World Backup Day

Here at Red Gate Towers, the SQL Backup development team have been hunkered down in their shed for the last few months, with the toolbox, blowtorch and chamois leather out, upgrading SQL Backup. When we started, autumn leaves were falling. Now we’re about to finish, spring flowers are budding. If not quite a gleaming new machine, at the very least a familiar, reliable engine with some shiny new bits on it will trundle magnificently out of the workshop.

One of the interesting things I’ve noticed about working on software development teams is that the team is together for so long ‘implementing’ stuff – designing, coding, testing, fixing bugs and so on – that you occasionally forget why you’re doing what you’re doing. Doubt creeps in. It feels like a long time since we launched this project in a fanfare of optimism and enthusiasm, and all that clarity of purpose and mission “yee-haw” has dissipated with the daily pressures of development.

Every now and again, we look up from our bunker and notice all those thousands of users out there, with their different configurations and working practices and each with their own set of problems and requirements, and we ask ourselves “does anyone care about what we’re doing?” Has the world moved on while we’ve been busy? Could we have been doing something more useful with the time and talent of all these excellent people we’ve assembled? In truth, you can research and test and validate all you like, but you never really know if you’ve done the right thing (or at least, something valuable for some users) until you release. All projects suffer this insecurity. If they don’t, maybe you’re not worrying enough about what you’re building. The two enemies of software development are certainty and complacency. Oh, and of course, rival teams with Nerf guns.

The goal of SQL Backup 7 is to make it so easy to schedule regular restores of your backups that you have no excuse not to. Why schedule a restore? Because your data is not as good as your last backup. It’s only as good as your last successful restore. If you’re not checking your backups by restoring them and running an integrity check on the database, you’re only doing half the job. It seems that most DBAs know that this is best practice, but it can be tricky and time-consuming to set up, so it’s one of those tasks that can get forgotten in the midst all the other demands on their time. Sometimes, they’re just too busy firefighting. But if it was simple to do? That was our inspiration for SQL Backup 7.

So it was heartening to read Brent Ozar’s blog post the other day about World Backup Day. To be honest, I’d never heard of World Backup Day (Talk Like a Pirate Day, yes, but not this one); however, its emphasis on not just backing up your data but checking the validity of those backups was exactly the same message we had in mind when building SQL Backup 7. It’s printed on a piece of A3 above our planning board – “Make backup verification so easy to do that no DBA has an excuse for not doing it” It’s the missing piece that completes the puzzle.

Simple idea, great concept, useful feature, but, as it turned out, far from straightforward to implement. The problem is the future. As Marty McFly discovered over the course of three movies, the future is uncertain and hard to predict – so when you are scheduling a restore to take place an hour, day, week or month after the backup, there are all kinds of questions that you wouldn’t normally have to consider. Where will this backup live? Will it even exist at the time? Will it be split into multiple files? What will the file names be? Will it be encrypted? What files should it be restored to? SQL Backup needs to know what to expect at the time the restore job is actually run. Of course, a DBA will know the answer to all these questions, but to deliver the whole point of version 7, we wanted to make it easy for them to input that information into SQL Backup.

We think we’ve done that. When you create your scheduled backup job, there is now an option to create a “reminder” to follow it up with a scheduled restore to verify the resulting backups. Actually, it’s much more than a reminder, as it stores all the relevant data so you can click it and pre-populate the wizard with all the right settings to set up your verification restores. Simple.

But, what do you think? We’d love you to try it.

Post by Brian Harris