Inclusive VS Exclusive Backup Policies

Protecting your critical data is no longer the burden it once was. That online backup software you’ve hopefully installed on your computer has been faithfully protecting you day after day, and you probably never even give it a second though.

But if you open up your online backup client and fiddle around a bit, you may find that there are a number of customizable options that you can set to make your backups more efficient, more secure or more convenient.

But before you try and modify any of your settings, it’s important to consider how this will affect your backups. Although the settings you pick today might be ideal for today’s files, it’s important to consider that your computer and your data will continue to change as time goes on.

And it’s important to make sure that the settings you apply today will continue to protect you in the future.

Inclusive vs. Exclusive Backup

When it comes to setting up your backup software filters, there are 2 approaches you can take. You can be exclusive or inclusive.

An inclusive backup would involve telling the software:

  • Back up everything except for what I’ve outlined in the filters.
  • Back up all folders except for the “Program Files” folder
  • Back up all files except for movie files

An exclusive backup policy would involve telling the backup software:

  • Don’t back up anything except what I’ve outlined in the filters.
  • Only back up the “My Documents” folder
  • Only back up files produced by MS Word and Excel

Let’s suppose that your hard drive contained 5 very large files A, B, C, D and F. And you only need to back up file F, since A, B, C and D do not contain critical data.

An inclusive filter would say “Back up everything except A, B, C and D”

An exclusive backup filter would say “Only back up file F”

Which of these 2 is the better approach?

At first, the exclusive backup filter might seem like the best approach since it’s the easiest to implement. But what would happen if – 6 months from now – you created another file named E, which also contained critical data? Would you remember to change your backup filters?

With an automated backup service, you may completely forget that you even have backup software running on your computer. So it’s not very likely that you’ll remember to update it.

Think about this in terms of a real life scenario. You install your backup software and forget about it for a year. As time goes by, your computer changes in a number of ways:

  • You install new software, which saves its data files in an unusual location by default.
  • You create a new hard drive partition.
  • Your favorite program unveils a new data format, with a new file extension.
  • Your laptop hard drive fills up. And instead of upgrading you purchase a very large external hard drive and move all of your data over to this device.
  • A technician adds a new virtual machine to your datacenter without advising you.

With an exclusive backup filter, you’d have to go back and add a new rule every time one of these events occurs. And a simple mistake could end up leading to data loss.

With an inclusive backup filter, you might end up backing up more data than you actually need to. This is ok, since backing up too much is always better than backing up too little.

Inclusive filters are also good for saving you from your own mistakes.

Let’s suppose that you want to back up only word files, so you create a filter that catches all *.doc and *.docx files. Well, you may have forgotten that MS word also produces the DOTM and DOCM file extensions. And it can also save files in other formats such as PDF, HTML, and TXT. And new supported extensions are being added every year.

Although making a detailed listing of the files you DON’T want might take a lot of work and lead to larger backups, it’s generally safer and easier than constantly updating your filters to include the files you do want.

This applies to files, just as much as it applies to machines, servers, and drives. Whenever possible, back up everything by default, and then cut out as much waste as you can. And you should also revise your backup filters at least once per year when you perform your annual backup recovery tests.

Now that we’ve gone over the basics, let’s try a test.

Programs need to be installed in order to work. So backing up program files is pointless, since you can’t restore a program using only its associated files.

But your Program Files folder also contains working data for various programs, and simply excluding the entire folder would potentially exclude this critical data along with the useless working files.

This is further complicated by the fact that the Program Files folder contains a potentially infinite variety of file types, including both standard and proprietary file extensions.

So what kind of backup settings would you implement in this situation?

It’s a bit of a trick question.

First of all, critical and non-critical data should always be stored separately.

Microsoft knows this. That’s why they’ve assigned a My Documents folder for your working files, and a Program Files folder for your program files.

If you uninstall a program, you also usually end up deleting all of the files contained within the installation folder for that program. This further increases the risk of data loss if you have working files stored within that folder.

Unfortunately, software developers often save working files in the installation folder by default, because they can’t imagine the possibility that anyone would ever want to uninstall their fabulous software. As an end-user, you should make it a habit to only ever save files within your My Documents folder, or another appropriate location that designated exclusively for critical business data.

If you ever find that an application is trying to save data to its installation folder, you should immediately change this setting.

This way, you can exclude the entire Program Files folder with a single statement, without putting any critical data at risk.

The other alternative would be to simply back up the contents of Program Files folder. But we advise against this whenever possible, since eats up a lot of space on your backups without providing much value.

By now, you should have a good general overview of how to set up your backups for maximum efficiency, while also minimizing the potential for accidental data loss due to forgotten file locations.