Business Backup Questions

At work, we have a program that databases all of our products and customers. The database is used daily, and we can't afford the time it would take to rebuild it should it go down. I've convinced them to buy a backup solution, but now the question is what should we get?

I was thinking a 2U rack server with 4 hot-swap bays and RAID 5. Fill it with 250gb drives, since they are cheap and reliable and provide a good amount of space. I was going to say keep daily backups, and hold onto each backup on the server for 30 days. Also do weekly backups to a DVD of the most recent stuff, and store them offsite in a CD Binder. The database itself isn't a very large file, and that should be sufficient space for the backups. I could always upgrade if need be.

Now my question is, is that a good plan? Or should I go with something else. Tape backups are not an option by the way. If RAID 5 rack server is the way, what mini-rack should I get, and what brand of server? Or should I build my own server.

Our price range is around $2,000, but we can flex if we really have to. Please give me your opinions on this all.

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  1. If you are doing monthly backups dont keep them on the same computer where they are coming from because the backup is useless than. I would keep the monthly backups in DVD's and the weekly backups on another computer nearby.

    I would just go with a 2U server from Dell or HP either one is fine for a small business.
  2. How big is the database?

    Why are tape drives out of the question?

    Do you really need 4x 250GB HDD (a terabyte of storage)?
  3. We need more information to help you.

    1. What database program are we talking about here? Access? Microsoft SQL Server 2000/2005?
    2. What is the current server and architecture? It is also used as a file server or print server? What is it's current hard drive configuration?
    3. Do you have a server room? With a rack? Are other servers in there also?
    4. Do you have a UPS/power backup?
    5. What size is the database file?
    6. How often is the database updated with new information? How much impact would it be if you had to go back to a version of the database that was 24 hours old? A week old? A month old?
    7. Is database operation mission critical? i.e. If you had a hardware problem, is it a big deal if the database is inaccessible now, but would be back online tomorrow? Or is the business productivity tied to the availability of the database (i.e. work stops if the database is offline)?

    If you can answer these questions, this will give us a mini-survey of your IT layout and needs, and we can go from there.
  4. Use tapes and Symantec Backup Exec.
  5. @xeni - Perhaps you need to re-read my post, as your statements are completely unrelated to what I was asking.

    @SomeJoe7777 - Perhaps I did not make it clear, but we are a small business.

    1). The database is not a major kind. It is one created by Parts Lookup, the program we use.
    2). There is none. This will just be a back server
    3). No, but if we get something we are going to use a storage room upstairs to put a rack/server.
    4). Not at the moment, but we will purchase one.
    5). I'll check on that when I go in again. (Road conditions are nasty with snow at the moment)
    6). The database is updated every time we use it, which can be every 5 minutes. I don't think work would completely stop should the database go down due to hardware, but we would be drastically slowed down. We could go to hard copy stuff for a day, and add it all when it came back online, it's just easier if we don't have to. We would probably not be majorly affected if we had to go back 24 hours either.
    7.) Read #6

    @sandmanwn - If you read what I stated, 250 gb drives are only a few dollars more then something like a 160 gb. And with RAID 5, at least 3 drives are required so I would probably get a 4 Hot-Swap bay server and use one as a hot spare. Tapes are unreliable and expensive in my previous experience, and I refuse to use them so please do not suggest them.

    Hopefully this clears up some stuff for everyone.
  6. Quote:
    @xeni - Perhaps you need to re-read my post

    @SomeJoe7777 - Perhaps I did not make it clear

    @sandmanwn - If you read what I stated

    First off, No you did not make yourself clear. You never mentioned anything about your business size, data flow, what your current hardware configuration is, or your current storage requirements. These are all critical pieces of information if you are going to get the answers you want for a backup solution. Re-read your own posts and tell me exactly where you passed this information along to us?

    With the little information that I have received from you I have two options.

    1. An online spare server. This server should contain every piece of software that exists on the current server and contain the exact same configuration settings (if you dont know these settings already then you dont have a disaster recovery plan). It should use something like shadow copy to go out at the end of each day and copy the database backup file from the current production server to the backup server. Of course we dont know if you are even using SQL, with an Access database you simply copy the .MDB file.

    This is great for a local backup and makes an outtage as quick to fix as restoring the database backup file and changing the IP address on the machine to match the damaged server. Mere minutes before you are functional again.

    2. Off-site backups using Tape, CD/DVD, HDD. Yeah I heard your story about tapes but they are the single most effective backup method there is. You can get DLT drives for $250 and 40/80GB DLT tapes for $45. If you have issues with tapes its by your own fault.

    CD's/DVD's are the next most reliable option although there may be size constraints since you havent given us that information yet.

    I put HDD's last. Dragging a hard drive enclosure back and forth daily presents its own faults. Going from a warm air environment to near freezing outside during the winter, tossing it in the passenger seat, driving down a bumpy road, taking it into a warm house, and then reversing that whole process day after day and most likely your hard drive will die on you when you need it the most. For a hard drive backup I suggest making an Image of your current setup after you feel its working properly and only updating that image after major changes in your system. If your going to take this route use a Firewire/FirewireII enclosure, they are way better than USB when transferring large amounts of information.

    My point in bringing up 4x 250GB drives is that most OEMs use 80GB sata hard drives as a standard configuration. Once again we dont know your storage requirements but a 250GB upgrade might be a small jump from a 160 but from an 80 its a decent leap.

    As AdamBomb suggests...
    In any case it sounds like a tape drive and Veritas/Symantec Backup Exec is more than enough to fit your situation. If you have issues with tapes then perhaps you should re-read ( :lol: ) the user manuals and maintenance suggestions.
  7. Quote:
    @xeni - Perhaps you need to re-read my post, as your statements are completely unrelated to what I was asking.

    @SomeJoe7777 - Perhaps I did not make it clear, but we are a small business.

    My statements might be unrelated to the hardware that you were asking for but they proved how bad your backup strategy was? Why in hell would you make a backup of your database if you are gonig to put it in the same computer / hard drives? Whats the point?
  8. I'm not sure why you are opposed to using tape back-ups. I work for a company who does IT for over 200 different companies; some small, some large and they all run tape back-ups using Symantec Back-Up Exec.
    Listen to me! You want tape back-ups, you need tape back-ups.
  9. I've decided on what to do for a backup solution, but thank you all for your help everyone.
  10. OK, thank you for the additional info.

    I see several issues here, let's identify them one at a time.

    1. The database is proprietary. In this instance, you're probably going to run into the technical problem of backing up what is essentially an open file. The Parts Lookup program is probably keeping the file open for reading/writing at all times, thus backing the file up isn't as simple as just copying it to another location. You will need backup software that can back up open files, or you'll have to shut down the Parts Lookup program every time you want to back it up, which may not be an option.

    2. Since this is the only server, it's obviously very important. Thus, protection from a hardware failure is just as important as protecting the data.

    3. Loss of the database data is definitely what we're trying to protect against, but database availability is important as well. i.e. It's important from a business standpoint that the system be able to withstand some failures without going down.

    4. Since going back to a 24-hour-old version isn't a major problem, daily backups will suffice (i.e. no need for log file backups or continuous protection).

    5. We don't know the exact database size, but you mentioned in your first post that it isn't a very large file. Thus, I'm going to assume that it's within CD/DVD size. Although in a minute, I'm going to assert that that doesn't matter.

    So, let's look at a typical disaster recovery scenario. This is where you're going to find out that just having a copy of the data file isn't really enough.

    Situation: Power supply in the server shorts out. When it went, it took the motherboard and all hard drives with it - they're fried. What do you do? (Note: I have actually had this happen to me.)

    You will need to purchase a new server, have it delivered or go get it at a retailer, install your version of server OS on it (do you have your installation CDs and product key handy?), connect to the internet, install all Windows updates (do you have a high speed internet connection?), install other programs that are necessary for functioning (corporate virus protection, peripheral drivers), install the Parts Lookup database server program (do you have your installation CDs and product key handy?), install any updates for it, and then restore the last good backup of your database file that wasn't stored on the server. (In your original plan, that could be up to a month old). Is there anything special that has to be done to the Parts Lookup program in order to recover an old database file? i.e. is there an import procedure or restore procedure in the software? Is this even a supported operation? Have you checked with the Parts Lookup program vendor to make sure that the program isn't tied to specific hardware or software requirements? (i.e. if you currently are running it on Windows 2000 Server, will it run on Windows Server 2003? Or will you find out later that your version won't and you have to upgrade, and the upgrade can't read the old database file? 8O Don't laugh ... it happens every day to someone.)

    How long will all of that take? At least 2 days by my count (overnight a new server from Dell/HP/etc.) and that's optimistic. And that restores you to a database file that's up to a month old. How useful is that?

    Now, if in that same situation, you have a good backup not only of the database file but of the entire server, the restore is much less problematic once you replace the hardware. Of course, even this situation has it's pitfalls: For instance, the restored server image has to run on identical hardware, otherwise the restored server probably won't boot.

    So, you can see the various pitfalls that can bite you. So what are the recommendations?

    1. An enterprise-class server. One from a reputable vendor that's designed from the ground up for 24/7 operation, with features like hardware monitoring and ECC memory. I was looking online and the Dell PowerEdge 2950 seems like a possible solution. (I'm sure other vendors like HP offer equivalent products if you favor another vendor). You can probably put this into a configuration that fits your budget. Since you're going to be operating the business with only one server, I suggest redundant power supplies, a UPS, and a full setup of Dell Openmanage software or equivalent to monitor the server and alert you of problems.

    2. RAID 5. This will protect you from a hard drive failure, which is good. It also keeps the server up and running when a hard drive fails. Double good. And it can rebuild the array on a new hard drive or hot spare without a reboot. Mega good. 8)

    3. Comprehensive backup software. One that can backup not only the database file (has to be able to back up open files), but that can backup the entire server as well in preparation for disaster recovery. Symantec Backup Exec v11d with the Advanced Open File Option would fit the bill. I don't know if this is within your budget or not, but it's worth taking a long hard look. If the cost becomes an issue, you have to weigh the cost of the backup software against the cost of losing the database. Just remember, whatever level of importance the database is to the business, the entire disaster recovery plan including the backup software becomes equally as important.

    4. I know you said you don't want to use tapes due to cost and reliability. I will grant you that some current tape solutions are expensive, but if the database file isn't large, you don't need those solutions. A simple installation of Windows Server 2003, plus your Parts Lookup software, plus the database file should definitely be less than 10GB. This puts you in DDS-4 range. There are some new DDS-4 drives on eBay for as low as $250. As far as the reliability issues, you're right that many consumer/prosumer level tape drives of years past (like QIC and Travan technologies) weren't worth the plastic used to mold the tape cartridge. But DDS, DLT, and LTO are enterprise-level tape technologies. I have backed up and restored many servers with DDS, it's very reliable.

    5. Tape is the solution to off-server and off-site backups. CD/DVD is decent, but the capacity isn't there. At only 4.7GB per DVD, you probably can't fit a backup of the server on one DVD. That ruins it as an automated backup solution. Portable hard drives are no good for off-site ... the repeated vibration and handling will compromise your backup. There is a reason that large enterprises trust their backups to tape. I run an IT department that backs up 350GB daily, and 1.4TB every week. I trust that data to tape (SDLT in my case). The current 2-week old backup of the entire network (on 2 SDLT tapes) is sitting on a shelf in my home, waiting for the day it needs to be used to restore.

    This comprehensive solution, or something equivalent is what you need. It's not going to fit within a $2000 budget. You may have to make some compromises, like building your own server or using a less expensive backup program. But whatever you end up doing, don't be lulled into a false sense of security just because you have multiple copies of the database file. In some cases, a poor backup solution is worse than no backup solution, because when it comes time to recover from disaster, something doesn't work right, and you can't recover. It's worse than no backup because you never had the urgency to do anything about it because you thought you were covered and you weren't.

    Look at the entire situation from a disaster recovery point of view, not a file backup point of view. You should be confident that (albeit with a lot of work and some money spent) you would be able to get the business running again if your building burned down. If you can recover from that, then you have a disaster recovery plan, not just a backup plan.
  11. I guess the original poster has a solution but ...

    It is easy enough to do an automated Xcopy of the database to a directory (mmddyy tttt)

    There must be automated commands to close the database files if necessary. Back up at lunch and quiting time.
  12. Take a look at this software.
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