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Performing Test Restorations
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When you re under pressure to bring back data that was lost, it is no time to actually begin learning about the restoration procedure. Understanding the technical issues related to restoring information is only one step of a much larger process. It s up to systems and database administrators to ensure that they can carry out the procedures required to restore a database with minimal hesitation in a real environment. That s where the idea of performing test restorations comes in. The most obvious reason to perform test restorations is to validate your backups. Only by actually recovering data can you be sure that the operation will work properly. Performing test restorations not only ensures that your backup procedures work, it also helps you to develop a typical time estimate for how long a restoration will take. It also provides good practice and can aide in developing a set of procedures for less-experienced database administrators to follow, should the need arise. You ll also need to determine how frequently you want to test your restorations. The absolute most important thing to remember here is to not become complacent because of a few successes. The fact that your last four restoration operations were successful doesn t mean that you can slack off on this one. That said, performing restoration operations does take time and effort, and these costs should be weighed when making plans. For example, performing a test of every backup might be ideal, but doing the tests weekly or monthly is much more practical from a business standpoint.
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Though doing so might sound like common sense, many administrators neglect to test the quality of their backups by actually restoring data. You re sure that something is being written to the tape, but are you sure that it can be retrieved The backup utilities included with SQL Server and Windows NT allow you to perform a verification operation that compares the files on your backup media to those currently on your hard drive. Although you can be reasonably sure that this means your backup is usable, the best test is to do a complete restoration on a test machine. It s quite possible that certain database files will be in an inconsistent state or files that were in use during backups may be missing. Depending on your business requirements, you may choose to get the experience by doing the restoration yourself, or assign the task to a help desk technician. A major benefit of performing test restorations is that you can document the exact procedure required and you can time the process. Being comfortable with the entire process of restoring information is important, especially in potentially stressful situations in which data loss has occurred. Some general tips to keep in mind during test restorations include: w Remember your business requirements. In Part I of this book, we looked at many criteria you must consider when implementing a data protection plan. One of the major issues was recovery time how long can your users wait before a server or database is brought back online When testing and documenting your restoration procedures, be sure that your operations fit
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within this recommended recovery window. If they do not, now is the time to talk with management about what else might be done. Either the business requirement will have to be modified or additional resources (such as another database administrator or a replacement server) might be required. Knowing these factors up front will help reduce the blame placed on systems administrators for events such as hardware failures. s Document the process. If you re a database administrator, you might ensure that you understand the database recovery process. But, what if you re not the one performing the operations Although, in an ideal situation, no one else would have to perform data recovery, circumstances might require less experienced individuals to do it. In documenting the steps required to restore information, be sure to provide enough detail so that others can perform these tasks, if necessary. It s also a good idea to have others review and test the instructions before a problem occurs. Documentation is also important for generating an estimate of the time required to perform the process information that your managers will likely want immediately after data loss or downtime occurs. Consider data loss scenarios. There are many different ways in which data loss can occur. For example, some problems occur due to incorrect user actions while others occur due to failed hardware. It s important to have adequate procedures for handling these different situations. For example, if some user data is lost, you clearly do not need to restore the master database. The best solution might be to only restore a single table that is stored on one of several filegroups. Again, providing documentation for these operations is the best way to help others understand the real issues surrounding database backups. Keep and use spare servers. One of the major challenges of performing data recovery operations is that you generally can t do them on production machines without negatively impacting your users. Although it can be costly, the best way to test your data recovery processes is to use a second server. With another machine, you can test OS restorations and recovery of data from various scenarios. There are, however, a few things you should keep in mind when doing such tests. First, at the network OS level, make sure that your server does not retain the same network configuration as the production server. Having two servers with the same IP address, for example, can cause network problems and prevent the accessibility of both machines. A good way to avoid this is to move the test server to an isolated network (connected only to a small hub, for example). Next, ensure that your data is really consistent on this recovery test server by having test clients connect to it and perform operations. You might find that some applications do not work without first making configuration changes to the server.
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