How to set Automated backups of your ec2 and rds

In today’s digital age, data is often regarded as the new gold. Just like gold, it’s vital to protect and back up your data to ensure its safety. EC2 (Elastic Compute Cloud) and RDS (Relational Database Service) are two core services offered by AWS, each playing a pivotal role in how many companies run their operations. While AWS offers robust durability and high availability, it still abides by the shared responsibility model, where AWS is responsible for the security of the cloud, but customers are responsible for the security of what they put in the cloud. This includes backups.

Understanding Backups in AWS

When we talk about backups in the AWS ecosystem, it’s crucial to understand the terminologies and what they mean for your infrastructure.

  • Backups vs. Snapshots vs. AMIs:
    • Backups: A generic term, it usually means a copy of data to be used to restore the original after a data loss event.
    • Snapshots: In AWS, a snapshot is a point-in-time backup of your data. For EC2, this pertains to the EBS (Elastic Block Store) volumes, and for RDS, it’s a backup of your database.
    • AMIs (Amazon Machine Images): While related to backups, an AMI is a pre-configured machine image used to create virtual servers (EC2 instances) in AWS. It includes the operating system and any additional software.

To safeguard your business, you must not only back up your data but also strategize how often and which type of backup to use. Your backup strategy should account for the recovery time objective (RTO) and recovery point objective (RPO). Simply put, you need to answer: “How much data am I willing to lose?” and “How long can I afford to be without my data?”.

Setting up Automated Backups for EC2

EC2 instances are the backbone for many applications running on AWS. Here’s how to ensure their data is always safe:

  • Prerequisites:
    1. An AWS account with necessary permissions.
    2. AWS SDK or CLI set up on your machine or terminal.
  • Understanding EC2 Snapshots: Snapshots in EC2 represent backups of your EBS volumes. These are block-level backups, meaning they only capture the changed blocks of data since your last snapshot. This ensures that backups are space and time-efficient.
  • Automating EC2 Backups with Lifecycle Policies:
    1. Navigate to the EC2 dashboard in the AWS Management Console.
    2. In the ‘Elastic Block Store’ section, select ‘Snapshots’.
    3. Click on ‘Create Lifecycle Policy.’
    4. Define your policy name, resource types, target tags, and schedule. Ensure to specify the retention rule, which dictates how long AWS should retain a snapshot before deleting it.
    5. Review and create the policy. Once active, AWS will automatically begin creating and retaining snapshots based on your defined schedule.
  • Using AWS Lambda with CloudWatch Events: An alternative method for more granular control involves using AWS Lambda to trigger snapshot creation based on specific CloudWatch Events or schedules. This can be particularly useful for more complex backup strategies that may not fit the built-in lifecycle policies.
    1. Create a new Lambda function.
    2. Use the provided AWS sample scripts or write your own to create an EC2 snapshot.
    3. Set up a CloudWatch Event that triggers your Lambda function based on your desired schedule or event.
  • Restoring from an EC2 Snapshot: When the need arises to restore your data, navigate to the ‘Snapshots’ section in your EC2 dashboard, select the desired snapshot, and create a new volume from it. Once done, you can attach this volume to an EC2 instance and retrieve your data.

Setting up Automated Backups for RDS

RDS makes it easier to set up, operate, and scale a relational database in the cloud. But, as with any database, backups are pivotal.

  • Prerequisites:
    1. An existing RDS instance.
    2. Necessary IAM roles and permissions for backup operations.
  • Understanding RDS Snapshots vs Automated Backups:
    • RDS Snapshots: These are manual backups of your database instance. They are user-initiated and will remain until you explicitly delete them.
    • Automated Backups: Automatically done by AWS. They allow you to recover your database to any second during your retention period, up to the last five minutes.
  • Configuring RDS Backup Settings:
    1. Navigate to the RDS dashboard in the AWS Management Console.
    2. Choose the DB instance that you want to modify.
    3. In the “Instance Actions” dropdown, choose “Modify”.
    4. In the “Backup” section, set your desired backup window and backup retention period.
    5. Scroll down and choose “Apply Immediately”, then select “Modify DB Instance”.
  • Using AWS Lambda with CloudWatch Events for RDS: Just like with EC2, you can utilize Lambda and CloudWatch for specific backup operations, especially if you want to create snapshots outside of the automated backup window or in response to specific events.
  • Restoring from an RDS Backup:
    1. Navigate to the RDS Dashboard.
    2. Click on “Snapshots” for manual snapshots or “Automated Backups” for the automated ones.
    3. Choose the backup you want to restore from, and then select the “Restore” option.

Best Practices for EC2 and RDS Backups

  • Monitoring Backup Processes: Utilize CloudWatch alarms to notify you of any failed backups or when backup storage is nearing its limit.
  • Multiple Region Backups: Always consider replicating backups across multiple regions. This safeguards against regional failures and ensures data durability.
  • Regular Test Backups: Periodically restoring from a backup to a test environment ensures that data can be successfully recovered when needed.
  • Retention Policies: Regularly evaluate and update how long backups are retained to balance between cost and historical data requirements.

Cost Considerations

  • Understand Backup Storage Costs: AWS charges for the storage used by backups and snapshots. Regularly review and delete old or unnecessary backups to optimize costs.
  • Snapshot Lifecycle: Snapshots are incremental, meaning only the changed blocks are stored. But, over time, as many changes accumulate, costs can rise. It’s essential to understand the lifecycle of your data and snapshots to manage costs.
  • Data Transfer Costs: Replicating backups across regions or retrieving backups might incur data transfer costs. Always be aware of these when planning your backup strategy.


Protecting data should always be a top priority for any organization, big or small. With AWS’s powerful tools and services, automating backups for EC2 and RDS becomes a streamlined process, ensuring data integrity and availability. While the process might seem technical, with the steps outlined above, even a beginner can secure their data efficiently. Always remember the importance of regular monitoring, testing, and evaluating your backup strategies to ensure they meet the ever-evolving needs of your organization.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

  • What is the difference between a snapshot and an automated backup in RDS?
    • Answer: A snapshot in RDS is a manual backup that you initiate. It’s taken at a specific point in time and remains until you delete it. Automated backups, on the other hand, are automatically done by AWS daily and retain transaction logs so you can restore your database to any point within your retention period.
  • How long does AWS retain my EC2 and RDS backups?
    • Answer: The retention period depends on the settings you choose. For RDS, the default retention period is 7 days, but you can set it up to 35 days. For EC2 snapshots, they’re retained until you decide to delete them unless you have a specific lifecycle policy in place.
  • Is there a cost associated with EC2 and RDS backups?
    • Answer: Yes, you’re charged for the storage used by your snapshots and backups. However, since snapshots are incremental (only changed blocks of data are stored), they’re more cost-effective than full backups.
  • How frequently should I back up my EC2 and RDS instances?
    • Answer: This largely depends on your organization’s requirements, the rate of data change, and your specific RTO (Recovery Time Objective) and RPO (Recovery Point Objective). Critical data might need frequent backups, even multiple times a day, while less critical data might only need daily or weekly backups.
  • Can I automate the deletion of old backups?
    • Answer: Yes, both EC2 and RDS allow you to set lifecycle policies that automatically delete backups after a specified period.
  • Is it possible to back up my EC2 and RDS data to a different AWS region?
    • Answer: Absolutely! This is a best practice for disaster recovery. You can copy EC2 snapshots and RDS snapshots to another region, ensuring data availability in case of region-specific issues.
  • How do I test if my backups are working?
    • Answer: Regularly restoring from a backup to a test environment is the best way to ensure data integrity and that your backups can be successfully recovered.
  • In case of an emergency, how quickly can I restore my data from these backups?
    • Answer: This depends on the size of the data and the backup type. Typically, restoring from a snapshot is faster than a full backup. Always consider your RTO when setting up backup strategies.
  • Are my backups encrypted?
    • Answer: If your original EBS volumes or RDS instances are encrypted, then their snapshots are encrypted automatically. You can also choose to encrypt snapshots that were taken from unencrypted volumes or instances.
  • Do I need any special permissions to create or restore backups?
    • Answer: Yes, you need specific IAM permissions for backup and restore operations in both EC2 and RDS. It’s essential to ensure that only authorized personnel have access to backups to maintain data security.

Atiqur Rahman

I am MD. Atiqur Rahman graduated from BUET and is an AWS-certified solutions architect. I have successfully achieved 6 certifications from AWS including Cloud Practitioner, Solutions Architect, SysOps Administrator, and Developer Associate. I have more than 8 years of working experience as a DevOps engineer designing complex SAAS applications.

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