Types of Backups

We’ve heard tales of businesses going under due to data breaches. Some just file for bankruptcy and call it a day. They probably had never come across the saying, “You can never be too safe.” Well, maybe they heard about it but ignored or gave it low priority. One breach is enough to “erase” your fortune. So, learn from their folly and do things right — back it up. 

To help you figure out where to start, we’ll introduce you to the types of backups so that you can make an informed decision about which type is best for your organization. If you don’t have the time to get so much invested, you can easily get everything sorted out for your business by utilizing the services of managed IT services companies. They have the experience and competence to guide you on the most optimal and relevant backup strategies for your company.  

What is Backup?

A backup is a copy of data that is stored on a separate device or location from the original. This can serve as a safeguard in case something happens to the original files, such as accidental deletion, hard drive failure, ransomware infection, natural disasters etc.

There are a number of different ways you can back up your data as we’ll find out shortly. What’s important is to choose a backup solution that meets your business needs and is compatible with the devices you use.

The 3 Main Types of Backups

While backup methods can be vast, there are three main types that are most common among businesses: full, incremental, and differential. Read on to learn more about each type and figure out which one is best for your organization.

Full Backup

Full backup is the process of backing up all the data in a given system. This includes all the files, settings, and configurations. All the organization’s data is backed into a storage device or the cloud. A full backup can be used to restore a system to its previous state, including all data and settings. 

This is the most intense type of backup as it’s typically performed on a regular basis, such as daily or weekly. But on the other hand it’s the easiest to get you back to business in case of a disaster.

Incremental Backup

Incremental Backup is the process of backing up only the data that has changed since the last backup, one increment at a time. This is in contrast to full backup, which backs up all data regardless of whether it has changed. Incremental backup is typically performed more frequently than full backup, as it’s quicker and uses less storage space. 

Incremental backups can be used in conjunction with full backups to provide an optimal backup strategy. For example, a full backup could be performed weekly, with incremental backups being performed daily. This would provide a complete backup of all data, while still allowing for quick and easy restores.

Differential Backup

Differential Backup is a process of backing up all the files that have changed since the last full backup. This type of backup is very similar to incremental backup — a reason the two are often confused. To get the difference clearly, just know that with incremental backup, ONLY the files that have been changed at a time are backed up.  But when it comes to differential backup, ALL files changed since the last full backup are backed up. In other words both are done after the full backup but the incremental type backs up only what has been changed at a given time while the differential type backs up everything that has been changed since. 

Let’s say today is Monday. You do a full backup today. 

Tuesday: You change 2 files and back them up = incremental

Wednesday: You change 2 files and back them up = incremental

Thursday: You change  2 files and backup all files changed on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday = Differential

As you can see, the backup you did on Thursday will have a total of 6 files (Tuesday + Wednesday + Thursday).  But if instead you were to do incremental backup on Thursday, you would only backup 2 files. 

Differential backup can be used to restore data to the state it was in at the time of the most recent full backup (Monday), plus all changes that have been made since then (Tuesday to Thursday). 

Differential backups can be created more frequently than full backups. However, they do require that the last full backup be available in order to restore data, so it is important to create both full and differential backups on a regular basis. 

Other Types of Backups

These other types are more or less variations of the main types and serve as a way to give businesses advanced alternatives to suit different circumstances. 

Here are the common two:

Mirror Backup

A mirror backup creates an exact copy of the original data. This means that every file and folder is copied, making it an ideal solution for restoring a system to a previous state.

A mirror backup works similarly to a full backup, however, it creates an identical “mirror image” that copies everything, rather than just the files you choose when you run a full backup.

Since mirror backups are so comprehensive, they can often be quite large in size. As such, they're not recommended for everyday use, but rather as a last resort in the event of data loss or corruption.

Synthetic Backup

In a synthetic backup, a file is created by combining a complete backup of a file created in the past with one or more incremental backups created later on. A synthetic full backup involves copying all the full backup data in a volume or directory, including empty spaces. This is done by creating a so-called «synthetic» file that represents all the data in the original volume or directory.

This type of backup should only be used when you want to create an exact copy of the original data, including empty spaces. It's important to note that synthetic backups can be quite large, so make sure you have enough storage space available before you create one.

Where to Store the Backup?

Having looked at the various types of data backups, the next question you may be asking is, «Where do I store my backup?»

For full backups, you'll need a large storage device, like an external hard drive or larger storage space in the cloud, to store all the data. If you're using a differential or incremental backup, however, your storage device or space in the cloud can be much smaller as the data only includes the changes made since the last backup.

The storage medium you are going to choose can also be influenced by how long you intend to keep the data. If you will be keeping it for long, for example, you will then need a much more advanced storage medium compared to short term storage.

Ideally, you should have two copies of your backup: one that's stored locally and one that's stored off-site. That way, if something happens to your office or home, you still have a copy of your data safe and sound elsewhere.

Which Backup Method Is Good for Me?

  • Full backup is perfect for those who want to be able to perform a restore operation for their entire system if something goes wrong. 
  • Differential backup is ideal for those who want to save time and more storage space.
  • Incremental backup is great for those who want to save as much time and space as possible.
  • Mirror backups can be helpful if you need to restore a file that was deleted accidently.
  • Synthetic backup is perfect for those who want the convenience of a full backup with the smaller size and faster speeds of a differential or incremental backup.

Since modern backup is mostly done on the cloud, it’s important to choose a provider that is proven to offer secure backup to avoid the risks posed by cloud threats

How Has the Backup Technology Transformed Over Time?

In the early days of computing, people mostly used manual techniques for the backup job. This meant that they had to copy backup files manually from one storage device to another, or even to different physical locations.

As technology evolved, so did backup techniques. In the 1980s, disk-to-disk backups were introduced. This allowed backups of data on separate disks, which could then be easily stored away or transported.

The 1990s saw the introduction of online backups, which allowed storage in remote locations. This was a major advance in backup technology, as it eliminated the need to store backup copies of data locally.

More recently with the rise in cloud computing adoption among businesses, cloud storage has become so popular that the cloud is now more or less the default backup system for most businesses and individuals. Cloud services allow users to store their data on remote servers, and access it from anywhere in the world.


No one wants to be a statistic, certainly not you. That's why it's so important to have a backup plan in place to guarantee continuous data protection. Ultimately, the right type of backup depends on your needs and preferences.

But no matter the type of backup you choose, it's important to make sure that your data is safe and secure. With the right backup plan in place, you can rest easy knowing that your data is always protected and ready to restore when disaster strikes.

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