Chain-Free Backups

A modern chain-free backup solution can replace legacy chain-based backups, but what does that mean? Why is it important? And how does it affect an MSP’s ability to restore client data? In this post, we’re taking a deep dive into today’s backup technology, how it has changed, and what that means for business continuity and disaster recovery (BCDR).

What is Chain-Based Backup?

When you’re talking about backup solutions for an IT environment, the most important considerations are data integrity and time to recover. You want to be sure that your data is safe and secure whether it’s being stored and held on-premises or on the cloud, and that if you have a cyberattack or an event of data loss, you can get business up and running as quickly as possible from your backups. You also need to make sure that your backups aren’t costing you too heavily, and sometimes that can be a bit of a balancing act.

For example, a full backup is the most secure, ensuring that every single day, all of your data is backed up. No need to worry about an attack on your backups, as you always have a complete store of all your files and information. However, that doesn’t mean it’s the smartest solution. A full backup is very heavy resource-wise, and will quickly add up in terms of unnecessary storage. You really only need what’s changed since the day before. This is where the idea of chain-based backup came from.

The most traditional type of chain-based backup is forward facing. This is a form of incremental backup, where each backup relies on the one beforehand. This reduces the amount of data that needs to be backed up each time, as only the changes from when the data was last backed up are uploaded.

The challenges of this approach are that attacks are not always obvious, so if data corruption occurs at any point, any back ups that take place after the infection could be lossed. As the data is held together by a chain, all of your data from the attack forward could be completely corrupt. Once you realize this, some data might be lost altogether, and you would need to start a new backup from scratch, a lengthy and expensive process.

Cons of Chain-Based Backups

Chain-based infrastructures can be structured both forward or in reverse. 

Data Loss

Chain-based backup data is only useable if it is touching the first backup or the ‘base image.’ 

Reverse-chain architecture relies on the base image. The base image will be constantly updated with the new data. That means that if a malware injection happens, you lose the integrity of all the data that has been uploaded previously. All backup data that has been stored previously to the corruption will be completely unusable and lost.

Whether your chain-based backup is forward or reverse-chain-dependent, you’re opening yourself up to risk. This is why chain-based backups have strong compliance limitations. For example,  the most recent backup was today but unfortunately, corruption occurred in a backup a few days ago. It now no longer has an intact dependency or link to the base image, so the chain is broken. As a result, all backup data stored before the corruption is lost. Thus, when you rely on chain-based backups, you risk losing everything before and after the accidental deletion, hardware failure, corruption, or malware attack.

Failed Backups

Some chain-based technology includes alert settings to notify if backups appear invalid for any reason. However, sometimes backups can appear normal even after a break in the chain. Imagine discovering that a month’s worth of hourly backups – hundreds of backups – have all failed. Because chain-based backups require consolidated data from older links in the chain to be valid, all of these backups are lost, and the data is unusable.

To solve for this common problem, some chain-based technologies come with ‘consolidated daily’ or ‘consolidated monthly’ backups to create fewer links susceptible to breakage. So hourly backup links are reduced from 24 links in the chain down to just one. Some technology can even consolidate a whole year of backups into just one link. The problem with consolidation, however, is it reduces backup granularity. When you consolidate, you lose the ability to restore from an exact point in time, thus increasing downtime and the complexity required to restore client data.

Compliance Costs, Data Storage and Reseeding

From a compliance standpoint, chain-based backups threaten adherence to HIPAA standards and legal regulations that require multi-year backup retention. Therefore, chain-based architectures should never go on past 12-24 months. With a 24-month maximum, the sheer quantity of backups to maintain and store is enormous.

For MSPs to meet industry compliance standards with chain-based backups, they have to go to each client and start from scratch every year. A tracking system is also necessary for the appliances or storage media holding data. Technicians have to go on-site, copy the data, migrate and store it somewhere else, and start the chain from scratch. Obviously, the time, technician expertise, storage resolution, and reseeding adds substantial costs to your MSP.

What is Chain-Free Backup

In a modern backup solution, chains are a thing of the past. Instead of using chains, data is stored in a native virtualizable state on the cloud, with the help of a pointer array algorithm. Each recovery point is entirely independent of the last one, and the next one. No chains as far as the eye can see. As you’re still using incremental backups, you reduce the amount of data you’re storing down to the minimum, unlike the resource-heavy nature of full backups. As there is no duplicate backup at all, you can rely on a much smaller amount of storage, without the need for a storage ‘cushion’, just in case. You know exactly how much storage you’ll need — and it increases by exactly what you need, and no further.


As well as the lack of storage bloat, if an attack occurs, the damage is limited to just a single backup or data block. This can be isolated to prevent the spread of the attack, and deleted independently without impacting the rest of your backups. The rest of your files and data can be restored with immediate effect. While chain-based backups are linked to a base image, this chain-free approach has no base image requirements at all, making it much less complex to restore data. Altogether, chain-free backups mean no data loss, no reseeding, and no waiting around for data to be recovered.

Individual data blocks seamlessly help you in meeting your compliance regulations and responsibilities, helping you to shorten your recovery time, get the business up and running much faster after an incident, and keeping you covered in case of an audit, as you have no dependencies on your backups whatsoever.

Due to that Chain-Free Backups have the following advantages: 

  • Unlimited Storage: Now that storage or data bloat is never a problem – because there isn’t any duplicated backup data being created – there’s no risk of surprise overages, large storage space requirements, or ‘just in case’ storage. There is no need for a vendor to limit your storage with a chain-free solution. 


  • Custom and Secure Retention: Easily meet multi-year compliance standards and shorten recovery time with always-available backup data. Because the points of failure don’t increase with each backup, since there are no dependencies to break, each backup is entirely independent, forwards, backwards, upwards, sideways, and any other direction.


  • Near-Instant Recovery: No chains means no base image requirements for restore, no consolidation, and no staging space. This significantly reduces the complexity of recovery to keep clients’ businesses running with uninterrupted business continuity.


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