What is an incremental backup?

Keeping a backup is crucial for any PC, laptop, or server, whether at home or at work. This may sound like a drain on energy and resources but with incremental backup, it doesn't have to be.

A hard drive is connected to a laptop to backup data

How does an incremental backup work?

An incremental backup is a backup type that only updates the changes made to your files since your last backup. So, if you change 10 words in a 10,000 word file, an incremental backup will only affect those 10 changed words. That means you won’t need to reprocess files that haven’t changed since the previous backup.

Differential backups, on the other hand, reprocess all of the files that have changed since your last backup. They are similar to incremental backups but, instead of only replacing the 10 changed words in a 10,000 word file, they would need to reupload the entire file.

What is the best type of backup approach?

The best type of backup strategy will depend on your needs, but most businesses will benefit from incremental file backups as they provide the most time-efficient solution. Gaps between backups create opportunities for data loss and can endanger attempts at disaster recovery. This heightens the importance of frequent backups and makes the speed of backups a significant factor. As differential backups have to process more data than their incremental counterparts, they are completed slower—making incremental backups the better option.

There is one downside to incremental backups which is that when things do need to be restored, data must be restored from every incremental backup made since your last full backup. This can be a very time-consuming backup process. You may struggle to pin-point the precise date you want to back up from as well.

Top tips for Backups

If your business is not implementing a backup system, you really are living dangerously. Get your files backed up and safely stored so even if the worst happens, you know you can rely on data recovery. Here are some tips for getting started:

Don’t save your backup in the same location

Don’t go to the effort of running a new full backup only to place your files in the same locations as the originals. For example, if you save your backup of your PC files in a dedicated file on your C drive, that does nothing to protect you from operating system failure and data loss. If your PC were to then break down, it will take everything with it, including your back up, and you won’t be able to perform a full restoration. 

You may also want to avoid easily lost or damaged backup storage like disk drives or external hard drives. Having everything continuously backed up on an external hard drive may seem like the perfect backup scenario with very little outlay. However, these devices can become corrupt and require formatting i.e. need to be completely wiped before they can work again.

Don’t forget to run your backup

You should schedule automatic backups and make sure you stick to them. It can be tempting to mute reminders or postpone processes when you’re in the middle of something. Doing this with your backup only spells disaster. Have a set time each week for your backups to run, preferably outside of office hours. This means all your data can be safely stored without interrupting your regular workflows.

Make sure your backed-up data is correctly labelled

It’s easy to let backups run in the background and not give them a spare thought. But should you need to use them one day, you’ll be grateful that you took the time to label everything correctly. It’s understandable that you might not want to wade through every data set to name them accurately. Still, you should make the effort to do so with your most important documents in all your most recent backup files. Especially as you may not be able to identify these from date alone.

Even if you follow all these tips, a successful backup still calls for quite some effort on your end. Whether it’s storing, sorting, or retrieving data, you’re sure to end up wondering if there is an easier way. And there is.

Cloud backup and delta sync

Dropbox makes it completely effortless for your business to sync files in a safe and secure manner with its own technology called delta sync. Delta sync enables incremental backup, making for faster backup times without the need to use as much storage space in your Dropbox account.

While each incremental backup since the last full backup must be restored to capture every change, Dropbox Rewind allows users to restore entire backups from specific points in time. With Dropbox Rewind, users can restore a large number of changes at once while still reaping the benefits of backing up their data incrementally.

With everything being online, you can enjoy unparalleled flexibility. You don’t need to be in the office, or even on your work device—you can access your files from anywhere. Dropbox also offers an auto-resuming sync feature so you won’t lose your progress or downloads if your internet connection drops, they will simply resume when you reconnect.

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