Backup, the 3-2-1 rule: Complete Guide to Data Safeguarding - ­čĆć Managed Server


February 15 2024

Backup, the 3-2-1 rule: Complete Guide to Data Safeguarding

An effective backup strategy for companies: how the 3-2-1 rule guarantees security, resilience and operational continuity in the digital world.

In the digital age, data has become one of the most valuable resources for businesses and professionals. The loss of critical data can have devastating consequences, ranging from financial loss to compromised corporate reputation. For this reason, implementing an effective backup strategy is crucial. One of the most reliable and recommended methodologies is the 3-2-1 rule. This post explores in detail what this rule means, why it is so important and how it can be implemented in practice.

What is the 3-2-1 rule?


The 3-2-1 rule is a fundamental principle in managing backups that suggests having:

  • 3 total copies of data (1 primary + 2 backups)
  • 2 different storage media (e.g. SSD and magnetic tape)
  • 1 copy off-site (Offsite)

This rule helps protect data from different types of risks, such as hardware failure, human error, malware, and natural disasters.

Why is the 3-2-1 rule important?

The 3-2-1 rule is established as a fundamental strategy in the cybersecurity landscape, offering a solid defense against a broad spectrum of potential risks that can compromise data integrity and availability. Here is a more detailed analysis of each point:

  • Protection against hardware failure: Storage devices are not immune to failure, which can be caused by wear and tear, power surges, or manufacturing defects. Diversification of storage media within the 3-2-1 rule minimizes the impact of such failures, allowing data to be restored from a healthy backup if the primary device fails. This approach significantly reduces the risk of data loss by ensuring that at least one copy of your data is always accessible for recovery.
  • Defense against ransomware and malware: Cyber ÔÇőÔÇőattacks are constantly evolving, with ransomware and malware that can encrypt or corrupt data, making it inaccessible. Off-site and cross-media backups act as a safety net, isolating backups from the primary network environment. This physical and logical separation prevents attacks that affect the corporate network from also compromising backups, allowing data to be restored to its pre-attack state and maintaining operational continuity.
  • Reduced risk of human errors: Human error remains a leading cause of data loss, including accidental deletions or improper modifications to files. By implementing the 3-2-1 rule, you ensure that you can restore previous versions of your data, allowing you to undo errors or unwanted changes. This level of redundancy ensures that inadvertent actions do not have irreversible effects, protecting the integrity of company data.
  • Recovery from natural disasters: Catastrophic events such as earthquakes, fires or floods can destroy the physical infrastructure containing company data. Having backups off-site, in geographically distant locations, ensures that data is preserved even if the main site suffers irreparable damage. This aspect of the 3-2-1 rule is crucial to ensuring business resilience, allowing operations to resume with minimal downtime after a natural disaster.

Implementation of the 3-2-1 rule

Effectively implementing the 3-2-1 rule requires not only careful planning of data and storage media management but also the selection of advanced backup technologies to ensure that data copies are secure, reliable and easily recoverable. in case of necessity. Integrating different backup technologies, such as Borg, Restic, and Kopia, can provide additional layers of protection against each technology's specific vulnerabilities and ensure greater data resilience. That's how:

Creation of three copies of the data

  • First step: The primary copy of the data is hosted on high-performance servers, preferably on SSD to maximize access speed and operational efficiency. This data is what the company or individual works on daily and represents the most updated and active version of the information managed.
  • Second step: Two backup sets should be created to replicate the data of the primary copy. This is where backup technologies like Borg, Restic and Kopia come into play:
    • Deposit: This software offers efficient deduplication, compression and encryption, making it ideal for first level backup. It can be configured to perform incremental backups, reducing the space required and backup time after the initial copy.
    • Restic: Similar to Borg in its deduplication and encryption capabilities, Restic is known for its ease of use and ability to backup to a variety of backends, including cloud services. Restic can serve as a second backup technology, offering a diversification of backup technologies.
    • copy: Kopia stands out for its modern user interface and management of shared repositories, facilitating backup in teams or corporate environments. By implementing Kopia for off-site backups, you can take advantage of its scalability and advanced management of backup policies.

Using two different storage media

  • Different supports: Using SSD for primary data, it is advisable that one of the backups (for example, the one managed by Borg) is on HDD, to benefit from a good compromise between cost and storage capacity. The second backup, perhaps the one managed by Restic, could be stored on magnetic tape or another HDD, to ensure diversity and reduce the risk of concurrent device failure.

Maintaining a copy off-site

  • Cloud and physical locations: While Kopia manages off-site backup to the cloud, ensuring accessibility and protection against physical disasters, keeping a physical storage device (such as magnetic tape or another HDD) in a different geographic location also offers an additional layer of security. This device could contain Restic backup, combining the benefits of physical resilience with those of deduplication and encryption.

This thorough implementation of the 3-2-1 rule, with the integration of multiple backup technologies and storage media, maximizes protection against a wide range of risks, from hardware failures to cyber attacks, from human errors to natural disasters. Each added layer contributes to greater data security, ensuring that the company or individual can quickly restore the information they need and maintain business continuity without significant disruption.

Practical Considerations

The practical considerations for effectively implementing the 3-2-1 rule require attention to detail and a thorough understanding of your business needs and available technology. Here is an in-depth look at each point:

  • Choosing the right cloud provider: Selecting an appropriate cloud provider is crucial to ensuring that backups are both accessible and secure. Consider the vendor's reputation, its security policies, compliance with industry regulations, and its ability to integrate seamlessly with your existing infrastructure. Evaluating the cost is also important, but it must be balanced with the quality of the service offered. A reputable vendor should offer high availability, responsive technical support, and scaling options that scale as your storage requirements grow.
  • Data encryption: Encryption is one of the most effective defenses against unauthorized access to data. Make sure the cloud provider you choose supports encryption of data in transit and at rest, using strong encryption standards. Implement your own encryption policies for backups stored on physical devices and ensure that encryption keys are managed securely and efficiently, minimizing the risk of sensitive data exposure.
  • Automation of the backup process: Automation is key to ensuring backups are performed regularly and without manual intervention, reducing the risk of human error or oversight. Select backup software that offers flexible scheduling features, compatibility with different operating systems and applications, and that can scale as your data needs grow. Automation should also include verifying backups to ensure data is intact and recoverable.
  • Regularly testing backups: Without regular testing, you can't be sure of the reliability of your backups. Schedule periodic tests to verify not only the integrity of the data, but also the practicality and effectiveness of recovery procedures. This may include restoring files or entire systems in a test environment to ensure recovery time and restore point objectives are met. Tests should be thoroughly documented, with lessons learned used to continually improve the backup and recovery process.

Implementing these practical considerations not only strengthens your backup strategy in line with the 3-2-1 rule, but also improves the overall resilience of your IT infrastructure against a wide range of data threats, ensuring business continuity under any circumstances .

Case Study: Implementing the 3-2-1 Rule in a Hosting Company


To delve deeper into the practical application of the 3-2-1 rule, let's examine the case of a hosting company that is committed to protecting its customers' critical data through a robust, multi-tiered backup strategy. This company serves as an example of how organizations can take preventative measures to ensure data resilience and business continuity.

  • Primary Copy: Critical data is hosted on high-performance servers, carefully optimized for speed and security. These servers are configured with the latest cybersecurity technologies, including advanced firewalls, intrusion prevention systems and multi-factor authentication protocols, to protect against unauthorized access and online threats. Choosing high-quality hardware and software ensures that data is accessible and secure, forming the foundation of the company's data infrastructure.
  • First Backup: By implementing a daily backup system on a NAS device connected to the company network, the company provides a second line of defense for customer data. The NAS device offers a versatile and reliable backup solution, enabling quick restores in the event of primary data loss. This level of backup benefits from internal high-speed networks, facilitating efficient data recovery without significantly impacting day-to-day operations. The RAID configuration common in NAS devices adds an additional layer of redundancy and protection.
  • Second Backup: The decision to transfer a copy of data to magnetic tape on a weekly basis introduces a long-term preservation method that is known for its durability and resistance to degradation. Magnetic tape, while a more traditional technology, remains an economical and reliable choice for storing large volumes of data. This approach highlights the company's commitment to a diversified backup strategy, reducing reliance on a single media type and mitigating risks associated with hardware failure and physical damage.
  • Off-Site Backup: Using a reliable cloud service to maintain an up-to-date copy of your data in a distant geographic location is a critical safeguard against natural disasters or accidents that could compromise your primary data center. This off-site copy ensures that in the event of extreme events such as earthquakes, fires or floods, the company can quickly restore critical data and maintain operations without significant disruption. Choosing a cloud provider that offers high availability, scalability, and compliance with data privacy regulations highlights the importance of a strategic partnership in long-term data protection.

Through this comprehensive strategy, the hosting company demonstrates a commitment to the security and availability of customer data by implementing the 3-2-1 rule in a way that provides optimal protection in various risk scenarios. This multi-layered approach not only ensures superior data resilience, but also strengthens customers' confidence in the company's ability to protect their valuable information.


The 3-2-1 rule represents a comprehensive backup strategy that offers a balance between security, accessibility and cost. Implementing this rule may seem challenging at first, but the benefits in terms of resilience and data protection are invaluable. With the rise of digital threats and growing dependency on data, adopting the 3-2-1 rule is not just recommended, it's essential for any organization looking to protect its digital assets.

Remember, data loss can happen at any time, and the cost of not being prepared is infinitely greater than the time and resources invested in creating and maintaining a robust backup plan. The 3-2-1 rule offers a clear guideline for navigating the complex data security landscape, ensuring your business can withstand and recover quickly from any unexpected event.

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