As with any software that stores data, it is important to routinely back up your data. Elasticsearch replicas provide high availability during runtime; they enable you to tolerate sporadic node loss without an interruption of service.
Replicas do not provide protection from catastrophic failure, however. For that, you need a real backup of your cluster—a complete copy in case something goes wrong.
To back up your cluster, you can use the snapshot API.
A snapshot is a backup taken from a running Elasticsearch cluster. You can take a snapshot of individual indices or of the entire cluster and store it in a repository on a shared filesystem, and there are plugins that support remote repositories on S3, HDFS, Azure, Google Cloud Storage and more.
Snapshots are taken incrementally. This means that when creating a snapshot of an index Elasticsearch will avoid copying any data that is already stored in the repository as part of an earlier snapshot of the same index. Therefore it can be efficient to take snapshots of your cluster quite frequently.
Snapshots can be restored into a running cluster via the restore API. When restoring an index it is possible to alter the name of the restored index as well as some of its settings, allowing a great deal of flexibility in how the snapshot and restore functionality can be used.
It is not possible to back up an Elasticsearch cluster simply by taking a copy of the data directories of all of its nodes. Elasticsearch may be making changes to the contents of its data directories while it is running, and this means that copying its data directories cannot be expected to capture a consistent picture of their contents. Attempts to restore a cluster from such a backup may fail, reporting corruption and/or missing files, or may appear to have succeeded having silently lost some of its data. The only reliable way to back up a cluster is by using the snapshot and restore functionality.