How to Test Backups

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Is my backup working?  The key question with backups is “will I be able to restore my data when I need it”?  Obviously there is no point doing backups if you can’t restore the data when you need to. Imagine if you learned How To Backup, but then after your hard work setting up your backup process when you first needed to get your data back the backups were broken and you were still without your data.  The only way to protect against this is to test your backups regularly, so that you not only know How To Backup but also how to successfully restore your data when you need it.

How to Test Your Backup – What to Watch Out For

There are a couple of things to watch out for – these are the things that will bite you!  Keep an eye out for them so you are less likely to lose data:

  1. The file was never backed up!  You need to check that all of the things that you want backed up are actually being backed up – such as folders, files, databases etc. This testing needs to be done in three places – check the backup set to make sure the relevant data is listed/included, then check backup reports to see that those things have been backed up, then do restore tests from those directories to make sure you can get the data back.
  2. The data won’t recover correctly! You need to test to make sure that the things that are backed up can actually be recovered.  You will learn below how to plan and do backup tests (just as important as learning how to backup).

The only way to be sure – Test Regularly

The only way to tell if your backups are working is to actually get hold of a copy of your recent backup (either get the tape or hard drive, or login to your online backup service) and see if the data can be restored correctly.  This may be difficult or impossible if you have complicated tape systems or filled hard drives, but testing your backups is such an important activity that it really is worth finding some way so that you can perform a test restore. If you feel that such testing is unnecessary, ask yourself if you are ready to face the backup challenge: would you feel comfortable erasing your hard disk right now, and restoring it from your backups? If not, then think again.

How often to test restore of your backups?

This is the big question.  Obviously with complicated old tape systems you will find it hard to test your backups, especially when the tapes are located somewhere off site.  But the timing of backup testing should not be informed by how tough it is to do, but how important the data is – ie. if the data is priceless then test very often… Commonly every three months is the longest you should leave the testing of your backups if you are a small business.  If you have super-critical data then maybe you should do a test restore a bit more often.  Online backup or cloud backup services are great because they have very simple mechanisms for testing restores.

How to Do a Backup Test

Follow these simple steps to do a backup test:

  1. Check the list of what is being backed up.  Look in your backup software to see what is being backed up.  Make sure all of the things that you can’t do without are listed there.
  2. Check the recent logs of what is being backed up.  Look in your last couple of days of logs or email results to see what is actually being backed up.  Make sure all of the things that you can’t do without are listed there.
  3. Look at the list of what is stored within your backups.  If your software
  4. Prepare a backup test.  Open your backup software and go to the restore area.  Note that if you are using complex backup strategies using tape systems, this will require specialist technical knowledge, so make sure you consult the technical people.
  5. Make sure that you test your restore to a temporary location.  Most backup software packages will let you do this.  If your software does not let you restore a test to a temporary or alternate location, then you can do a test by backing up a test folder of stuff, then deleting that test folder and doing a restore.

The aim of these tests is to make sure that you can get the data back that you have backed up.

Regular tests to maintain backup success

One thing that catches out computer users with their backups is that often you create new data or make a change on your computer and as a result the data is not covered by your  backups.  As a result you might find that if in the unfortunate situation of losing your data, you may not be able to get it back. The most common situation in Australia for this is the data files for MYOB.  When MYOB brings out a new version of their software, they commonly create (automatically) a new folder or directory to store MYOB in.  This combined with the default storage of MYOB data files within the MYOB directory itself means that you may have a new folder with all of your accounting files in it that is not backed up. What you need to do is to remember backups whenever you change software or create new places for your data.  You should check your backup software to see if the new data is actually being backed up (and add it in if it is not).  You should then do test restores to make sure it is working.

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