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Understanding Full, Differential, Incremental, and Synthetic Full Backups

Data is a critical asset for any organization, and its loss can be catastrophic. That’s why backups are a vital part of any IT infrastructure. But not all backups are created equal, and choosing the right backup strategy is crucial to ensure data recovery in case of a disaster. In this article, we will dive into the three main types of backups – full, differential, and incremental – and compare their benefits and drawbacks.

We will also explore the advantages of full synthetic backups and how they differ from traditional backup methods.

Overview of Three Common types of Backups

Here are the three main kinds of backups:

1.     What are Full Backups?

A full backup creates a complete copy of your entire data, including all files, folders, and system configurations. This makes it the most comprehensive type of backup and the easiest to restore from in case of data loss or corruption.

Since all data is backed up during a full backup, it offers the quickest and most straightforward method of data restoration. You simply need to restore the full backup and all of your data will be restored seamlessly.

However, performing a full backup can be time-consuming and resource-intensive, especially if your organization has large amounts of data. For this reason, it is typically recommended to perform full backups on a regular schedule, such as weekly or monthly, while using incremental or differential backups for daily or weekly backups.

It’s important to note that a full backup is often used as a starting point for other types of backups, such as incremental or differential backups. These backups only backup the changes made to the data since the last full backup, reducing the amount of time and resources needed to perform backups on a regular basis.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Full Backups

Advantages of Full Backup
  • Full backups provide a complete and exact copy of your data at a specific point in time.
  • They are straightforward to understand and implement.
  • They can be useful in situations where you need to recover all data after a catastrophic event such as a natural disaster or cyberattack.
  • Full backups are simple to restore since you only need to restore the one copy.
Disadvantages of Full Backups
  • Full backups can be resource-intensive and time-consuming, especially for large datasets, requiring a lot of disk space and time to create.
  • If you perform them frequently, it can impact system performance and interfere with other business processes.
  • Full backups can result in a lot of data redundancy and waste of resources if changes between backups are minor.
  • They can also lead to higher storage costs, as you need more disk space to store multiple full backups over time.

2.    What are Incremental Backups?

Incremental backups are a common backup strategy that involves backing up only the changes made since the last backup, whether it was a full backup or an incremental backup. This means that during an incremental backup, only the changed data is backed up, resulting in faster backup times and reduced storage requirements.

For example, if an organization performs a full backup on Monday and then incremental backups from Tuesday to Friday, only the data that has changed since Monday’s full backup will be backed up on each subsequent day. This approach can be very efficient for organizations that generate a large amount of data on a daily basis, as only the newly generated or modified data needs to be backed up.

However, one disadvantage of incremental backups is the longer restore time compared to a full backup. To restore data from incremental backups, you need to restore the last full backup along with all the succeeding incremental backups in the correct order. In the previous example, to restore a week’s worth of incremental backups, you would first need to restore Monday’s full backup and then each incremental backup from Tuesday to Friday in the order they were taken.

It’s important to note that the frequency of incremental backups can vary depending on an organization’s needs. Some may choose to perform them daily, while others may perform them multiple times a day or even hourly, depending on the importance of the data and the potential impact of data loss.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Incremental Backups

Advantages of Incremental Backups
  • Faster backup time: Incremental backups are faster than full backups because they only backup data that has changed since the last backup.
  • Lower bandwidth usage: Since incremental backups only backup changed data, they use less bandwidth and storage space than full backups.
  • Smaller backup windows: Since incremental backups are faster, they can be performed more frequently, allowing for more frequent backups and a smaller backup window.
  • Less resource-intensive: Incremental backups are less resource-intensive than full backups, which can help reduce system load during backup operations.
Disadvantages of Incremental Backups
  • Longer restore time: To restore data from incremental backups, you need to restore the full backup and all subsequent incremental backups in the order they were backed up. This process can take longer than restoring from a single full backup.
  • More complex restore process: Incremental backups require a more complex restore process than full backups, since you need to restore multiple backups in the correct order.
  • Greater risk of data loss: If one of the incremental backups in the backup chain becomes corrupted or lost, then you may not be able to restore all of the data.

Higher backup storage requirements: Over time, incremental backups can accumulate and require more storage space than full backups.

3.     What are Differential Backups?

Differential backups are a type of backup strategy that combines the benefits of full and incremental backups. In a differential backup, data that is backed up includes all the data that has been changed since the last full backup. This means that the initial full backup contains all the data, while subsequent differential backups capture only the changed data.

Compared to full backups, differential backups are faster because they capture only the changed data since the last full backup. However, they are slower than incremental backups because they capture more data than incremental backups, which only capture data that has changed since the last backup (full or incremental).

For example, let’s consider an organization that performs a full backup on Monday and differential backups on Tuesday till Friday. The differential backup of Tuesday will contain data changed till Tuesday, Wednesday’s backup will contain data changed on Tuesday and Wednesday, and so on up till Friday’s backup, which will contain data changed from Tuesday to Friday.

When it comes to data restoration, differential backups are faster than incremental backups. To restore data from a week’s worth of differential backups, you only need the first full backup and the last differential backup to retrieve the entire data set for the whole week. The disadvantage to this approach is that differential backups take up more storage space than incremental backups, as they contain more data.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Differential Backups

Advantages of Differential Backups
  • Faster than full backups: Differential backups are faster than full backups as they only backup the data that has changed since the last full backup.
  • Less storage space required: Differential backups require less storage space than full backups as they don’t duplicate the entire data set.
  • Easier restoration: Differential backups are easier to restore than incremental backups as you only need the first full backup and the last differential backup to retrieve the entire data set.
Disadvantages of Differential Backups
  • Longer backup time: Differential backups take longer than incremental backups as they backup more data than incremental backups.
  • More storage space required than incremental backups: While differential backups require less storage space than full backups, they require more storage space than incremental backups as they backup more data.
  • Increased risk of data loss: Differential backups pose a higher risk of data loss than incremental backups as they backup more data, and if any part of the backup chain fails, all subsequent backups in the chain may be lost.

What are Full Synthetic Backups?

Full synthetic backup is a backup strategy that combines the benefits of both full and incremental backups. The term “synthetic” refers to the process of synthesizing or combining different backups into one.

Here’s how it works:

  • The backup process starts with a full backup of all the data.
  • Subsequent backups are then performed incrementally, meaning that only the changes made since the last backup are backed up.
  • At the end of the backup chain, the incremental backups are merged with the full backup to create a “full synthetic backup”.

The main advantage of performing a synthetic backup is that it greatly reduces backup and restore times. Although data is backed up quickly using incremental backups, the restoration process can be time-consuming as you need to restore all the increments within the backup chain. Synthetic full backups, on the other hand, can be restored just like a regular full backup, which is much faster and more efficient.

In addition, synthetic backups also help to reduce storage usage and network bandwidth consumption since only the changes made since the last backup are backed up. Overall, full synthetic backups offer a great balance between backup speed, restore speed, and storage efficiency.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Full Synthetic Backups

Advantages of Full Synthetic Backups
  • Faster backup and restore times compared to full backups
  • Reduced bandwidth consumption compared to full backups
  • Reduced storage usage compared to full backups
  • Provides the ability to restore data as a full backup, eliminating the need to restore incremental backups one by one
Drawbacks of Full Synthetic Backups
  • Requires additional computing resources to merge the incremental backups into a full synthetic backup
  • Restore times can be slower than incremental backups due to the need to merge the incremental backups into a full synthetic backup during the restore process
  • In the event of a failure during the merge process, data loss may occur

May not provide the same level of granularity as incremental backups if specific changes need to be restored

Comparison: Incremental vs Full Backups vs Full Synthetic Backups

Incremental Backups versus Full Synthetic Backups

Both incremental and full synthetic backups back up data in increments, but there are differences in the restoration process.

With incremental backups, only the data that has been changed since the last full or incremental backup is backed up. This means that during data restoration, you need to restore the last full backup along with every incremental backup in the order they were backed up.

In contrast, full synthetic backups also back up data in increments but create a new full backup copy at the end of the backup chain. This means that during data restoration, you only need to restore the most recent full synthetic backup, which contains all the data that has been backed up since the last full backup.

The advantage of full synthetic backups over incremental backups is that they greatly reduce restore times, as you don’t have to restore all the increments within the backup chain. The end result is a copy of your entire data, and it doesn’t need to be restored one by one in increments.

However, full synthetic backups require more storage space and can take longer to perform than incremental backups since they need to create a new full backup copy at the end of the backup chain.

Full Backups versus Full Synthetic Backups

Full backups and full synthetic backups are both backup strategies that involve backing up all the data in an organization’s system. However, they differ in terms of how they perform backups and how much resources they consume.

A full backup takes a complete copy of an organization’s entire data set every time it is performed. This means that even if there are only minor changes to the data, the entire data set is backed up again. Full backups are therefore resource-intensive and require a lot of storage space and bandwidth to perform. However, the advantage of full backups is that they are straightforward and simple to restore. All the data is contained in a single backup set, and restoring it involves simply copying that set back onto the system.

On the other hand, full synthetic backups are a variation of incremental backups, which means that only data that has changed since the last backup is backed up. However, unlike traditional incremental backups, full synthetic backups create a final backup set that is indistinguishable from a full backup. This is achieved by merging the incremental backups with the full backup, resulting in a single backup set that contains all the data, just like a full backup.

The advantage of full synthetic backups is that they greatly reduce the amount of resources needed to perform backups. Because only changed data is backed up, full synthetic backups require less storage space and bandwidth than full backups. Additionally, because the final backup set is indistinguishable from a full backup, restoring it is as simple as restoring a full backup. However, the process of creating a full synthetic backup can be more complex and time-consuming than a full backup or traditional incremental backup, as it requires merging multiple backup sets.

While both full backups and full synthetic backups back up all the data in an organization’s system, full backups are resource-intensive but simple to restore, while full synthetic backups are less resource-intensive but may require more time and effort to create.

How StoneFly Veeam Ready Backup and DR Appliance Supports Various Backup Strategies

StoneFly DR365V is a Veeam-ready backup and disaster recovery appliance that provides a comprehensive backup solution for your critical data. It can perform all types of backups, including full, incremental, differential, and full synthetic backups. With the DR365V, you can easily create backup jobs and schedule them according to your business needs. It provides air-gapped and immutable repositories, which ensures that your backup data is secured from cyber-attacks and ransomware.

The DR365V also provides fast and reliable data recovery options. You can quickly recover data in case of accidental deletion or data corruption, ensuring that your business operations remain uninterrupted. The appliance also supports instant recovery, which allows you to run virtual machines directly from the backup repository.

Moreover, DR365V provides the capability to replicate data to secondary locations, which ensures business continuity and minimizes downtime in the event of a disaster. It provides disaster recovery options for both physical and virtual workloads, enabling you to recover your business operations with minimum downtime.

In addition, DR365V provides a scalable and flexible backup solution, making it ideal for businesses of all sizes. It provides various storage options, including cloud-based storage, enabling you to choose the storage option that best suits your business needs.

If you’re interested in learning more about the StoneFly DR365V, visit this page or contact us today to schedule a demo.

Conclusion

In conclusion, choosing the right backup strategy is crucial for protecting your valuable data against unexpected disasters. Full backups are the most reliable option but can be time-consuming and resource-intensive. Differential backups offer a faster backup process, but restoration can take longer than incremental or synthetic backups. Incremental backups are the fastest option, but restoration can be a complex process. Finally, full synthetic backups are an excellent alternative to full backups as they offer the advantages of both full and incremental backups.

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