3-2-1 vs. 3-2-1-1-0 vs. 4-3-2 - different backup strategies explained

Having a backup means not having a backup - at least the various backup strategies that I will explain to you in this guide are based on this truism. Because backups are always important - in case the computer suddenly gives up the ghostif your data is blocked by ransomware due to a hack or if another situation makes regular access to the hard drive impossible. In the following you will find explanations of the 3-2-1 backup, the 3-2-1-1-0 backup and the 4-3-2 backup strategy. What looks like higher mathematics is basically very easy to understand.

Saving backups on Backblaze: View the cloud offer here

What exactly is behind the 3-2-1 backup rule, the 3-2-1-1-0 backup rule and the 4-3-2 backup rule? Here you will find an explanation of the various strategies for data backup. So your files and hard drives are preserved even if the MacBook breaks.
What exactly is behind the 3-2-1 backup rule, the 3-2-1-1-0 backup rule and the 4-3-2 backup rule? Here you will find an explanation of the various strategies for data backup. So your files and hard drives are preserved even if the MacBook breaks.

The 3-2-1 rule that is slowly dying out

The 3-2-1 backup rule is easy to remember due to the sequence of numbers, but no longer fits so well into our all-round technical world. It says that you should save 3 copies of the data on 2 data carriers, of which 1 medium should be stored externally. The rule arose in connection with data backup for photographers. A version of the data should be on the computer or the hard drive that is mainly used. The second version on an external HDD hard drive and within reach. The third version should be stored externally on tape or as a negative. 

In times of SSD storage media, USB sticks, cloud storage and the like, this is of course outdated. But also with a view to more extensive attack possibilities from outside, it is better to have more copies of the most important data on hand. Because where a few years or decades ago a failing hard drive was the greatest danger for some, there is now Ransomware and similar external disruptive factors are far more susceptible to worrying about. And even without hack attacks, the backup hard drive can fail as well as the computer. So what?

The 3-2-1-1-0 backup strategy that is more secure

This brings us to the 3-2-1-1-0 strategy for backups, which should be more secure. Because there are 3 copies, of which are stored on 2 different storage media. No. 1 of this goes to an external location (e.g. in the cloud) and No. 2 is stored offline (external hard drive or similar). It must be ensured that none of the data versions has an error - this is where the zero comes from, it stands for 0 errors. The 3-2-1-1-0 backup rule is intended to ensure that an error-free offline copy of the data is still available even in the event of a local computer failure and an external cloud failure. 

With the offline copy, you can continue working on another computer in an extreme emergency. If your data backup plan is not about work, then you can also use this rule for your family photos, videos, scanned or digitally received documents and so on. So whether in the company, in the home office or for use in private - with the 3-2-1-1-0 rule for backups you are even safer on the move than with the aforementioned 3-2-1 rule, which has been overtaken. Tip: If you save bootable backups on the external hard drive, you can use it to set up a Mac or PC again and continue using it as usual.

The 4-3-2 strategy that should be new and even safer

Unfortunately, the zero is missing here, which shows that none of the data copies should have errors. But probably that's just assumed. The sequence of numbers stands for 4 copies in 3 locations, two of which should be external. An example: You have your original on your Mac or PC and the first copy at hand - two copies in one place. The third copy goes to a cloud, i.e. to the first external location. The fourth copy goes to the second external location, for example another cloud, in the company network or on an external hard drive that you store elsewhere. 

The 4-3-2 backup strategy was developed according to Backblaze from their IT security partners, the company Continuity Centers. The advantages were only communicated in 2021 at an industry conference. That's why you can find the most up-to-date information on the Website of the provider for the online backup. Which of the presented strategies suits your work, your setup or the management of your private files better? Feel free to leave a comment on it - even if you know other strategies for secure backups that can supplement the options shown here!

Get Backup Pro: Backup program included in the Setapp subscription

If you are looking for an alternative to Apple Time Machine, with which you can save backups on external hard drives, then "Get Backup Pro" should be a good solution. From the simple data copy to the bootable medium, you can use it to create various backup copies. Get Backup Pro creates incremental or versioned backups on request.

The data can be restored on another Mac even if the Get Backup Pro app is not installed there. This is how data recovery works even if your computer is completely broken or locked. 

Best of all, Get Backup Pro is in Setapp subscription contain. In addition to more than 220 other useful full versions of the app without advertising or other bells and whistles, you can get this app for only $ 9,99 a month. You can take a look at them with this link. You will get to the complete offer from Setapp with all the necessary information and the possibility to book with this link. Have fun browsing! :)

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6 Responses to “3-2-1 vs. 3-2-1-1-0 vs. 4-3-2 – Different Backup Strategies Explained”

  1. Stephanie Niemann

    Hi John,

    thanks for the article on backups. These are becoming more and more important and every user should think about their own strategy. However, I personally miss in this article how one should proceed to verify the backup so that it can also be imported. Maybe there is a follow-up article that contains the possibilities of verification.


    1. Hello Steffi,

      thanks for the hint about the backup verification. I should deal with that. As soon as I have read the necessary knowledge, a follow-up article could be quite feasible :)

      Best regards

  2. Hi John,
    I find the article very interesting. What is missing, however, is the answer to the backup on the
    Apple's strategy of isolating the start disk, which can under no circumstances be created as an executable copy. Up until Mojave, I've been following the 15-3-2-1 rule for the past 0 years
    worked and had no data loss. If a disk was defective, I put the copy in the Mac Pro 5.1 and it continued...
    Those good times won't come back

    1. Hello Siegfried! Because you have a recovery partition and an Internet recovery, you can still boot the Mac in any case. And if you have created a 1:1 backup, you can set up the system again and then use the migration assistant to get all data from the backup.

    1. Hello oaks,

      I assume you mean the external hard drives or other storage systems that should be stored off-site to avoid being affected by a local storage or device failure.

      There is no general minimum distance for these. However, you should not be affected by any destructive influences in the workplace. In the event of a fire, flood, lightning strike or similar events that can destroy local technology, the backup medium would have to be out of reach - in an outbuilding, in an external office (or at home if it is an office backup) , in the car, in the mailbox away from the house, in the arbor of the rented allotment, etc.

      Best regards

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