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Seven steps to backup and restore

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How often should backups occur?
Policy definition includes documenting

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backup schedules and windows for each client in the management plan. These policies will be dictated by customer and application requirements. For example, an enterprise may require a full backup of their critical Oracle database on a daily basis to maximize data availability and minimize restore times. In the absence of a defined requirement, a generally accepted backup schedule is as follows:
  • Perform full backups of all data on a weekly basis. The fourth full backup per month becomes a monthly backup.
  • Perform incremental backups on a daily basis - an incremental backup is defined as the backup of all data changed since the last backup.
  • If possible, stagger the weekly full backups throughout the week to balance resource utilization.
Backup windows continue to shrink with application uptime becoming critical to employee productivity and revenue generation. Most storage administrators are looking for ways to reduce the backup window. They are deploying hot database backup agents, snapshot functionality, point-in-time copy and remote data replication solutions to safeguard business-critical data, in addition to the more conventional tape backup and recovery methods.

Effective media management policies are essential for ensuring data protection, while controlling media and storage costs. Media management policy includes setting appropriate retention periods for backups, tape duplication policies and thresholds for automated library management. Business groups or application requirements will drive retention policy definitions.

Consider the following rules of thumb for retention periods:
  • Retention period for daily incremental backups - one month
  • Retention period for weekly full backups - three months
  • Retention period for monthly full backups - one year
These recommended minimum retention periods provide an enterprise with the ability to easily recover month-end, quarter-end, or year-end data while also employing an efficient media utilization plan.

If backing up to tape, consider tape duplication for the weekly full and monthly full backups. Tape duplication is a process in which the primary backup tape is copied to a secondary tape after the backup is complete. Typically, one copy is kept on-site and the other copy is sent to an off-site vaulting provider for disaster recovery purposes. Some backup software packages will perform inline tape duplication by concurrently writing separate backup streams to two tape drives. Although tape duplication consumes more tape resources, it has two advantages: enhanced data availability in the event of a media failure on the primary copy, and with one copy on-site, faster local restore times.

Many organizations have purchased and deployed automated libraries to improve backup and recovery performance. Another benefit is the reduction of errors associated with manual handling of backup media. Unfortunately, management of these libraries is often overlooked. Without proper media management and retention policies, the libraries fill to capacity and require more human intervention. Proper automated library sizing is critical to ensure that the library is performing the function for which it was deployed in the first place - automation.
Step 3: Analyze current policies and procedures
The foundation of a successful BRMP is the documentation of policies and operational procedures. In this step, internal and external customer requirements for backup and recovery must be reviewed and documented. Questions that should be answered include:
  • What are the service level commitments that must be met for application and data availability?
  • What backup schedules and windows are needed? (See "How often should backups occur?" sidebar.)
  • What are the appropriate retention policies for this data? Are there any regulatory requirements?
  • What are the corporate requirements for a disaster recovery plan?

Step 4: Determine resource constraints
In an ideal world, an enterprise would have unlimited resources to accomplish their business objectives - including ensuring a successful backup and recovery. Unfortunately, this isn't the case. A realistic BRMP will take into account the business constraints most organizations face. Key resource areas that must be reviewed include personnel constraints, physical infrastructure constraints and financial constraints. Consider the following questions:

  • Is there enough staff to effectively manage backup and restore operations? Do they have the right skill sets?
  • Are there adequate data center resources (floor space, rack space, power, cooling, etc.) to accommodate potential increases in backup infrastructure components?
  • Is there budgetary approval for any new acquisitions or improvements to the backup and restore infrastructure?

Step 5: Create a BRMP
At this point, there will be a wealth of information available to provide a baseline for the management plan. This includes information about the existing backup infrastructure, requirements for storage growth, backup policies and procedures and resource constraints. The last step before actually writing the plan is to define staffing requirements, operational procedures and the backup and media management policies (see "What a BRMP should contain"). Once that's accomplished, it's time to write the plan. The final step is to obtain consensus and approval for the plan.

No doubt, this is a formidable task that can take months. And, of course, most users want all of their data backed up and retained indefinitely, or the legal department usually wants a limited amount of backup data and short retention periods. A good management plan should also reflect the disparate requirements. Reality and consensus lies somewhere in the middle.

Step 6: Implement the plan
Once the BRMP is completed and approved, it's time to implement the plan. Take a phased approach to implementation. First, hire and train the required operational staff or select an outsourcing vendor. Second, acquire and install any of the backup hardware and software identified in the capacity planning phase. Next, implement and test the operational procedures and backup policies in a controlled environment to avoid impacting production backups. This is also the time to implement and test any new backup management software tools. Be prepared to make some adjustments to the plan as required.

After testing is complete, you should schedule a full roll out of the policies and procedures across the enterprise. Consider using a professional project planning software package when implementing the BRMP. Don't make the same mistakes other organizations have made - assuming that just because the project is approved and paid for, it will be properly implemented. Be proactive: Follow the project plan and stay on schedule.

This was first published in September 2002

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