How you back up your data and how often is as important, maybe more so, than anything I’ve written about so far about information technology in the bicycle business.

This article on backing up data does not mean your company won’t run the risk of losing data or having it compromised. However, taking these steps may well allow you to rebuild quickly or keep your business running should the unthinkable happen.

Keeping your systems and data secure is as important as making sure your inventory is secure and accurate. In some ways managing your inventory is easier. It has a physical presence. You can see it, touch it and count it. Your business data is a non-physical asset. Like your physical inventory, your data takes up space albeit in a much more compact form than a back room filled with bikes, parts and accessories. Knowing where specific parts of your data are stored and how often inventory is “counted” (updated) is just as important, and maybe more, than your physical inventory itself. Having an accurate and timely backup of your businesses data not only prepares you for a time when your systems go down, but can mitigate other data threats (which I’ll talk about in the next article).

How often should your business data be backed up? Let me expand on the comparison I’m making between your business data and your physical inventory. If you’re like most businesses, you have different categories or types of physical inventory based on value and/or usage. You also likely do inventory counts on a staggered basis. Some items may get counted on a weekly basis, some monthly, some quarterly, and some annually. You do this to insure your inventory is accurate, so that you can correctly calculate the cost of sales and profitability and prepare an accurate balance sheet.

Business data can be viewed the same way. You can, and should, determine what data needs to be backed up and how often.

Important data, (sales receipts, employee time/payroll, etc.) should be backed up every day. Employee records, inventory counts and values and other less critical data can be backed up less often, but probably not less than weekly. A general rule of thumb is to err on backing up more often rather than less often.

If you have software that helps manage your business data, it likely has an automatic backup facility that will perform at regular pre-determined intervals. If you aren’t using data management software, you can still do manual backups. Manual backups should also be done at regular predetermined intervals. Most always backups are done when systems are not in use, meaning after business hours, so having automatic backups scheduled means you don’t have to spend extra time at your place of business.

When you perform backups, the recommendation is the 3-2-1 rule: three copies of your data, two local (on different devices) and one off-site. For most businesses, this means the original data on your computer, a backup on an external hard drive, and another on a cloud backup service. A mix of internal and external/cloud location is critical to make sure your data is protected and can be quickly retrieved if necessary. 

While it is generally agreed that backups need to be done at regular intervals, the next question is what type of backup is appropriate. There are four basic types of backup: full, incremental, differential and synthetic full. Let’s look at each and define what they are.
Full Backup

A full backup is exactly what the name implies. It is a full copy of the entire data set of your business. Although a full backup usually provides the best protection, many businesses do not need to do them on a daily basis. The files that are to be copied during the full backup process are designated beforehand by a backup administrator or other data protection specialist.

If you haven’t been doing backups in your business, a full backup is the place to start. The first full backup becomes the baseline against which subsequent backups will be compared and applied.

Full backups consume the most tape or disc capacity and are time consuming, as they back up the most data. Full backups only need to be done once though you may decide that on occasion a new full backup should be done. But keep in mind the 3-2-1 rule. You shouldn’t be making just one copy, and each copy will require adequate storage. The second article in this series addressed finding out how much data you have, which was leading to this, so you would know how much storage, both internal and external (cloud), would be required. 


Incremental backups are a way to increase backup speed and decrease storage space compared to doing a full backup. Incremental backups only back up data that have changed since the last backup.

As an example, suppose you created a full backup on Saturday evening, and used incremental backups for the rest of the week. The backup done Sunday evening would only capture the data that changed since Saturday. The backup done Monday evening would only capture data that changed since Sunday, and so on.

The primary disadvantage of using incremental backups is they can be time consuming when a restore is required. Using my previous example, suppose you wanted to restore the backup from Tuesday. To do so, you’d have to restore Saturday’s full backup. After that you’d have to restore Sunday’s backup and then Monday’s backup.
Additionally, if any of the backup is damaged or missing, you will have an incomplete data recovery.   


Differential and incremental backups are similar as both start with a full backup, and subsequent backups contain only data that have changed. The difference between differential and incremental backups is that an incremental backup only includes data that have changed since the previous backup, while a differential backup contains ALL of the data that have changed since the last full backup.

As an example of a differential backup, suppose you wanted to create a full backup on Sunday evening, and differential backups the rest of the week. Monday’s backup would capture all the data that have changed since Sunday. At that point it would then be identical to an incremental backup. However, on Tuesday the differential backup would back up any data that had changed since Sunday as well.

The advantage a differential backup has over an incremental backup is shorter restore times. Any scenario where downtime is critical, such as disaster recovery, rapid restore is important. Restoring a differential backup never requires more than two backup sets. Incremental backups could require numerous additional backup sets. The tradeoff is as time progresses, differential data can grow and contain much more data than incremental backups and require additional storage resources. 

Synthetic Full

A synthetic full backup is a variation of an incremental backup. The backup routine begins with taking a full backup followed by a series of incremental backups. Synthetic backups take it a step further.

What differentiates a synthetic backup from an incremental backup is the backup server actually produces a full backup. This is done by combining the existing full backup with data from the combined incremental backups. This creates a synthetic backup that is indistinguishable from a full backup created the traditional way.

The primary advantage of a synthetic full backup is it significantly reduces the time needed to do data restoration. Restoring a synthetic full backup does not require multiple tapes or disc sets like an incremental backup. 

What type of backup you choose depends on how often you want to do a backup, what your need is to possibly restore data, and how much capacity you have, internally and externally, to store the backups. This is a conversation you should have with your system administrator. It’s also important to periodically review your backup requirements and protocols as your business needs may change. 

You also should be doing backups on other devices used in our business. Your smart phones and tablets also need to be backed up to make sure all the data you depend on can be restored when needed.

Next time I’ll discuss the data threats to your business and devices.

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