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Why you need a backup reporting tool

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Collecting data from multiple servers can often be tricky. To get backup information without a backup reporting tool, you need to write a lot of shell/batch scripts or log in to as many servers as possible every day and manually check them.

Complicating the problems of getting useful backup reporting data is that many environments have more than one backup product, significantly increasing reporting complexity. You may be in the painful process of converting from one backup system to another. Or maybe you have two backup products because one handles most tasks, and another is assigned to one particular platform or application. For example, you might use Computer Associates' ARCserve or Syncsort's Backup Express for your Windows servers, but another product for your Unix servers.

One common problem with many backup products is that they require administrator or root access to use them. While this issue is being solved with some products, very few offer an easy way for nontechnical people to understand how backups are working. Another issue is that administrators may have privileges on their own system, but not on the backup system. They'd like to find out how backups worked for their own systems, but they can't, so they have to rely on the backup system administrator to tell them something is wrong.

If it's a struggle each day to determine whether overnight backups were successful, then you need a backup reporting tool.

Your choice of tool depends on what kinds of reports you need and the level of detail they provide as well as whether or not the tool works with all of your backup programs. But with the right tool in place, you will be able to tell what went right and wrong in your storage environment, and some tools now have the capability to predict what will happen in the future.

Common functionality
All backup reporting products collect data from multiple backup servers from a central point. Most offer multiple customizable reports, and are presented in formats that can be easily exported into other tools, such as spreadsheets.

First and foremost is the successes and failures report. Presented as a series of graphs, the report shows how backups worked across the entire enterprise, including all backup servers and all backup software products. You can narrow it down to the last n days to see how backups worked for the last few days, weeks, months or quarters and to see which clients have been failing the most often.

The next critical information that backup reporting tools provide is how much data you're backing up over time, including full and incremental backups. These numbers can show alarming trends, such as a backup server that's going to run out of space. One common configuration mistake often highlighted by these reports is when something that shouldn't be backed up isn't being excluded. For example, a new database server is added to the backup system, and its databases are being backed up via a database agent, but the exclusion of those database files from the file system backup was overlooked. These reports would show a drastic increase in incremental backups, and allow you to pinpoint the problem, solve it and stop wasting tape.

Not only is it important to know if your backups are successful, it's also important to know when backups are running. This information is also often displayed graphically, allowing you to easily see in one view when backups are running and when they're not.

Media utilization reports show which tapes are full, which are on site and which are off site. They can often provide insight into why you're running out of media.

The more complex your storage environment, the more you need comprehensive configuration reports. These reports, easily viewed from a central point, let you know whether configuration policies are being followed. A throughput report tells how fast your tape drives are running, and how much data is being transferred per second through each of your backup servers.

All backup reporting tools provide predefined reports. However, most of these products also allow you to create custom reports so you can add or delete information and get exactly the data you're looking for.

This was first published in July 2004

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