Successful Backups Are Not Enough
by Jim McDonald - CTO WysDM - Tuesday, 11 July 2006.
Overview

Data protection requirements have moved on from the purely technical question of “Did the backup work?” to the much more complex question of “Is my business protected?”.

The view of the backup application of success or failure is no longer relevant unless considered in the context of business policies. Advanced backup reporting and analysis software is required to bridge the gap between the technical and business definitions of success.

Backup reporting needs to be provided in a way to which the business can relate, reporting on applications and business units rather than servers, databases and filesyst

Introduction

A combination of business and technical requirements has superseded backup applications’ in-built reporting mechanisms. Data protection requirements have moved on from the purely technical question of “Did the backup work?” to the much more complex question of “Is my business protected?”. The view of the backup application of success or failure is no longer relevant unless considered in the context of business policies.

Advanced backup reporting and analysis software is required to bridge the gap between the technical and business definitions of success; this is the emerging field of Data Protection Management (DPM).

Following are five criteria that need to be addressed so that businesses can feel sure that they are protected from interruption through data loss.

Backups Must Contain Required Data

It is possible for a backup to complete successfully but fail to contain the required data. Some data on the server being backed up may be unavailable, such as Microsoft Outlook files that are in use. Other data may not be present, such as feeds from upstream systems or references to filesystems that no longer contain files after a prior data migration. The backup software will protect whatever data it can and report success on completion, unaware of the required presence or state of the critical data.

DPM products need to look for anomalies in the backup process. A backup that shows a significant drop in the amount of data backed up may indicate an issue regardless of the fact that the backup software reports success. A backup that succeeds but reports large numbers of unavailable files, or misses specific business-critical files, needs to be flagged for further investigation.

Backups Must Complete Within Window

Even if a backup runs and completes successfully it may not have run at a suitable time. For example, a backup of a trading database during the business day will contain intra-day data that may be inconsistent and of minimal, if any, use. Further, the act of backing up will degrade performance on the server being backed up and can cause significant business issues. To ensure that the backup is consistent and does not impact the business it must both start and end within window.

It must be possible to generate backup windows for each server within a DPM product, and those windows need to be flexible enough to take account of weekends and business holidays. Reports must be available for backups so that users know if a backup was in window in addition to whether or not it was successful.

Ideally, alerts should be generated when backups are in danger of going out of window so that work can be carried out to reschedule the backup and keep it within the required window.

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