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The Backup Myth

By Steve Jones,

I wrote an editorial about Myths recently that talked about the beliefs about how things work in IT. It was based on an interesting list of items that people sometimes believe to be true, but often they aren't. I'm not sure I completely agree with the list that's linked above, but there are definitely myths out there.

The second myth on that list, backups are the key to disaster recovery, is a really important one for DBAs and one that I think is the number one priority for new DBAs (new to the job or company).

The first thing that you should do when managing a new server is to ensure that you have backups running on all your databases, including the system ones. However that's not enough to ensure that you're prepared for a disaster. Yet lots of DBAs and managers stop there.

The second thing, which should be done extremely soon, is to perform a restore and ensure that you are getting a good backup and you can use it. It's that last part that's extremely critical. Make sure that you know what's needed to get data back from whatever medium you store it on.

This is especially critical for agent based backups. I've been fairly vocal in the forums over the last 10 years saying that I completely disagree with agent backups. BackupExec, Arcserve, or any other agent based backups have caused me numerous problems in the past. I've had to be the consultant called in to tell a manager that he wasn't getting any data back because the backups didn't work. And I've been on the phone with a vendor who admitted that there was a problem and things weren't working.

Now it's been years since I've used Agent backups, refusing to be responsible for them at a few jobs. They might be better, and I hope so, though I'm still nervous about using any agent. Even Microsoft's DPM manager, especially after their Home Server problems.

Hopefully it's rare that you really need to perform a restore to get data back. I know that 99.9% of my restores have been for development or practice, and it's a good thing. Having to get data back in a pressure situation is never much fun.

Even with good backups you can read and use, there's more to recovering from a disaster. You should always be sure that as the person in charge of the data, that you're aware of all aspects of the restore process, as well as changes that might need to be made to applications, clients, even routers. You really need to understand the complete end to end flow of your data, from client to server to backup medium.

A good DBA is well aware that there's a lot more than backups to being successful in a disaster situation.

Steve Jones


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Steve Jones