What is a full backup?
A full backup is a complete copy of every single file in a set of source data. It is a single comprehensive snapshot of all the data at the point the full backup is run. Because of its scope, it is simple to execute but potentially time consuming to complete. It differs from an incremental backup in that it is not accumulating versions of a file over time, but rather a single instance of collecting all data.
Why should I do a full backup instead of a partial backup?
Because of its breadth, it is useful to complete a full backup periodically as it represents a stable copy of all of the data listed for backup. Because only a single version of every file is collected, a full backup could be completed and stored for long-term archival purposes using long-lasting and stable media. Whereas partial backups are usually run incrementally as part of business continuity, there is churn in the versions being generated and discarded. A periodic full backup is a useful complement to a continuous backup with frequent versioning.
How often should I do a full backup and how long will it take?
You should plan on your full backup being a part of a rotating backup scheme, and insert it between ongoing incremental backups. It may be wise to perform a full backup on a weekly or monthly basis if you have other backups in your 3-2-1 backup scheme running daily backups. For day to day operations it is important to have frequent versioning available, but on a weekly or monthly cadence the value of a full backup will become more apparent on long term, stable storage.
Depending on the size of your data set it may take some time to complete a full backup. On modern systems, if your data set is less than a terabyte then the task may be completed within hours, but for a business churning multiple terabytes of data it may require setting aside a significant amount of time for the task. It may be necessary to run a full backup as a cold backup to avoid interruption of work and to be able to devote all system resources to running the backup.
You should speak with your vendors about the expectations they have for the speed of backup in their software and hardware, and understand that completing a full backup may involve an investment in time. It will be time well spent as part of securing a stable archive of your valuable business information.
Full Backup Best Practices
A full backup should be complemented by additional solutions in a 3-2-1 backup scheme, as part of a comprehensive disaster recovery plan. By itself, a full backup can incur data loss as it will not capture daily or hourly changes in files that are currently being worked on. However, having only incremental backups can lead to a situation where you may lose a version of a file you’ll need later, or you’ll want to revert changes and no longer be able to. A full backup can also allow you to archive certain files that are no longer in use, in essence retiring them from your daily backups so you can focus versioning on newer files, increasing efficiency.
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