cPanel backup guide – A fool-proof backup policy to safeguard your cPanel/WHM server

cPanel backup guide – A fool-proof backup policy to safeguard your cPanel/WHM server

What all data should I backup? How often should I backup? How long should I keep the backup data? Where should I store the backup data?

These are some of the common questions web hosts have, while deciding on a cPanel backup management system. In our role as Outsourced Tech Support for web hosts, we relieve them off such worries and implement a fool-proof backup system for their servers.

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Configuring and managing fool-proof backups is a critical activity we perform in our cPanel server management services. Here we’ll go through the most common decision points we have, while defining a cPanel backup policy.

Why take backups?

Backups take up valuable disk space. It induces server load when it runs. It just sits there gathering cobwebs with no apparent use. At least a few web hosts feel that backups can be done away with a well drafted “User’s Responsibility” in the End User Policy.

But, from our experience, we’ve understood that backup is a necessary evil. Backups do eat up server resources, but they are the safety nets that let you stay in business, even if a disaster strikes unexpectedly.

Customer data is a strategic asset. Backups allow you to bounce back to full service status after a disastrous server crash. The periodicity of backup, storage location, technology used, etc. determine how robustly we can recover from a downtime.

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What all data should I backup?

The short answer is, anything that won’t be available in a freshly installed server. This can include a lot, depending on how customized your servers are.

We determine the data to be backed up based on their importance and disk space availability too. A quick checklist is below:

  1. Customer website and email data.
  2. Configuration files and statistics data of users.
  3. Database dumps and database files.
  4. Configuration files of all services, including monitoring system, backup system, etc.
  5. Files of custom installed applications.
  6. If you use a legacy OS, its installation image.
  7. License keys, SSL certificates, or any other data of 3rd party origin.
  8. Optionally, some key logs like login data, command history, etc.

The most critical among these is customer data, especially email and database content. Those keep changing all the time, and a successful restore depends on how “fresh” the backup is.

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How often should I backup?

What to backup is determined based on how much you can use availability of backups as a marketing edge. For instance, once a week backup should be sufficient to restore your services with not too much damage to service reputation.

But if you guarantee backups to customer sites as a selling point, it needs to be run daily. For some webhosts, we even configure continuous data protection, which is then marketed as a premium service.

We usually recommend daily “incremental” backups often run during night time, as it doesn’t induce much load on the server, and gives decent coverage for those clients who need their websites restored.

By linking the daily incremental backup directory to a low-space-overhead open source backup system like rsnapshot, we extend the recovery points to a period of time.

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How long should I keep the backup data?

The duration for backup retention is determined based on how often the data changes and how critical it is in restoring a server. For example, if your server has a customized legacy operating system, the OS image has no life limit unless you migrate to a new server.

In contrast, customer email data changes almost on an hourly basis, and would be obsolete after a month. Our expert technicians recommend the following for customer data, and other frequently changing server data like usage statistics:

  1. Daily incremental backup using cPanel’s native tool to an attached backup drive, which is linked to a daily differential backup (in a central backup server using a tool like rsnapshot) for up to 14 days.
  2. Take weekly snapshots of the daily differential backup, and store them for 8 weeks (hard links and changed data used to minimize space usage).
  3. Take monthly snapshots from daily differential, and store them for 3 months.

For system specific data like service configuration files, the ideal retention period we follow is 6 months, with backups taken daily.


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