3-2-1 backup rule: data backup best practices

| By:
Sagar Kamat

When the first computers came to market in the 1970s, futurists, economists, and sci-fi writers alike began to predict how the machines would shape our lives and the future of commerce. Today, digital devices and the data they generate have become indispensable assets to the global economy.

Unfortunately, that ubiquity also means that businesses face an ever-growing threat of data loss due to system malfunctions, malicious attacks, or natural disasters.

MSPs (Managed Service Providers) play a critical role in keeping the wheels of commerce spinning by protecting clients' data and providing continuity of operations in the case of data loss.

So, how can MSPs ensure that their clients' data is protected against disaster?

The answer lies in following the 3-2-1 backup rule and other best practices for data protection. 

This article will explore the 3-2-1 rule and other strategies that MSPs can use to maximize data protection and help their clients stay protected as they scale their businesses.

Why data backup is essential for MSPs

Managed Service Providers are the first line of defense for many businesses when it comes to data security. MSPs can provide a range of services, from proactive monitoring and maintenance to backup and restoration in the event of a disaster.

These services are critical for keeping operations running smoothly and protecting clients' data assets against loss or damage. As a growing number of businesses and industries turn to digital solutions, the need for reliable data backup and recovery services only increases.

Data backup has evolved from little more than an afterthought during the early days of IT to an essential practice for MSPs, their clients, and the wider global economy. As the cost and potential damage from data loss increases in severity each year, it's imperative that MSPs implement an efficient backup strategy to minimize the risk of losing valuable data.

In addition, data backup also plays an important role in MSPs helping their clients grow and scale by providing that safe foundation.

March 31st is World Backup Day, which serves to remind us of the importance of data backup and protection. As an MSP, now is the perfect time to evaluate your current data backup strategy and ensure that it meets industry best practices.

What is the 3-2-1 backup rule?

The 3-2-1 backup rule is a widely accepted set of best practices for data backup and restoration based on the idea that an organization should use three copies of its data, stored in two different formats, with one copy stored off-site.

The rule is designed to keep data safe from any potential disaster, whether it's a malicious attack, system failure, or physical disaster. It's also designed to ensure that the organization can recover its data quickly and efficiently in the event of an emergency.

By incorporating redundancy into an organization's overall backup strategy, the 3-2-1 rule helps minimize the risk of complete data loss and ensures that businesses can continue to operate and scale even in the face of disaster.

How to store your backups

As attitudes, practices, and solutions surrounding data storage have evolved over the years, so too have the technologies used to store backups. Today, backup and disaster recovery isn't just a theoretical concept — it's an essential function critical to business operations.

Today, organizations, from SMBs to large enterprises, have a range of options at their disposal, from cloud storage to physical media and everything in between. Many organizations opt for a hybrid approach that combines both physical and cloud storage solutions, which can include using both an on-site and off-site storage facility, as well as a cloud-based backup solution.

When considering backup solutions, MSPs should consider the following criteria:

Cost: The cost of storing backups can add up quickly, so it's important to consider the total cost of ownership (TCO) when selecting a storage solution.

Accessibility: The ability to access backups in a timely manner is essential to any backup strategy. It's important to consider the potential latency when selecting a storage solution and whether it will meet the organization's accessibility needs.

Security: Data security is of paramount importance when it comes to backups. MSPs should select a storage solution that offers encryption and other security measures to ensure that backups remain secure.

How often to backup

Backing up data regularly is essential to a successful backup strategy. How often an organization should back up its data will depend on the type of data it stores, the frequency of changes, and the organization's tolerance for data loss.

In general, it's recommended that organizations backup their data on a daily basis. This ensures that the most up-to-date version of the data is available in case of emergency and minimizes the chances of data loss or corruption. Some organizations may also consider creating weekly or monthly backups to store archived copies of their data.

How to implement the 3-2-1 backup rule successfully

Once MSPs have decided on a storage solution and a backup schedule, they can begin to implement the 3-2-1 backup rule. The first step is to create three copies of the data: one primary copy, one local copy (if applicable), and one off-site copy.

Next, ensure that the data is stored in two different formats. This can include both physical and digital media, as well as cloud-based storage solutions. It's important to select storage solutions that are both secure and cost-effective.

Finally, store one copy of the data off-site. Off-site storage could be a secondary physical location, a cloud-based storage solution, or an archive server located in another area. It's important to note that off-site copies should be stored in a secure location to prevent unauthorized access.

If you haven't reevaluated your data backup best practices lately, check out our eBook, 3 Reasons to Rethink Your BDR Strategy, today.

Other best practices for data backup

While the 3-2-1 rule provides a comprehensive starting point for a backup and disaster recovery strategy, there are additional best practices that MSPs can use to ensure that data is secure:

Automate backups: Automating backups can help ensure that data is backed up on a regular basis and reduce the risk of data loss or corruption.

Ensure that backups are encrypted: Encrypting backups is an essential step in protecting data. It's important to ensure that backups are stored using industry-standard encryption protocols and that proper key management is in place.

Monitor backups: Regularly monitoring backups can help ensure that the backup process is running smoothly and that data is being backed up correctly.

Invest in a reliable off-site backup provider: Having a reliable, secure, and cost-effective off-site backup provider is essential to any good data recovery strategy.

Go beyond the 3-2-1 backup rule with ConnectWise

Operating an MSP requires careful consideration when it comes to data backup and recovery. Whether you’ve implemented the 3-2-1 backup rule yet or not, leveraging other best practices for data backup can help ensure that your customers’ data is secure.

ConnectWise offers a comprehensive suite of products and services designed to help MSPs provide secure, reliable data backup and recovery solutions to their clients. With ConnectWise’s Backup & Disaster Recovery (BCDR), MSPs can ensure that their customers’ data is secure and accessible, even during an emergency.

The platform provides comprehensive monitoring and reports on backup health, as well as the ability to set up automated backups at regular intervals for added convenience. To explore how ConnectWise can streamline your backup and disaster recovery strategy, register for a BCDR demo today.


The 3-2-1 backup rule has been widely regarded as the most effective backup technique. The 3-2-1 rule requires creating three copies of data (one primary copy, one local copy, and one off-site copy), storing data in two different formats (physical and digital; cloud-based storage also works), and keeping at least one copy of the data off-site.

The local copy of the data will typically be the fastest to restore, as this is stored on-site and does not require any additional steps such as downloading or uploading. However, it's important to note that if the local storage fails, then it will likely take longer to restore from other sources.

The safest backup will depend on your particular needs and requirements. Generally, having multiple copies of data stored in different formats (e.g., physical and digital) and at different locations (onsite and off-site) will provide the safest option. Additionally, encrypting backups and using a reliable off-site backup provider can provide extra layers of security.