Five things that mess up your backups


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  1. Unnoticed trends
backup administrators spend most of their time looking at last night's backups. They want to know what failed last night and the escalation procedure for that server. Can they rerun the backup? If so, what do they do if the rerun backup continues into prime business hours? Must they notify someone?

As a result, backup administrators often don't notice if a given server, file system or database doesn't successfully back up for multiple days. Some environments where I've performed backup assessments have had servers that have gone several days--even as much as a month--without a successful full or incremental backup; and the larger the environment, the greater the problem. At one customer's site where they back up 10,000 systems, more than 1,000 systems went four days or more without a successful backup of any kind.

Servers that go several days without a backup are obviously at greater risk than others. If a backup administrator was aware of such a trend, they might do a number of things, such as cancel less important backups so that the server that hasn't backed up for several days can be given more resources. At a minimum,

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the storage admin may set the priorities on the backup system so that a server that hasn't backed up for several days is more important than other servers.

  • Here are some examples of other trends that are important to detect:

    • Servers backing up significantly more data than they used to back up

    • Tape libraries/disk devices approaching capacity

    • Tape and disk system throughput numbers

Most backup products don't provide the kind of tools necessary in their base product to see this kind of information. The solution is a relatively simple one, but not an inexpensive one: Buy a data protection management tool. There's a reason a whole industry has grown around such tools, and it's difficult to properly manage a backup system without one.

What role does deduplication play?
Without deduplication, the use of disk in the backup system is relegated to storing only one or two nights' worth of backups in a process known as disk staging, as backups are staged to disk before they go to tape. This helps backups but doesn't help restores, as most restores will still come from tape.

Dedupe allows you to store several weeks or months of backups on the same disk that was previously storing only one or two days' worth of backup. Keeping more data on disk allows for much faster restores for all data, not just the backups made in the last few days.

Deduplication can also help you get data offsite without shipping tapes. Because the dedupe system stores only the new, unique blocks every night, backups can be replicated offsite, allowing you to have onsite and offsite backups without touching a tape.

This was first published in November 2008

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