Avoid the Panic Button: Backup & Recovery

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Few mundane tasks are as loathed as backing up and preparing to restore servers—and it’s not just because of that amazing tech support. When was the last time you revised your disaster recovery plan? Do you routinely check your backups by trying to recover specific files? Do you reuse tapes well past their expiration?

Of all the non-standard practices I come across in the field, the most common deal with poor backup techniques. Many small businesses reuse tapes past their lifetime, never bother to do a full restore as a test and never recover a file until they absolutely need it. In enterprises, even though tape storage and tape lifetimes usually conform to best practices, most do not practice full server recovery until it is necessary. Even some large organizations will attempt to verify backups, but won’t routinely check their ability to recover a file or directory. A large film studio recently laid off several server administrators because all of the critical backups of a database store failed and were completely unrecoverable for 30 days. Though verifying, checking and planning your backups may not guarantee your job security, it will reduce your panic time when disaster strikes your server. Many online disaster recovery guides are aimed at reselling services, but Cisco (www.cisco.com/warp/public/63/disrec.html) has a basic, neutral guide focusing on enterprise disaster recovery.

The backup market is changing. Symantec recently bought PowerQuest and Veritas (Backup Exec and NetBackup), and EMC purchased Legato and Dantz (Retrospect). PowerQuest’s V2i Protector, an image backup product, which I find to be extremely fast, is now re-branded as Symantec Live State Recovery, and uses pcAnywhere for remote recovery instead of the add-on V2i Management Console.

As data stores increase in size, one way to increase the backup window relies on disk-to-disk copying, then to tape (D2D2T). D2D is also a good way to store recent images for a fast, full recovery in less than an hour. Images can be updated with differential tape content, but many servers would be functional with a weekly image. Major tape backup players, such as Computer Associates (BrightStor) and the former Veritas, have image-based products. Symantec offers the aforementioned Live State, which also is replacing Enterprise Ghost.

UltraBac, in its most recent incarnation, 8.0, has added some of the features that the major players have, such as the ability to make multiple copies of the backup for off-site storage or the ability to migrate an image from disk to tape. Aside from native 64-bit support, the best new feature is the ability to integrate scheduling image backups with file backups. UBDR Gold, a new product, includes the ability to restore from tape file-by-file backup, via FTP. Like UltraBac, image products from most vendors include some sort of recovery environment. Both versions of UBDR include a bootable, licensed copy of Windows XP to facilitate rapid recovery. If a manufacturer’s recovery environment is lacking, it is necessary to have boot disks prepared for each system.

One problem with the need to do image restores in a Windows environment is that the hive contains hardware-specific information. No backup lets you separate the hardware from the software in the registry—yet. If you do have the drivers for the new sever in the backup, Windows will usually select the correct driver, or you can use the Recovery Console to select the proper driver. The process of moving Windows to another computer is described in Microsoft’s Knowledge Base article 249694 (support.microsoft.com/default.aspx?scid=kb;en-us;249694), but in a section on recovery from a moved installation in article 822052 (see support.microsoft.com/default.aspx?scid=kb;en-us;822052), you’ll find more information on having drivers listed in the registry. NetWare does not have this problem, and you can boot to DOS to start server.exe, if necessary.

New to Windows 2003 Server is Automated System Recovery (ASR), to facilitate restore to a blank computer, and Volume Shadow Copy, useful for grabbing an image of open files. Third-party utilities, such as St. Bernard Software’s Open File Backup, are faster, more customizable and also available for NetWare. Still other utilities create XP-like restore points for servers. One additional and quite beneficial item to have on hand is something to aid recovery from Murphy’s Law. In the Windows environment, nothing beats Winternal’s ERD Commander 2005.

With boot disks, ER disks, verified backups and a disaster recovery plan in place, the drudgery of backup may not disappear, but the anxious moments will abate.

Douglas Mechaber, MCSE, MCNE, CCNA, BCSD, is always looking for software and tools to make his job easier at a large government health organization. Share your backup nightmares with him at dmechaber@certmag.com.


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