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Backing up only what you need

Ask a storage manager which files they back up and you get a variety of answers, but there are definitely some file types you should avoid backing up.

Ask a storage manager which files they back up and you get a variety of answers -- everything from those who save the .MP3s on their networks to those who don't want to be burdened with laptop and desktop files.

Take Mike Maday, for example. Maday is the senior LAN manager for Orthopaedics & Rehab Services at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn. "Unlike most places, we back up MP3 files and videos since doctors often give presentations with embedded multimedia," says Maday. "While these file types are often skipped in other places, here they are an integral part of day-to-day file serving."

Maday, who administers a combined Windows and Macintosh environment, is further taxed with the Desktop Services Store (DS_Store) files the Mac OS X operating system creates on file shares. Because DS_Store hidden files are created in every folder that is accessed, "these files are always littering the file system, so they are always skipped," says Maday.

Files you don't ordinarily need to back up


DS_Store in Mac environments

C: drive and system files

WINS, SQL Server Logs and Data and Active Directory folders

Another type of data Maday skips is the partition where the Windows operating system resides and the "C: drive in most cases."

"Why have a zillion tape archive copies of write.exe?" asks Maday. "The only things we need are the registry keys exported for server restoration. The OS is expendable and easily recreated in such situations."

Maday is not unlike other network managers out there, who recommend that user data generated on desktop PCs and laptops be stored on file servers where it will be backed up.

"In terms of backup, we generally don't do desktop and laptop backups," says Michael Passe, storage architect at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. For Passe, backing up desktops and laptops would be a complex operation -- his organization has more than 16,000 employees and 6,000 desktops.

"It also gets to be a bit of a political wicket if we backed up one desktop and not the next and someone were to lose data," says Passe. "All our home directory and departmental shared data is stored centrally on our file servers and those are backed up every data with a set retention for daily tapes and a set retention for weekly tapes.

Like others responsible for managing desktop and laptop environments, Passe has adopted re-imaging of individual desktops when a failure occurs. "We simply re-image or deploy new desktops should one of them fail," says Passe. "We expect the users to put their appropriate data on the file servers if they want it backed up."

Another user, Jim Klein, director of information Services & Technology for the Saugus Union School District in Santa Clarita, Calif., is also an advocate of desktop re-imaging.

"For desktops and laptops, we tend to purchase identical system models with long refresh cycles in quantity, so we can apply a similar methodology (default images with base software sets," says Klein. "We train our people to store their files and content on the server, so they lose nothing if they have a failure. We also provide them with the necessary software to re-image their machines themselves, should they encounter problems with them."

In backing up servers, Passe, Maday and Klein set up their backup software to "exclude" system files or files such as database directories and page files they can't back up using open file agents. Specifically, those would be directories such as WINS, SQL Server Logs and Data and Active Directory.

"Since our servers are all virtualized and can be recovered quickly via general operating system images, we back up none of the operating system files," says Klein.

"Other than the database directories and page files, we backup everything -- our servers have a way of changing without notice since there are different server management and backup management teams, and communication isn't always made about those changes," says Passe. "That said, it is easier, and with less culpability for the backup team to simply backup everything on a given server than to try to exclude stuff, and then find out we weren't backing up something someone needed, or something that was added."

About the author: Deni Connor is principal analyst with Storage Strategies NOW in Austin, TX. You can reach her by email.

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