, with cloud-to-cloud storage, your backups are stored on hardened cloud infrastructure, putting you in a data redundancy sweet spot. Depending on the vendor's cloud infrastructure (AWS, Azure, Google Cloud etc.) there are multiple availability zones that operate to provide data accessibility around the clock–meaning they have copies of your data, too. So, if one data center goes down, you’ll still have uninterrupted access (and your sanity).
Know your restore capabilities
The 3-2-1 rule doesn’t touch on recovery, which is a critical consideration. It’s important to know how you would restore lost or corrupted data, and if it meets your recovery time objective (RTO)–the time by which you must restore after data loss or corruption has occurred.
Imagine you’re working in a platform like ServiceNow, and suddenly experience a data loss of tens of thousands of records. Without a proper restoration tool in place, you’ll have to find and prepare all the records (if you can find the data at all), and then update or insert the data back into the ServiceNow platform. Each step can be very time consuming–think hours to weeks– and can delay day-to-day operations, which can have a significant impact on the business as a whole.
Therefore, knowing your restore capabilities can help gauge how quickly you can return to business as usual, and what to expect in the recovery process. It’s also best practice to test your recovery process at least once a year. Many tools claim they will be able to recover your data, but you shouldn’t wait for a disruptive incident to find out if that’s the case.
Processes like the 3-2-1 backup method have helped backup get to where it is today. But, as more and more companies migrate their data to cloud and SaaS applications, it’s necessary to implement a backup and recovery method that supports a cloud-forward future.
With OwnBackup, SaaS data protection is always top of mind. OwnBackup Recover is available for Salesforce, Microsoft Dynamics 365, and ServiceNow, providing secure, automated backups and fast, stress-free recovery solutions.