We’re firmly of the opinion that chain-free backups are a smarter, more modern solution for backups and recovery than a chain-based solution.


Not utterly convinced yet? Keep on reading while we explain the differences between the two options, and why chain-free is the way to be.


What is chain-based backup?


When you’re talking about backup solutions for an IT environment, the most important considerations are data integrity and time to recover. You want to be sure that your data is safe and secure whether it’s being stored and held on-premises or on the cloud, and that if you have a cyberattack or an event of data loss, you can get business up and running as quickly as possible from your backups. You also need to make sure that your backups aren’t costing you too heavily, and sometimes that can be a bit of a balancing act.


For example, a full backup is the most secure, ensuring that every single day, all of your data is backed up. No need to worry about an attack on your backups, as you always have a complete store of all your files and information. However, that doesn’t mean it’s the smartest solution. A full backup is very heavy resource-wise, and will quickly add up in terms of unnecessary storage. You really only need what’s changed since the day before. This is where the idea of chain-based backup came from.


The most traditional type of chain-based backup is forward facing. This is a form of incremental backup, where each backup relies on the one beforehand. This reduces the amount of data that needs to be backed up each time, as only the changes from when the data was last backed up are uploaded.


The challenges of this approach are that attacks are not always obvious, so if data corruption occurs at any point, any back ups that take place after the infection could be lossed. As the data is held together by a chain, all of your data from the attack forward could be completely corrupt. Once you realize this, some data might be lost altogether, and you would need to start a new backup from scratch, a lengthy and expensive process.


Potential cons of chain-based backup


Reverse-chain architecture relies on the base image, the first backup that is completed. The base image will be constantly updated with the new data. That means that if a malware injection happens, you lose the integrity of all the data that has been uploaded previously. All backup data that has been stored previously to the corruption will be completely unusable and lost.


Whether your chain-based backup is forward or reverse-chain-dependent, you’re opening yourself up to risk. This is why chain-based backups have strong compliance limitations. For example, if you work in the healthcare industry, 12-24 months is the limit on how long you can use chain-based backup without starting again from scratch to keep to HIPAA requirements. As an MSP for example, you will need to do this for every single customer, which can be a huge storage headache, and cost heavily in terms of resources and time.


Can’t I consolidate my backups into fewer chains?


One popular response to the challenges of chain-based backups is to consolidate your backups into a fewer number of links. Instead of hourly backups, you have a daily backup, and instead of daily, you could have it weekly or monthly. It’s important to realize that this will slow down recovery in the event of an incident, as you can’t restore from an exact point in time — you’ve lost your granularity.


What is chain-free backup?


In a modern backup solution, chains are a thing of the past. Instead of using chains, data is stored in a native virtualizable state on the cloud, with the help of a pointer array algorithm. Each recovery point is entirely independent of the last one, and the next one. No chains as far as the eye can see. As you’re still using incremental backups, you reduce the amount of data you’re storing down to the minimum, unlike the resource-heavy nature of full backups. As there is no duplicate backup at all, you can rely on a much smaller amount of storage, without the need for a storage ‘cushion’, just in case. You know exactly how much storage you’ll need — and it increases by exactly what you need, and no further.


As well as the lack of storage bloat, if an attack occurs, the damage is limited to just a single backup or data block. This can be isolated to prevent the spread of the attack, and deleted independently without impacting the rest of your backups. The rest of your files and data can be restored with immediate effect. While chain-based backups are linked to a base image, this chain-free approach has no base image requirements at all, making it much less complex to restore data. Altogether, chain-free backups mean no data loss, no reseeding, and no waiting around for data to be recovered.


Individual data blocks seamlessly help you in meeting your compliance regulations and responsibilities, helping you to shorten your recovery time, get the business up and running much faster after an incident, and keeping you covered in case of an audit, as you have no dependencies on your backups whatsoever.


Chain-free backup through Atera and Axcient


At Atera, we integrate with Axcient for chain-free backup, giving you access to the x360 Recover Direct-to-Cloud solution. Not only does this provide you with robust, chain-free backup, but you also gain Autoverify, Virtual Office, Local Cache, and AirGap technology, all from the same platform. You can choose between 500GB of cloud storage for just $6 per month per device, or supercharge your subscription to a server license with 5TB of cloud storage for $60 per device per month.


Check out more info about Atera’s integrations, right here.

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