Online backup of critical databases can be tricky

Database symbolThese days, more and more businesses run mission-critical applications which depend on complex database technology. Some examples include point-of-sale processing, patient electronic medical records (EMR), inventory control systems and financial accounting packages.

If any of these applications fail, things get nasty quickly! To prevent permanent data lose and to minimize downtime, it is very important to take regular backups of all mission critical databases.

Unlike basic word processing documents or spreadsheets, backing up applications that use embedded databases is tricky. The care you take in preparing and testing a database backup may determine how easily you bring the critical application back online.

When performing off-site/online backups of a database application, there are four approaches to consider.

Option 1Manufacturer’s instructions. Upon request, software vendors will usually provide you with written instructions on how backup their application database(s). In some cases, the application itself is able to schedule and perform a backup to local disk which can then be moved off-site. When available, following the software vendor’s instructions is usually a  safe way to proceed.

Option 2SQL backup. More and more applications now store customer data in Microsoft’s SQL (Express) database server software. This database software is installed along side the client’s vertical application. Advanced online backup programs (like Dr.Backup) contain special “agent” software which can work directly with Microsoft SQL to perform a live backup without actually closing down the database application.

Option 3Closed file backup.  When you completely shut down an application, sometimes the underlying database will close. This permits the use of standard backup techniques to capture the files containing critical information. A shutdown/restart database procedure can often be scripted permitting online backups to execute nightly without intervention.

Option 4 Open file backup. In some cases, it’s just not possible to easily close a mission critical application database. Rather, the underlying files must be “snapshot” archived while the application is live. Special “open file agent” software may be required to safely backup these continuously open data files. Databases which remain consistently open, are very tricky to properly backup. Often, they require a FULL backup of select folders – a feature available only in business-class online backup programs like Dr.Backup.

Selecting the proper approach – and performing a practice restore to a test machine – greatly increases your chances of quickly restoring a database application to production after a data disaster.