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Turning backups into archives

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Another common question is what to do when switching from backups as archives. What should you do with all of the old tapes in the old backup format(s)? The answer is the same as it is for changing backup formats. Your only real alternative is to restore the oldest versions of the data being archived, archive it, delete it and then restore the next version. It's not pretty, but it's reality. The good news is that every backup you turn into an archive means storage savings.

Old backups aren't enough
The most common way data is archived is by keeping backups for a long time. Weekly or monthly full backups are performed, and then the backup is kept from one year to 50 years, depending on business requirements. There couldn't be a worse way to archive.

There are many difficulties with using backups as archives. The most common use of backups as archives is for the retrieval of reference data. The assumption is that if someone asks for widget ABC's parts (or some other piece of reference data), the appropriate files can just be restored from the system where they used to reside. The first problem with that scenario is remembering where the files were several years ago.

Even if you can remember where the files belong, the number of operating systems or application versions that have come and gone in the intervening time can stymie the effort. To restore files that were backed up from "Apollo" five years ago, the first requirement is a system named Apollo. Someone also has to handle any authentication issues between the backup server and the new Apollo because it isn't the same Apollo it backed up from five years ago. Depending on the backup software and OS in question, the new Apollo may also need to be running the same version of the OS and applications the old Apollo was running five years ago. Otherwise, there may be incompatibilities in the file system or database being restored.

This was first published in September 2006

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