Backup 101 and the 3-2-1 Rule

4 minute read

BACKUP!! BACK IT UP!!! YOU’LL LOSE EVERYTHING!!! Now, there’s no need to panic. Backups are important but they aren’t a life or death situation as some make it seem. In this “Backup 101” article I will highlight the main benefits of backups and why you should be doing them.


A backup, it’s not a walk backwards or anything like that, it’s simply creating a copy of data to reduce the risk of losing it. There are many threats to our data from hardware failure, natural disaster, theft, loss to other disasters. There’s no need to back up everything every minute. It is however well worth considering what you would do if you lost some or all your data. Are there files you can’t live without? Are your businesses files stored on one computer? Those countless family photos, what would you do without them? There are many concerns and consequences to loosing data and for this reason you should backup regularly and properly to avoid these nasty situations.

What causes such a risk to my data?

The key issue with data is the fact that by default it exists in one place; on your computer, phone, tablet or another device. The downside of only having a single copy is that it would only take one event to occur and you’ve lost your data. The media the data is stored on could fail and if possible, it could cost thousands to recover. Here’s an example: in your computer, there is what is known as a hard drive, this is a device with discs inside it. These drivers generally spin at 5,400 or 7,200 RPM, (aka, jolly quick). When you are using your computer, the hard drive is on, it is spinning and consequently wearing out. Have no doubt – It’s not a question of “if” but “when”.

There are many factors affecting how quickly the media will fail and it doesn’t just apply to mechanical hard drives – the same thing applies to the flash based storage in phones, tablets and now in some new computers. Consequently, I don’t feel the need to emphasise the risks your device faces but there are many. Without a doubt, you should protect your data and protect your memories.

Backup 101, How should I backup?

There are many ways to back up your data, I mean, even copying it to a floppy disk would work. (I would warn you that this could well take many thousand however!). Even copying it to a USB drive you keep with your device would help. However, loss, environmental hazards (such as flooding, heat, rain etc.) and theft are still an issue.

I don’t want to make there seem to be “one solution fits all” solution to backing up – there isn’t. Due to what can be high costs but high risk IT world backup solutions are generally built around the “3-2-1” rule. The rule allows for a balance between protection from data loss and cost/practicality. The 3-2-1 rule states that you should have the following as a minimum:

  • Three separate copies of your data
  • Store the copies on two different media types or formats.
  • Keep one copy off site

This rule provides a highly reliable backup solution and isn’t as hard to follow as you might think. You already have one copy on your device. Using a cloud storage provider such as Dropbox, OneDrive or Google Drive would be a second and would also be off-site. Taking a backup onto a USB hard drive would be a third and because its offline it would provide greater protection against viruses. This could also be taken with something like Windows backup and consequently be in a different format. See? Nowhere near as difficult as it may seem to be a safe as many enterprises.

What do you recommend?

Personally, I use a USB hard drive with something like Windows Backup to create an image of my computer. I also use Backblaze (which you can read about here) so I have an incredibly cheap, off-site backup.

So, there you have it, keep an eye out for later posts where I shall be writing about various backup solutions in addition to the advantages and disadvantages of each. As always if you have any questions please feel free to ask them in the comments below.