Five things that mess up your backups


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  1. Overuse of custom scripts
customization comes in a variety of flavors and can be a good thing. It can make your backup system do something it wasn't originally designed to do, allowing you to work around limitations. But customizing your backup process can also create extra work and make things much more complex.

Backup administrators good at shell or batch scripting can create programs that help them automate certain tasks. One customer I visited had 150 custom scripts written around their backup system. The problem with this kind of customization is that it's hard to maintain and even harder to pass on to the next backup administrator. Administrators who create too many scripts may find themselves stuck as "the backup person" because no one wants to take on and maintain all of those custom scripts.

Another way customization manifests itself is in unique backup configurations. Instead of having a standard backup configuration for everyone, some environments create custom backup configurations for each customer that requests one. For example, "For this server, we're going to back up only the F: drive and we'll do it only on Thursday nights

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from 3:00 am to 4:00 am." Besides making things much more complex, this kind of customization also goes against the way most backup software is designed. Backup software is designed to share resources and automatically send things to the right resource as it becomes available and as priorities dictate. Unique backup configurations drastically reduce the overall utilization of all resources by not allowing the backup software to do its job.

  • Overcoming this problem is relatively simple: Create standard backup configurations and stick with them. The following is an example of a standard for file-system backups:

    • All systems back up all drives

    • *Temporary Internet Files*, C:Temp, *.mp3 files are always excluded

    • All systems receive a full once a month

    • All systems receive a differential/cumulative incremental/level 1 once a week

    • All systems receive an incremental once a day

    • Fulls and differentials will be distributed across the week/month as dictated by the system load

    • All backups occur between 6:00 pm and 6:00 am

Deviations from this standard must be justified by business reasons and approved by a business unit manager who will receive a chargeback for the extra cost involved in such customizations.

Regarding custom scripts, the best thing to do is to consult the forums and mailing lists for the backup software you're using to find out if anyone has discovered another way to meet your requirement without custom scripting. Software updates often fix such problems found in earlier versions, but people continue to use their old ways because it's what they know.

Finally, if the software you're using can't be made to do what you want it to do without all of those custom scripts, perhaps it's not the right backup software for you and another backup application would do what you need it to do out of the box. Although changing backup software packages should be considered a last resort, it may actually be the best thing in some cases.

This was first published in November 2008

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