Database Backups – Back to Basics

Remember When…

sqlbasic_sargeBack in late December of 2015, a challenge of sorts was issued by Tim Ford (twitter) to write a blog post each month on a SQL Server Basic. Some have hash-tagged this as #backtobasics. Here is the link to that challenge sent via tweet.

I did not officially accept the challenge. Was an official acceptance required? I don’t know. I do know that I think it is a good challenge and that I intend to participate in the challenge. I hope I can meet the requirements and keep the posts to “basics”. Let’s hope this post holds up to the intent of the challenge.

With this being another installment in a monthly series, here is a link to review the other posts in the series – back to basics. Reviewing that link, you can probably tell I am a bit behind in the monthly series.

Database Backups

db_backupIn my previous two articles, I touched on some data that is available to the data professional with regards to backups and database restores. In the article discussing the restore history data, I alluded to another topic related to restores that could have been discussed.

Today, I will be diving into that alternate direction. This direction is related to database backups. More specifically, how do you truly know if you have a successful backup? Here’s a hint: it has to deal with restores.

If you haven’t heard it before, here it is in simple terms “you do not have a backup until you have restored the backup“. If you ponder that for a minute, it is quite logical and makes plenty of sense. The only way to confirm that you have a backup is to test the purpose of the backup and that is to recover the database back to the state represented by the backup.

Testing Backups

Creating a database backup is a pretty straight-forward task. This is easy enough to do through the GUI or from tsql script, or db_restoreeven, *shudder*, from a maintenance plan. Creating the backup is the easy part. If you are not creating backups, I hope there is a good reason for it (and yes there are valid reasons for not creating a backup of certain databases).

This article will not explore the nuances of the ways to create a backup of a database. Suffice it to say, there are multiple options and methods. This article will focus on the second part of creating a successful backup – testing the backup. In other words, restoring the backup that was created.

So how does one go about testing a backup? The simple answer as already stated is to perform a restore. This means through the use of the restore command. But is it really that simple?

If I have the following backups available for my AdventureWorks2014 database, where should I test the validity of the backup?

avail_backups

Would it make much sense to take any of these backups and test the restore process on the same server as the source of the backup? To be honest, that is a question that may have an entirely different answer in each and every environment. That is a question that requires a little insight into the business needs, available resources and procedures and policies in place for the environment. For me, I typically like to create an automated restore process that will restore the previous night’s backup onto a test/stage/dev server that is not in production.

I have written previously on how I do this sort of automated restore. You can read all about it from the original article here. In that article I provide a script to assist with the restore of these backups. You are welcome to test it out and play around with it while setting up your backup validation environment. In using the script, the user assumes all risk.

I recommend an automated restore system to ensure the backups are tested on a routine basis. The benefits of doing this are more than just a few. That said here are a few of those benefits: 1. Confidence in backups, 2. Quick recovery in event of failure or disaster, 3. A usable environment for quick data comparison, 4. A passable environment for reporting, and the best benefit is that you can get a good nights sleep knowing your backups are reliable.

Caveat

With automated restores, there may be an occasional failure. Heck, you may run into a bit of a head-scratcher here or there trying to get them to work in the first place. It’s not technically easy the first time. With some practice, it gets much easier. This method is intended to be suitable for a cheap solution. There may be a pricier solution out there that can be bought. If that is in your budget – go with it. The main point is to do it.

After you get these restores working, I recommend using the scripts in this article to check the restore history from time to time. Take it an extra mile and generate some reports from that data.

Recap

I have provided some information on how and why to restore a database. The primary reason being that you never know how good your backup is until you have restored it. Some say you do not have a backup until you have restored it. This is a solution and some opinions on how to do that efficiently.

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