What Is Differential Data Backup and Why Is It Important?

Data backup is essential for HIPAA covered entities to comply with the regulation. Full back, incremental backup and differential backup strategies explained.

Data backup is essential for all HIPAA covered entities to comply with the strict HIPAA Rules for data protection. As such, devising an optimal backup strategy that keeps your electronic protected health information (ePHI) safe and secure at all times is essential. And when it comes to your backup strategy, you essential have three options – full backup, differential backup, and incremental backup.

Loss of data can be devastating to businesses. IBM’s Cost of a Data Breach 2021 report puts the average cost of a data breach at $4.24 million, with healthcare businesses incurring the highest costs ($9.3 million).

Infographic showing costs of not implementing Differential backups on sites

(Image source: ibm.com)

The report identifies that records that contain personally identifiable information (PII) was the most common and also the costliest type of record that gets lost or stolen – included in 44% of data breaches and costing $180 per record.

Infographic showing consequences of not applying Differential backups on businesses

(Image source: ibm.com)

A further finding is that the shorter the lifecycle of a data disaster, the better. A breach lasting under 200 days costs 30% less than one with a lifecycle of longer than 200 days.

Infographic showing the longer a Differential Backup not carried out the more cost risks associated

(Image source: ibm.com)

With such high stakes – and with further research revealing that 40% of businesses do not reopen after a data disaster (and 90% fail within two years) – the importance of backups cannot be overstated.

In this post, we’ll explore the differences between full, differential and incremental backups, and establish why differential backup is central to a robust database backup plan.

What Is a Full Data Backup?

As you can probably surmise form the name, a full backup is the process of making a copy of all your data to a storage device. The storage device could be on-premises disks or tapes, though more commonly and reliably today in the cloud.

Indeed, cloud-based backup systems with disaster recovery (DR) are by far the most efficient and effective type of backup. This is because cloud backups exist off-premises. This means that no matter what happens to your local files, your backups are always maintained in a remote location, from where you can conduct a full data restore immediately should the unthinkable happen.

Full backups to the cloud offer the very best data protection – because every single piece of your data is backed up and available for a complete restore.

There are drawbacks to full backups, however. Backup time for a full backup is lengthy – especially if you were to attempt to conduct a full backup of your entire file systems on a daily basis – and require more storage space than other types of backup.

Image showcasing details & differences of a Full Backup within this Differential Backup article

(Image source: 10web.io)

Because of these drawbacks, most organizations don’t do full daily backups. Instead, they do a full backup only on a periodic basis – and augment their strategy with incremental and/or differential backups.

What Is an Incremental Backup? 

Incremental backups are a backup method that is a much more practical and efficient solution than creating daily full backups.

Using specialized backup software, rather than backing up all of your data afresh every single day, you simply back up only the data that has changed since the last backup.

For example – you perform a full backup on Monday. On Tuesday, you run an incremental backup – which backs up only the data that has changed since Monday. On Wednesday you run another incremental backup, which backs up data that has changed since Tuesday – and so on and so forth.

Image detailing out steps of an Incremental Backup within this Differential Backup article

(Image source: 10web.io)

What Is a Differential Backup? 

Differential backups are sometimes confused with incremental backups – but there is a crucial difference.

Each time you run a differential backup, you’re backing up all changes that have been made since the last full backup – not just the last partial backup (be it incremental or differential).

For example, on Monday you run a full backup. On Tuesday, you run a differential backup, which backs up all changes to your data that have occurred since Monday, as would happen with an incremental backup. On Wednesday, however, you run another differential backup, and this backs up any data that has changed since the last full backup on Monday – including the changes on Tuesday.

On Thursday, you run another differential backup, and this, again, backs all changes that been made since Monday – including those made on Tuesday and Wednesday.

This cycle repeats until you run a full backup again.

Image showing the steps of a Differential Backup

(Image source: 10web.io)

The Advantages of Differential Backup

There are several advantages of implementing a differential backup strategy to protect your organization against the loss of data.

These are:

  • Backup time is faster than full backup
  • Less storage space is required than for daily full backups
  • Data restoration time – and therefore disaster recovery time – is faster than with incremental backups, as only two backup containers are required to recover your files

UnisonBDR: Robust Cloud Backup and Recovery from CDS

It is the responsibility of all HIPAA compliant businesses to have a reliable backup and recovery strategy to protect against the loss of patient data. This means you need to run frequent backups with a HIPAA compliant cloud storage provider.

With Central Data Storage, our backup and recovery solution, UnisonBDR, is designed for any business with a view toward protecting their data assets and preventing disaster. When you backup with UnisonBDR, our system can get your business back up and running in just two hours – and we can complete a full data restore within 24 hours in the event of a data disaster. With CDS, you can always restore your entire file history – every single version – to any device when you need it.

Download our Backup and Recovery Guidebook to learn more about building a robust backup strategy or check out UnisonBDR. To find out more about our solutions, call 1-888-907-1227, or email info@centraldatastorage.com

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