Grandfather Father Son (GFS) Backup VS. Progressive Backup Paradigm (Incremental Forever)


A report conducted by the IT Policy Compliance Group showed that human error was the leading cause of critical data loss, accounting for over 25 percent of incidents.

Part of the problem with backup is that – at first glance – it seems much simpler than it really is. And without proper experience and training, it’s easy to make mistakes that will land your company in trouble.
Simply copying your hard drive over to another device every night isn’t enough.

If someone breaks into your office and steals your servers, they might also steal your backups. So you need to ensure that off-site backups are part of your overall data management solution. This might seem like an obvious point, but you’d be surprised how many companies don’t take their backups off-site for storage.
But there’s another – more serious consideration when planning your approach to data management.

Let’s suppose that data loss occurs without anyone noticing. A good example of this is when employees accidentally save over an important file. If your backup doesn’t retain multiple versions, then – when that file is backed up – the original copy becomes irretrievable as the only backed up version gets clobbered.

This is why it helps to have several versions when backing up. This way – if last night’s backup is corrupted – you can retrieve the data from the day before, or the day before that.

In most scenarios, it will be the “active” or most recent version which will be restored. In the event that the active version is undesirable or unavailable, then you can load an inactive version from a previous date.
The number of file versions that you keep on hand depends on a number of factors. Some of these include:

  • The type of business data
  • Legal requirements
  • Storage cost concerns

Many companies will keep 7 historical daily backups on file, others will keep thirty days, and others will keep even more. At the end of this cycle, older inactive versions will be dropped in order to make room for the most recent active version.

This could be a problem for a company that needs to retain backups for long periods of time. Long-term retention is often necessary for legal reasons.

Although the initial ideal would be to store an unlimited number of versions forever, this is not practical or cost-effective. A better approach would be to take periodic snapshots, and archive them long-term using more cost-effective storage.

A number of backup rotation schemes have been developed in order to help companies minimize backup costs and maximize recovery speeds while retaining data for long term.

The most common rotation scheme used today is known as Grandfather, Father, Son paradigm, or GFS.

With the GFS paradigm, a single full backup is made on the first day, and then changes are copied over on a daily basis. These first-generation backups will become the sons in the GFS paradigm. This will continue until the end of the cycle – which is usually 7 days – and a new full backup is created.

Each of these periodic full backups becomes a “father” in the second generation backup cycle. A typical example would be where a company keeps a rotation of 7 daily son backups per week, and 4 weekly father backups per month.

At the end of the second generations’ backup cycle, a monthly archive is made and usually permanently preserved. At this point, the second generation weekly backup rotation starts over from the beginning.
There are a number of different variations on this concept, but this is the basic premise behind the Grandfather, Father, Son paradigm.

As you can see, backing up business data can be quite an involved process.

  • On-site backups need to be retained for fast recovery
  • Off-site archives need to be retained for long term file retrieval.
  • Point-in-time versions need to be properly catalogued.

There are also a number of modern business challenges which are forcing IT professionals re-think the way they approach corporate data protection.

The Problem Facing Backup

Falling Storage Costs

As the price of hardware continues to fall, it is more important than ever to be scalable. You don’t want to purchase your tomorrow capacity at today prices. In addition, maintenance costs will continue to take up a larger portion of overall IT costs.

Exponential Data Growth

Users are producing more information than ever, and their data production is growing at an exponential rate. IT departments must keep up with this data growth while maintaining backup windows and IT costs at an absolute minimum.

Fragmented Offices

In order to reduce costs and serve customers better, it’s now much more common for organizations to work across many remote locations. Unfortunately, backups for these remote sites are usually performed by an internal employee with little or no IT training. This is a disaster waiting to happen.

Of these, the most important are shrinking backup windows and exponential data growth.

While the “GFS+A” paradigm provides comprehensive coverage, there is another paradigm that provides the same coverage and does more with less; something every IT professional is looking for these days.

The progressive incremental paradigm – often called incremental forever – is a software-driven approach that only requires a single full backup on day one, and then never again.

From that day forward, only block-level incremental changes need to be transferred to the backup server. Once they reach the backup server, the data blocks are stored in such a way that a full point-in-time recovery copy can be quickly generated whenever it’s needed.

This is far superior to the GFS paradigm since it takes up much less storage, requires much shorter backup windows, and can be completely automated.

And this approach also offers much faster recovery speeds.

If you had to restore a hard drive using the Grandfather, Father, Son paradigm, you might have to load the last full backup, followed by five or 6 days worth of differential incremental backups which contain lots of redundant or deleted data.

But with the Progressive Backup paradigm, you only need to load a single streamlined backup copy which contains no redundant information, and you gain point in time capability.

And if your company wants to restore data for long periods, the progressive backup paradigm makes it very easy to generate archives from the backups at regular intervals, such as every thirty-one days.

In other words, you have daily backups which are online and go back 31 days, and offline monthly archives going back many years… or even indefinitely. So the backups would be used for short-term online data retrieval, while the archives would be used for cost effective long-term off-site data storage and retention.

These are just a few of the major reasons why companies are now doing everything they can to modernize their backups. By acquiring data management expertise from reputable Storage Solution Providers and applying modern principles across a pay as you go model, companies are enjoying a broad range of data management services, including progressive or “incremental forever” backup, at a very attractive price point.

By automating backups over the Internet, companies save money by freeing up IT time for more productive activities, while also eliminating the costs and pitfalls associated with manual manipulation and shipping of backup tapes off-site for storage. This automation will continue to provide more business value as the rate of data production and internal storage capacity grows.

Online backup is also safer for fragmented offices, since there is no error-prone manual handling to worry about, and the backups can be monitored or managed remotely by the IT administrator over the Internet.
By employing online data protection, you also gain access to innovative and fully-automated solutions which help to minimize backup windows and ensure high system availability.


We’ve been over a lot over the course of this video, so let’s quickly recap what we’ve learned.

  • Simply copying files over to a secondary storage device is insufficient. Proper backups must keep track of multiple versions and provide intelligent best practice data management manipulation of the data after it has been gathered, catalogued and stored.
  • The Grandfather, Father, Son paradigm is losing ground to the Progressive paradigm, which offers faster recovery speeds, shorter backup windows and lower storage costs.
  • Using a combination of progressive paradigm and archive creation by sampling, a company can utilize modern data management practices to achieve business goals which include cost effective short term retrieval time objectives, and long term retention objectives.
  • Falling storage costs, exponential data growth, office fragmentation and 24 hour business schedules are forcing companies to modernize their backups in order to save money and minimize risk.

Thank you for taking part in this presentation. If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below. We’d be happy to answer any questions you might have.

And if your company would like help modernizing their current backup process, please visit for more information.

Leave a Reply