Grandfather-Father-Son Backup Details

The grandfather-father-son backup rotation scheme, also known as GFS, is a commonly-used backup for most companies. It is a more traditional system and aims to allow you to manage backing up crucial company data easily, more efficiently, and with fewer resources. A backup rotation scheme is a process of backing up data to a storage device, customarily computer media such as tapes. Different methods vary on when the storage device backs up data and how long the backup data is stored.

In a grandfather-father-son backup scheme, there are three or more backup cycles that differ between the type. A grandfather backup will remove data for storage and store data over longer intervals, usually in an off-site location. The son backup will have the most frequent data backup rotation, usually daily, using the first-in, first-out (FIFO) rotation mechanism. You can also choose to combine data storage on-site and in off-site facilities for added security.

Although FIFO is considered a different backup rotation scheme, the grandfather-father-son backup model also incorporates it. FIFO is one of the most straightforward backup methods. When the storage devices are full, the FIFO method removes the oldest data (first in) out of the rotation first.

Example Of Grandfather-Father-Son Backup

In a grandfather-father-son backup scheme, you will choose a different cycle timeline for each GFS label, for example, daily, weekly, and monthly. A daily (Son) backup will be rotated daily using the FIFO mechanism. A weekly (Father) backup will be rotated every week, and the monthly (Grandfather) backup will be rotated monthly. You can also choose to do hourly, quarterly, or annual backups or customize when a backup occurs.

For example, you can choose to do son backups every other day of the week instead of daily or set up the grandfather backup for every last Friday of a month. You can also set up the scheme so an hourly (Son) backup will promote one data point to father status at the end of the day, and you can promote a daily (Father) backup to a monthly (Grandfather) backup at the end of the week. If your company uses a daily, weekly, monthly interval for your GFS backup scheme, the process will look similar to as follows. If you have fifteen backup drives that protect data from one primary drive, you can allocate five drives each of the total fifteen as a grandfather, father, or son backup drive.

You will then back up data to one of the Son drives every day so that the system will use a specific Son drive every fifth day. The Father drives will be backed up weekly, and each drive will be back in rotation every five weeks. The Grandfather drives will be backed up and rotated monthly so that the system will back up each drive every five months. For example, a specific drive will have a backup timeline of January, June, December, and so forth.

Significance Of Grandfather-Father-Son Backup

It is crucial to rotate data storage for many reasons especially because human error can often cause situations where critical data is lost. With a data backup method that's on rotation, you can recover information from a previous day, week, or month and not interrupt workflow as well as prevent backup drives' overuse. Storage media can decay over time, and the more often you use a backup drive, the shorter its lifespan. By rotating its use, such as every five days, you can ensure no single drive is overused. Data will also be available for a more extended period before it is overwritten.

It isn't feasible to have millions of backup data stored on your devices forever as it would take up too many resources. Using the grandfather-father-son backup scheme reduces the cost of having thousands of storage devices for storing data over five or more years since there is a rotation that recycles the oldest data with newer ones.

Since most data becomes less critical over time, you can use the grandfather-father-son backup scheme to create more frequent backups for essential data and backup less critical data less frequently. You can also ensure extra safety of longer-term (grandfather) backups that you won't need to use again until the next quarter by placing them in an off-site facility. Therefore, if a disaster such as a fire occurs at your business site, the grandfather backup data would be safe and recoverable.

Disadvantages Of Grandfather-Father-Son Backup

The grandfather-father-son backup is considered more traditional and has certain disadvantages. As a result, newer backup rotation schemes are growing in popularity due to better features like speed and efficient storage use. Significant disadvantages of a grandfather-father-son backup include:

  • It inefficiently consumes storage,
  • Requires a lot of manual operations,
  • Has a slow and complicated recovery process, and
  • It can't do continuous backups because it only allows scheduled backups.

Grandfather-Father-Son Backup Vs. Progressive Backup

The progressive backup approach is also known as differential incremental backup, incremented media method, and incremental forever backup. This method is gaining popularity lately and often compared to the grandfather-father-son backup scheme. A full backup is only required on the first day, and incremental data blocks are duplicated and stored moving forward.

The progressive backup method's main benefit is that trained professionals fully automate it at a reasonable price point. With complete automation, you can free up in-house IT employees to work on other activities.

In comparison to the grandfather-father-son backup, the progressive backup scheme has additional advantages. These include:

  • It can store daily backups for a longer time with shorter backup windows,
  • Has more efficient storage use,
  • Has faster recovery speed, and
  • The automated process reduces data redundancy.


A grandfather-father-son backup is a commonly used system to help you backup essential data in rotations. Although it has many benefits, it is manual, and some automated backup options are becoming more popular.