Manual server backups are a cost-effective way to ensure operational continuity in case of disaster. While they will not prevent disasters, manual backups will ensure you can quickly resume operations if anything terrible happens to your server.
Servers today are a vital pillar of our digital world. They store data, run applications, and help businesses operate more efficiently. However, as a core infrastructure component, they are also coming under increasing risk of cyberattacks and other vulnerabilities.
Most servers will come with some automated backup features. However, these are typically generic solutions that may not suit your needs. Manual server backups are less convenient, but they are a cost-effective way of ensuring that you protect the correct data.
1. Web Host File Managers
You can use one of several ways to create copies of your server files manually. The simplest way for those using hosted servers is to use your web hosting control panel. This Windows-like environment often has a File Manager that lets you quickly copy and move files.
Here's how it works:
- Log in to your web hosting control panel and look for the utility called “File Manager.”
- Select the files you wish to back up, then right-client and choose “copy.” A pop-up window will appear, asking where you want to copy the file. It's best to create an empty directory as your backup location before copying your files.
- Once you've created copies of all the necessary files you can download these copies to your computer as an external backup.
2. FTP Client
Although the web hosting control panel is convenient, it does have some disadvantages. File Transfer Protocol (FTP) clients are often much faster and support more commands. A good FTP client like FileZilla offers robust control over your server files.
Here's how the process works:
- Download and install an FTP client on your computer. Consider using FileZilla for this since it's free.
- Run the FTP application and connect to your server. You will need your server IP address, port number, and login details for your FTP account. Check with your hosting provider if you need help determining where to get this information.
- From here on, the FTP client works much the same as Windows Explorer. You can copy, move, and even download files to your computer from the server.
3. Manual Backups Using the WHCP
Backups using the File Manager or an FTP client have one main weakness. They typically don't have the option to create a database backup. For anyone who runs a web application like WordPress, that can be very inconvenient.
Thankfully, most web hosting control panels like cPanel include a backup feature that you can run on demand. The cPanel backup tool lets you back up your web files and the associated database.
Best of all, you can easily use the same tool to restore your website from any existing backups.
Here's how it works:
- Log in to your cPanel account on your hosted server.
- Launch the “Backup” tool and click on “Download a Home Directory Backup.” A popup window will then appear, asking where you wish to save the backup on your computer.
- Next, select the database you want to back up under the “Download a MySQL Database Backup” header. Remember to create a database backup that matches the website you're backing up.
cPanel also provides another option to download a complete account backup. However, this option is mainly for migrating your cPanel account. You cannot restore a website using this backup file.
4. Disk Imaging
In some cases, you may have direct access to the physical server. For scenarios like this, you can use disk imaging, which creates a copy of the entire server – files, databases, configurations, and all.
Disk imaging is a potent form of backup that reliably duplicates the entire server file ecosystem, including the operating system. Not only can it be used to restore a server, but you can also use this method to replicate the server quickly.
Here's how disk imaging with Clonezilla works:
- Download Clonezilla onto an external source. This source can be a writable CD and drive, thumb drive, or external drive.
- Insert the Clonezilla drive into your server and reboot, selecting the Clonezilla drive as your boot drive. You must provide details like language and keyboard layout during the process.
- Select the operation mode for Clonezilla. For disk imaging, this means option 1, which allows clones or restoration of data from previously cloned images.
- Choose where to copy the cloned image. It is best to pre-determine the location and avoid existing containers on your server.
- Name the image and proceed with the imaging process.
Although Clonezilla is powerful, there may be better options for manual server backups. The interim reboots mean an interruption to services. Depending on your server, this may result in undesirable levels or service disruption to ongoing operations.
5. Cloud Backups
Another convenient way of backing up your server is by using Cloud backups. This option is versatile since the process can usually be automated, manual, or both. There are also many Cloud backup providers available from which to choose.
The downside is that different Cloud backup providers may support varying systems. One versatile solution is iDrive, which supports many server backup options. You can protect specific applications or whole servers. You can also create custom backup scripts specifically targeted to your needs.
There are many similar Cloud backup services like iDrive, all of which have a range of backup capabilities. The backup process will differ depending on your choice of service provider.
Web Hosts with Great Backup Features
Web hosts generally offer a widely varying mix of backup and recovery features. Some may try to cut costs by limiting these “less obvious” advantages. However, remember that failure to have a good backup plan can result in disaster for your website.
Over the years, I've noted some hosts with great pre-existing backup options that cover the best of both worlds – automated and manual server backups. If you're concerned about having the right backup tools in place, here are some good hosting choices;
One of the most reputable hosting brands, A2 Hosting offers a good range of backup features across all product lines. Managed VPS users even have an A2 Cloud backup option.
Another strong brand in the web hosting space, ScalaHosting comes highly recommended for many reasons. ScalaHosting's Shared and Managed VPS users, for example, get auto daily backups and the freedom to restore their data for the past 7 backup cycles. Also – thanks to their in-house built control panel (sPanel), manual backups can also be done in a few clicks.
Hosting may be budget-oriented but offers a decent range of backup options. Almost all of their hosting plans come with daily backups. You can also carry out manual backups using multiple tools.
Why Should I Back Up My Server Manually?
While automated backups are convenient, they are often generic solutions that work on several assumptions. These assumptions may prove dangerous, especially when your backups can significantly impact your options during disaster recovery.
Manual backups provide more control over what you duplicate and when you create those duplicates. That, in turn, is important for some backup KPI elements like version control. It is also essential to have snapshots of servers at specific points in time, which can help roll back changes or track specific versions of the data.
Finally, manual backups provide flexibility to customize backups to meet specific needs, for example, by backing up only specific data types or excluding certain files. This flexibility can be helpful in cases where storage space or bandwidth is limited.
Best Practices for Manual Server Backups
Manual server backups are generally done ad-hoc. However, it's always best to have a process that ensures your manual backups work as part of a more robust and comprehensive backup policy.
Follow these guidelines to ensure that your manual backups can play an effective role in ensuring your operational continuity;
Use Manual Backups to Fill Gaps
When creating a backup schedule, it's essential to choose a frequency that works for you. Plan manual backups to fill gaps your automated backup schedule may miss. For example, create a manual backup before and after the process if you're rolling out a new feature or update.
Store Backups Securely
When backing up your server, storing backups in a secure location is crucial. You don't want to keep backups on the same server as your original data since a server failure could affect both your original data and your backups.
Even data centers can be prone to disaster, as the OVHcloud data center fire showcases.
Test Your Backups
One of the most important things you can do is to test your backups. Refrain from assuming that your backups work just because you're creating them. Test them regularly by restoring your data to a different location or another server to ensure that your backup data is complete and accurate.
Keep Track of Backup History
It's crucial to keep a record of your backup history to ensure you can trace the data's location and version. This record will make it easy for you to find and restore specific data or a particular version of the data in case of any data loss or corruption. Create a backup log or a table that records the backup's date, time, and location.
Regularly Review and Update Your Backup Strategy
Regular reviews will help you identify potential weaknesses in your backup strategy and ensure that your backup strategy keeps up with changes to your server and data.
Final Thoughts & Read More
Completing Your Backup Game Plan
Manual backups are an important yet often missing link in comprehensive backup strategies. You can exercise better control over your data by doing manual backups and benefit from better data integrity, version control, and flexibility.