Best practices for a comprehensive backup strategy

| By:
Sagar Kamat

Protecting clients' invaluable data is the cornerstone of a successful MSP operation. It is a constantly evolving challenge; data is being created at an exponential rate, while the volume of threats — cyberattacks, ransomware, insider attacks, natural disasters, and more — increase daily. Clients expect you to provide a watertight backup strategy that ensures they always have access to their information, even in the event of a complete system failure. Even a minimal amount of data loss or downtime can result in significant losses, so getting backup strategy right is one of the most pressing challenges MSPs face.  

Components of a comprehensive backup strategy

A backup strategy involves creating and maintaining essential copies of critical information, applications, and systems backups to protect them in the event of data loss or damage. This restores information and data is restored in case of critical incidents such as hardware failure or cyberattacks. An effective backup strategy ensures business continuity, minimizes downtime and protects against data loss. 

You’ll need to consider several common components when developing and implementing a backup solution that meets the specific needs and requirements of your clients. Typical backup strategy components include:  

  • Backup frequency and retention: Based on client needs and their compliance requirements, you’ll need to determine how often customer data is backed up and how long it should be retained for. Frequencies can range from real-time for mission critical or highly-sensitive data to monthly or even longer for archived information or static data that never changes. Daily and weekly backups frequencies are also common. 
  • Backup types: Backup types include full, incremental, or differential backups, depending on the client’s data volume, frequency of changes, and recovery time objectives.
  • Backup locations: Where client backup data is stored, whether on-site, off-site, in the cloud, or in a hybrid approach. Considerations include security and accessibility. 
  • Disaster recovery: Disaster recovery plans ensure clients can react to disasters quickly and mitigate collateral damage, and includes procedures for data restoration, communication protocols, and other contingencies.
  • Regular testing and validation: MSPs regularly test and validate backup data to ensure integrity and usability in case of a disaster, and confirms data is recoverable and accessible.
  • Security measures: Security measures such as encryption, access controls, and monitoring ensure backup data is secure and protected from unauthorized access or theft.
  • Ongoing management and monitoring: MSPs provide ongoing management and monitoring of the backup solution to ensure it remains effective and up-to-date. 

Backup strategy best practices

Best practices in backup strategies are fundamental for MSPs to provide reliable, secure, and resilient services to their clients. In this section, we’ll look at how your team can adopt best practices with some of the most critical components of a backup strategy. 

Data importance

Determining data importance is critical to developing a comprehensive backup strategy for clients and enables MSPs to prioritize backups. There are several steps to follow to protect critical client data. 

Before implementing a backup strategy, you’ll need to follow a number of steps, starting with engaging clients to get a clear picture of their data priorities. Speak to clients to understand which data tranches are important for daily operations, which information is crucial for compliance, and which data is tied to revenue generation. 

Implement a data classification framework categorizing data based on sensitivity, value, and criticality to determine the level of protection and backup frequency required for each category. 

Evaluating financial, operational, reputational, and legal ramifications, helps prioritize datasets, and assess the consequences of data loss or unavailability. 

Backup frequency

Any data backup strategy needs to consider how often data backup occurs. Analyze clients’ Recovery Point Objective (RPO), which is the acceptable amount of data loss a client can tolerate in case of a system failure or data loss event. For critical systems or data, MSPs should aim for a smaller RPO, which requires hourly or daily backups to minimize potential data loss, and infrequent backups for less critical data. 

MSPs also need to consider Data Change Rate, which measures the frequency at which data changes. Speak with clients to understand their business requirements and how their specific needs around compliance, service level agreements, and industry regulations affect backup scheduling.

Testing and monitoring your backup system

Backup strategies must be regularly tested and monitored. This involves simulating data restoration from backups and verifying the integrity and usability of the restored data, while also identifying and addressing potential issues. Automated monitoring tools can help track and analyze the performance of backup systems and identify potential problems before they start. Using these tools makes it simple to remotely manage and audit client IT systems and ensure that their backup systems are working as intended. 

Your team should deliver regular client reports on the performance of their backup systems, including data on factors such as backup success rates, data restoration times, and any identified issues or trends. By regularly assessing performance, MSPs are better equipped to maximize system efficiency and recommend backup strategy improvements. 

Regular communication can also provide visibility into upcoming business changes that might impact the backup strategy, such as new product roll-outs or additions to technology infrastructure.

Keep physical backups

Even if you choose a cloud-first approach to your backup strategy, it is a best practice to keep physical backups. These backups should be stored off-site, away from primary data and infrastructure. Off-site storage can be a secure facility, a secondary data center, or a trusted third-party provider.

This approach adds an extra layer of protection and resilience for your customer and means that clients can retrieve data and business operations continue uninterrupted even in the event of a large-scale data breach or power outage. 

In addition, some industries and regulatory frameworks mandate physical backups as part of data retention and compliance requirements. Maintaining physical backups can help organizations meet these specific obligations and comply with relevant laws and regulations.

Finding the right backup method for you

There are several types of backup methods designed to suit clients’ specific needs and requirements. MSPs should assess their clients’ data needs, recovery objectives, available resources, and budget constraints to determine the most appropriate backup method. Often, MSPs implement a combination of backup methods tailored to specific data sets or applications to meet business needs and balance data protection, cost, and operational efficiency. 

Here are some common backup methods, along with their positives and negatives, as well as their suitability for different types of businesses. 

Full backup

A full backup creates a complete copy of all data, providing a comprehensive restore point for recovery. In a full backup, all selected files and folders are copied and stored in a separate storage location, such as a backup server, tape drive, or cloud storage. Full backups are generally completed daily, weekly, or monthly depending on the business’s backup strategy, how critical their data is, the rate of data changes, and available resources. 

Full backups consume significant storage capacity and can be time-consuming depending on the volume of data. It is also a resource-heavy backup method, so it can impact a business’ wider systems. 

Generally, full backups are suitable for businesses with relatively small data volumes or critical data that must be prioritized. They are also recommended for companies that require complete restores for compliance or security reasons. 

Incremental backup

Incremental backups only store changes made since the last backup, resulting in smaller backup sizes and faster backup times. Incremental backups save time and storage space compared to full backups, as they focus solely on new or modified data and are often combined with full backups as a part of a broader data backup strategy. Cons include slower recovery time, having to carry out a full backup before implementing an incremental backup, and having to piece together information from various backups when completing a recovery. 

Incremental backups can be effective options for organizations with large data volumes and limited backup windows, as well as businesses prioritizing efficient storage space and faster backup times.

Differential backup

Differential backups capture all changes made since the last full backup, making restoration simpler and faster than incremental backups. This backup strategy means only a full backup and the most recent differential backup are needed for restoration. Increased storage space is required for differential backups compared to incremental backups because each differential backup contains all changes since the last full backup, meaning data increases over time, leading to longer backup durations.

Differential backups suit businesses with moderate data volumes and longer backup windows, and those prioritizing faster restores while minimizing backups needed for restoration.

Snapshot backup

Snapshot backups create point-in-time copies of data, capturing the system’s state at a specific moment. They offer near-instantaneous backups and quick restores, as they typically leverage advanced storage technologies. However, these specialized systems often have higher associated costs and demand significant resources during backups. 

Snapshot backups are suitable for organizations with virtualized environments, allowing for efficient and fast backups without disrupting ongoing operations. They are also well suited for clients that need frequent backups and minimal downtime. 

Cloud backup

Cloud backups leverage off-site storage and offer scalability, flexibility, and easy accessibility, eliminating the need for on-premise hardware, as well as providing automated backups. A cloud approach is well suited for businesses that require SaaS (Software-as-a-Service) backup and recovery, including emails, documents, contacts, calendars, and other application-specific data. SaaS backups are popular with businesses that leverage multiple SaaS applications as it offers a further level of protection above that provided by individual solutions. Learn more in our eBook, SaaS Data Backup: Everything You Need To Know (and do about it). 

Cloud backups are also an attractive option for businesses with remote and/or distributed teams as the approach pulls together data from different locations. Startups and small businesses can also benefit from the comparatively minor upfront cost, and not having to invest in costly physical infrastructure. Smaller businesses are also less likely to benefit from much in-house IT expertise, so opting for a cloud approach often solves several challenges.  

Follow the 3-2-1 backup rule

The 3-2-1 backup rule is a widely recognized and adopted set of best practices for data backup and recovery. It involves maintaining three copies of data, utilizing two different storage formats, and storing one copy off-site.

The primary objective is to enhance data protection and resilience, while safeguarding against threats such as cyberattacks, system failures, or physical disasters. It is a strategic framework to ensure data can be swiftly and effectively restored during critical situations. By implementing redundancy in the backup strategy, the 3-2-1 rule significantly reduces the risk of complete data loss and helps organizations continue to operate even during cyberattacks or power outages. 

Find ways to implement automation whenever possible

Backups can be resource and labor-intensive, so it’s a good idea to implement automation wherever you can. MSPs can streamline backup operations, reduce manual effort, improve reliability, and deliver more efficient and consistent data protection services to clients with automation.

Common types of automation that form part of a backup strategy include:

  • Scheduled backups: Automate backups to occur at specific times (hourly, daily, weekly, etc.), eliminates the need for manual initiation and reduces the likelihood of human error.
  • Detection: Configure automation tools to detect file or data changes within designated directories or systems. Backup processes are triggered automatically when changes are detected, ensuring that the most up-to-date data is captured.
  • Monitoring and alerts: Automation tools track backup processes, generating alerts in the event of failure, insufficient storage, and power outages.
  • Reporting and audits: Automatically deliver detailed backup reports, including information on backup status, success rates, potential issues. 
  • Testing: Automate scheduled testing and validation to verify data recoverability and simulate restore scenarios to ensure your strategy is optimized. 

This will help your customers save time and money, reduce the chances of human error, and make their backups more efficient. It can also help meet compliance requirements, enhance disaster recovery capabilities, and deliver high service levels. 

For more information on creating a more efficient and effective backup environment for your clients, consider incorporating backup with a network operations center (NOC). Learn more by checking out our webinar, BDR + NOC: Backup Your Data Better.

Make sure client teams are educated and trained

Educate your client teams on data handling, incident response, compliance, and security, giving them the tools and knowledge they need to be active in their backup processes. 

There are several ways you might consider educating your clients, including webinars, training sessions, guides, tutorial videos, and many other options.

Build endpoint protection into your strategy

Endpoint protection is a set of security measures and software solutions designed to safeguard individual devices, such as laptops, desktops, and mobile devices, from various cyber threats and malicious activities. It includes security features like antivirus, anti-malware, firewall, data encryption, intrusion prevention, and device control.

Incorporating endpoint protection into a client’s backup strategy enhances data security, proactively detects and addresses threats, speeds up recovery, and provides comprehensive data protection. 

Work with a strong backup solution

An effective backup solution for MSPs should be reliable, scalable, and easy to use, providing automated processes, centralized management, and monitoring capabilities. It should prioritize data integrity, offer fast recovery options, and contribute to security and compliance, all while integrating with existing business-critical tools and technology. 

ConnectWise Backup provides a reliable, small-footprint solution that can easily scale to accommodate your customers’ changing needs. View our on-demand demo of ConnectWise BCDR today to learn more about our backup and disaster recovery solutions for MSPs.


Yes, a backup strategy can be integrated with other data protection measures, such as endpoint protection, data encryption, access control and authentication, and data loss prevention to ensure a comprehensive approach to data security.

Yes, it is necessary to have multiple backup copies of data, as a single backup copy can still be vulnerable to data loss due to hardware failure, human error, cyberattacks, or natural disasters. The industry-standard 3-2-1 backup rule recommends having three copies of data stored in two different formats, with one copy stored off-site.

The effectiveness of a backup strategy varies from business to business, although any organization will benefit from a data backup strategy. The most effective backup strategies are tailored to a company’s needs, so consider factors such as data volume, criticality, retention policies, and recovery time objectives.

Yes, backup solutions have become increasingly scalable over time. Advancements in technology, particularly the rise of cloud computing and storage, have contributed significantly to the scalability of backup solutions. Cloud infrastructure offers the flexibility to scale up or down resources including storage, processing power, and network bandwidth, with ease and without significant upfront investments.

Yes, ongoing maintenance and monitoring help ensure backup strategies are effective and that any changes your clients make are taken into account.

No, factors such as unprotected data, human error, and ever-evolving threats mean that no backup strategy is guaranteed to prevent data loss. However, a suitable backup strategy significantly mitigates the chances of data loss and the impact it might have. 

Not always. Data should be prioritized on its importance to the client’s regulatory requirements, recovery time objectives, data size, and frequency of change. It’s most important to include data that is essential for business operations, subject to compliance regulations, or requires quick restoration.

While a backup strategy dramatically increases the likelihood of successful data restoration, it does not provide a guarantee it. MSPs and organizations should invest in robust backup and disaster recovery practices and comprehensive testing to minimize the risk of unsuccessful data restoration.