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Best practices: 10 basic steps for better backup

Regardless of the backup application you use, there are fundamentals that need to be in place to ensure better backup operations.

What you will learn from this tip: Regardless of the backup application you use, there are fundamentals that need...

to be in place to ensure better backup operations. (This article was excerpted from "Storage" magazine's recent special issue on modern backup practices. To read the full article, click here.)

How does your organization measure up in regard to the basics of backup operations? Here's a checklist of 10 areas you should focus on to build a more effective backup practice.

1. Plan ahead. Backup is one strategic component of data protection; others include mirrors, snapshots and replication. In most environments, traditional backup serves as the last resort for data recovery. But as a strategic element, backup planning should be a fundamental part of the overall storage plan.

2. Establish a lifecycle operations calendar. An effective backup operation requires certain tasks to be completed successfully every day. There are also weekly, monthly, quarterly and even annual tasks that are as important as daily tasks. While short-term tasks are highly tactical, long-term tasks tend to be more strategic. In an effective backup operations environment, all tasks should be documented and performed on schedule.

3. Review backup logs daily. A review of backup application error and activity logs is a key daily task--but one that's often easier said than done. Log analysis can be time-consuming, but it can pay extremely valuable dividends and is essential to reliable backup.

4. Protect your backup database or catalog. All backup applications maintain a database or catalog that's absolutely critical to the recovery of backed up data. Lose the catalog and you've lost your backups. While some backup applications have mechanisms for reading through tapes and recovery indexes, this can be an onerous--if not impossible--task.

5. Identify and resolve backup window failures daily. Backup window failures are successful backups that exceed the expected backup window. Because the backup job itself completes, no errors are reported in the error log, so this problem is often overlooked. In addition to affecting production environments and creating user dissatisfaction, jobs that approach or exceed the backup window may be warning signs of impending capacity limits or performance bottlenecks. Recognizing and addressing these issues as early as possible can prevent future failures and avoid user dissatisfaction.

6. Locate and back up orphan systems and volumes. Your backup software invariably provides you with some level of reporting information about daily backup success. If you depend on this as the authoritative source on backup, then you're likely still at risk.

7. Centralize and automate the backup management as much as possible. A key to successful data protection is consistency. This doesn't mean that all data must be treated in the same manner. What it does mean is that all data of equivalent value and importance to the organization should be managed in a similar fashion.

8. Create and maintain an open issues report. Finding and fixing problems like the ones I've discussed are tactical activities critical to backup success. However, the process of managing those problems effectively and establishing appropriate metrics indicative of backup quality is essential to drive systemic improvement of backup infrastructures.

9. Ensure that backup is integrated with the change control process. Backup environments are by their nature highly dynamic. Unfortunately, within backup organizations, too often the change process for backup is equally dynamic. Just as backup must be part of the strategic planning process, on an operational level, backup must be part of an organization's formal change control process.

10. Leverage your vendors effectively. A fundamental question that you must be able to answer is: Does your vendor have the right skills to support your needs? All technical problems get resolved, eventually. If your technical problem isn't being resolved in a reasonable amount of time, then you may not be working with the right vendor. This becomes extremely apparent when multiple products from multiple vendors are integrated.

These 10 tasks may seem basic, but accomplishing them isn't always easy. They depend on a number of key elements: appropriate reporting and measurement capabilities, a high degree of staff competency within the backup organization and solid cross-functional communication. The impediments can be significant, including costs, resource availability, skill levels, organizational politics and a host of others.

For more information:

Checklist: First steps for limiting your downtime

About the author: Jim Damoulakis ( is CTO of GlassHouse Technologies, an independent storage services firm with offices across the U.S. and in the U.K.


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