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Backups and Consistency

November 20, 2013

I wrote about transactional consistency recently. Why do we need this?

Imagine that I have an orders table and an ordersdetail table in my database. The orders table has the order header (date, customer, etc) and the detail table includes information about the items purchased (product, qty, price). Let’s say my orders table has 10 orders and my detail table has 5 items for each order for a total of 50 rows in the detail table.

If I want a backup that is consistent, I need to have all of the orders and details included in the backup. I don’t want partial orders, so all my inserts for orders and details are included in a transaction. That means my backup needs to contain a complete, new order, or no new order at all. Anything else wouldn’t be consistent.

The backup process you choose needs to account for this. It cannot include partial orders from a transaction inside of it. Could that happen?

Sure, and let’s see how. Backups proceed linearly and it takes time for them to complete. Imagine that I have a process that starts backing up my Orders table. It reads orders 1 and 2.

While this is happening, someone inserts a new order, #6, into the system. If my backup system is reading pages, it might continue through orders 3-6 and then start on details. Imagine now the user rolls back the new order. When my backup completes, it will include (and restore) an order #6. That could be a problem.

The other problem could be that the backup process gets to the details table and starts backing up the first 5 details from order#1. While this is happening, a user inserts a new order and order details in a transaction (order #7), and it completes. The backup process moves through the details table and gets all the details, including the new detail records inserted during the backup. However the orders table has already been backed up. The restore will include details for order #7, but not the header (Orders table).

That’s bad.

Don’t use file backups, no open file managers, no exports, no BACPACs as backups for your data. You might have serious data issues on restore, which get worse as your workload is busier on the system.

Make sure that your backups are transactionally consistent. Don’t export, don’t use open file managers, don’t use anything that doesn’t respect transactions. The native SQL Server backup process does this. If you want a few other features, my employer makes SQL Backup Pro, which also respects transactions.

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