3 Main Data Backup Types Explained

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The suitability of backup types depends on an organization’s data protection strategy. Check the differences between types of backups to use them efficiently.

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The efficiency of an organization’s data protection strategy relies on multiple factors such as the amount of data to process and store, storage space availability, recovery objectives, and hardware performance. Another important choice to make when figuring out the suitable approach is the type of backup to use. In this post, we answer the following questions:


  • What is a backup?
  • What are the different types of data backups that are performed?
  • Which type of backup is the simplest to do, but takes the most storage space?
  • Which backup type is the most suitable for an SMB or enterprise?
  • How to implement an efficient backup strategy?


If you are familiar with the topic and need the answer to the last question on the list right away, take a look at the NAKIVO backup solution. A reliable backup and recovery strategy can be organically integrated into your organization’s IT environment with contemporary data protection software.

What Is a Backup?

A backup is a duplicate copy of production data. Backups are stored separately to be used for recovery when the original data is inaccessible, corrupted or lost. Even a person not familiar with the world of professional IT should know that definition nowadays because of the value of digital data.

What Are the 3 Types of Backups?

The three main types of backups are:


  • Full backup
  • Differential backup
  • Incremental backup


They are differ in terms of the amount of data backed up every time, storage space required to keep backups and recovery time. Finding the proper balance between those parameters can increase the effectiveness of the entire data protection strategy in your organization.


A closer look at every backup type can help you understand their advantages and disadvantages, and choose the right approach, taking into account the needs of your organization.

Full backup

A full backup is the oldest approach that is still relevant for the entire IT industry in 2022. These backups are simple – all the data stored and generated by the organization is backed up once in a given period.


The undisputed advantage of full backups is the recovery time. Restoring the data from a full backup is significantly faster compared to other backup types. However, shorter recovery time objectives (RTOs) have a price.


The full backup approach is about copying the data entirely. Every bit recorded and available on the organization’s storage disks is copied to the backup file. When you create a new recovery point, the number of data duplicates also increases. Additionally, creating full backups requires the hardware to process large data volumes during every backup session and requires very large storage capacity.


Consequently, concentration on full backups enables the organization to benefit from quick recovery time in exchange for the significantly increased hardware load during backup sessions. Plus to that, backup workflow duration, network bandwidth and increased storage capacity requirements should also be calculated when building a data protection strategy around full backups.

Differential backup

A differential backup is about backing up data blocks created or changed since the last full backup. To restore data from a differential backup, you need only the latest full backup and the last differential backup copy. The load on the network and hardware during backup workflows is reduced as well. Differential backups are intermediate, balancing the speed of backup and recovery workflows of full and incremental types.


To sum up, a differential backup provides you with more flexibility and has moderate hardware and disk space requirements. Still, you might not want to do these backups more frequently than once a day, regarding the data duplicates that are still created with differential backups. The backup window can be extended as well, especially when your organization operates large data volumes.

Incremental backup

Incremental backups work differently. First, a regular full backup is created. After that, the backup infrastructure records only the data blocks that have been changed since the last restore point, either after a full or incremental backup session. As a result, your hardware doesn’t need to process and copy large volumes of data during multiple backup workflows.


An incremental backup is the newest among the three main types described in this post. Incremental backups were designed to optimize the use of a network, hardware resources and storage space.


The much smaller amount of data to record for incremental backups means savings in storage space, hardware performance, power consumption and network load. Moreover, the backup window becomes much shorter, improving the overall stability of your organization’s IT infrastructure.


What is the cost? An incremental backup takes much longer to recover the required data. To restore an item, you need to have the most recent full backup along with the entire set of incremental backups recorded since then.

Which Backup Type to Pick?

The question should be slightly rephrased: what is the best backup type to use? However, the fact that every type has definable strengths and weaknesses makes the choice unobvious.


Building a data protection strategy exclusively around full backups can be efficient for SMBs and other organizations not storing more than 1-2 TB of data. In that case, full backup windows can remain short with minimal impact on production performance. At the same time, the organization keeps the ability to meet tight RTO requirements.


Differential backups would play well for the organizations that have large data volumes to back up but need moderately fast recovery. For example, when the organization’s recovery point objective (RPO) is 24 hours and the regulatory requirements demand to restore critical data within 60 minutes, a differential backup is a suitable choice.


Incremental backups work excellently when your goal is to have numerous recovery points for large amounts of data, minimize storage space requirements and performance gaps. An incremental backup is the option for enterprise companies with dozens of terabytes of data they need to protect.


However, the choice becomes easier when you pick a contemporary all-in-one data protection solution, such as NAKIVO Backup & Replication. These solutions can help you automate data backup and recovery while enabling you to customize the workflows according to your needs. Set full backups of the organization’s IT environment to run once in a week, month, or year. And use incremental backups where more recovery points are required. Hybrid and automated approaches increase flexibility to adjust data protection processes to the needs of every particular organization.


Three main types of backups are: full, differential and incremental. The difference between the types lies in the amount of data processed and duplicated to create every backup copy. Additionally, every backup type poses certain requirements regarding the hardware performance, network bandwidth, and storage space.


The choice of the most suitable backup type depends on the organization’s needs. However, contemporary backup software solutions can offer you hybrid approaches and combined advantages.

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Kokou Adzo

Kokou Adzo is a stalwart in the tech journalism community, has been chronicling the ever-evolving world of Apple products and innovations for over a decade. As a Senior Author at Apple Gazette, Kokou combines a deep passion for technology with an innate ability to translate complex tech jargon into relatable insights for everyday users.

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