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Six Ways to Protect your Database Backups

I often see forum posts from accidental administrators who want to know how to recover data without a backup. The short answer is, “Now is a good time to work on your resume.” The longer answer is, “Recreate all your data.” But the truth is that you shouldn’t ever be in this position. The number one job for any administrator is recovery. If you can’t recover, you can’t keep your job. So, here are six ways for you to help protect your backups and your job. KNOW WHAT YOU NEED Many of those forum posts share a common thread, which is this: the contributor clearly does not know about the system he is tasked with recovering. So, the first step is to start making a list of all your servers and applications. Ask people the simple question, “What are the critical systems and applications you work with every day, week, and month?” Don’t forget to answer these questions yourself. Make a list, use it as a reference, and keep it updated. This is where monitoring tools that have auto-discovery are your best friend. CONFIGURE YOUR BACKUPS This seems like something Captain Obvious would tell you, but yeah, configure the backups. It’s not enough to just know what needs to be backed up, you need to make sure backups are in place. Take care to note data volume here, as you may not want all your backups happening at the same time and flooding the network. Or, worse yet, having your backups run longer than 24 hours, causing your backup software to start a new day before the previous day is complete. Good times. VERIFY BACKUPS ARE HAPPENING You must build a process to ensure that the backups are happening. My preference here is to make sure I have three pieces of information. The first is that the backup job ran without error. The second is that the backup media is available. The third is that the backups remain consistent with our RTO and RPO requirements. TEST YOUR RECOVERY Backups are valuable, but restores are priceless. You should be testing your recovery process on a frequent basis. Many companies do DR testing once or twice a year. I find that the volume of data grows far too much in that length of time, making DR exercises difficult. I advocate frequent testing of the recovery process to verify that the backup media is good, and that the RTO and RPO requirements are being met. PROTECT YOUR BACKUPS For database backups, I like using passwords and encryption. Anything you can do to take an extra step of security to protect that data is worth your time. You should approach your backups with a very simple concept: assume it will be lost or stolen. If it was lost or stolen, make sure you minimize your risk by protecting the backup in some way. CONSIDER EXTRA COPIES If your data is critical, you want to consider having extra copies of your backups. I like the idea of using a mix of offsite tape storage and a cloud backup provider. That way I reduce my risk by storing different formats in different locations. Just make certain that you have defined an RPO and RTO for each method being used. SUMMARY Database backups are necessary for your business continuity planning. It is often easier to build a recovery plan first because that will often dictate your backup strategy. Whatever backup strategy you deploy, these six steps will help you ensure that your next disaster does not result in a resume-generating event.
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Thomas LaRock
Thomas LaRock is a Head Geek™ at SolarWinds and a Microsoft® Certified Master, Microsoft Data Platform MVP, VMware® vExpert, and former Microsoft Certified Trainer. He has over…
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