Disaster Recovery Lessons from Tiger King: Why the 3-2-1 Rule Rules

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Click to learn more about author W. Curtis Preston.

You had to have been living under a rock to have not heard of Tiger King, Netflix’s latest true crime documentary. Watched by more than 34 million people in its first ten days, it’s the story of the self-proclaimed “Tiger King,” Joe Exotic. Spoiler alert: Don’t read this article if you plan on seeing the show, as it contains a major plot point.

A spoiler warning has been given. In one episode, viewers are shocked to find that a mysterious arsonist, later rumored to have been Joe himself, has set fire to the makeshift film studio housing all the footage for what was to be a reality TV show about Joe Exotic, as well as footage from his YouTube channel. To make matters worse, it appears that months’ worth of video footage has not been saved anywhere else and is lost forever. This episode serves as a great reminder about the importance of the 3-2-1 rule — three copies of your backup on at least two different pieces of media, one of which is stored somewhere else.

The idea behind the 3-2-1 rule is so basic and entwined in our culture that we have the phrase, “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.” Sure, it’s meant to imply something else, but the idea is the same. If you put everything all in one place — and something happens to that place — you’re not going to like the end result.

We can sympathize with Joe Exotic’s producer, Rick Kirkham, who lost all his footage, partly because we can understand how difficult it can be to get raw video footage stored in multiple places. But as with many things, it is difficult but not impossible. Even the largest data sets can be copied onsite and physically transported somewhere else, and there is hardware specifically designed to do just that.

But most companies don’t create enough data in a day to require such extreme techniques. In fact, most companies especially create such small amounts of unique data every data that a cloud-based data protection system employing source-side deduplication (which means the data is deduped before it is sent) would easily meet this need. After the initial backup, each day’s backups would identify very small pieces of data unique to that day and immediately and automatically copy it offsite without requiring anyone to lift a finger.

The shared infrastructure in the cloud allows for economies of scale that offer something for businesses of all shapes and sizes. Data protection and offsite backup are not just “nice to have.” The economics and ease of use of cloud-based data protection allow all businesses to have the hassle-free reassurance that their data is protected and backed up — without the headache, time, and money that alternatives would cost them.

Lessons Learned

Managing data is incredibly complex. With the rapid adoption of IoT devices and increased remote working due to coronavirus, data needs to be backed up from more places than ever before. The data landscape is rapidly evolving, and we need to keep track of that. This evolution has given rise to the idea of “small data sprawl” — that there is now data being created and stored in more places than ever before and the necessity of systems that can help humans distinguish the important data from the noise, so each can be treated differently. With the rise of remote working and small data sprawl on the rise, businesses need to adapt now to ensure that this data is protected — and secure — or risk losing it all like Nick in Tiger King.

This isn’t that Hard

There are simple steps businesses can follow to protect their data. First, ensure that every data protection system you employ follows the 3-2-1 rule. So many problems can be avoided if people were to simply do that. For example, they wouldn’t ask if they should back up SaaS or IaaS services if they looked at this rule. If you don’t back up these services, your data will be stored in one place by one service. It’s a disaster waiting to strike.

You can also adopt a cloud-centric protection solution. Today’s modern applications that your company might already be using (like Slack, Office365, Salesforce) rely on cloud components and cloud storage, meaning a cloud-centric backup solution is ideal for protecting the application in its entirety. 

Many cloud providers operate in multiple regions, making it much easier to comply with local regulations. In addition, cloud flexibility has the added bonus of running operations, including recreating environments from a point in time for AI reproduction or disaster recovery and identifying strange patterns cropping up in the backup data to detect the potential risk of cyber-attacks.

Additionally, businesses need to consider adopting SaaS tools to support the improvement of data protection. A lot of people avoid backup solutions because they think it’s a waste of time. “I don’t have the time to do it all myself” is a common phrase we hear. But the point is backups are the perfect service to be run by an expert in that field. SaaS providers can really add value to businesses by setting up a centralized process around cloud, compliance, and regulations. 

A SaaS solution gives you access to experts in that field who can support you in efficiently managing data, as well as ensuring its protection and security from cybercriminals, technical damage — or indeed, an accident like the fire at Joe Exotic’s zoo. Privacy and security will remain crucial in backing up as small data sprawl grows. Companies are at a greater risk than they used to be of cyber-attacks, simply because there is more data available and across more devices. SaaS tools are vital in automating several otherwise complex processes, freeing up the hands of both the business and employees — to focus on more value-added and time-consuming tasks. 

Learn from Tiger King — don’t store all your data in one place. Stick to the basics of the 3-2-1 rule and make sure it’s on multiple pieces of media, and one of them is offsite. The easiest way to do that for most businesses is a SaaS-based data protection solution. Use this time of upheaval to re-examine some of your base practices; you might be pleasantly surprised.

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