DBAs and PBBAs – How Purpose Built Backup Appliances Help DBAs Manage Data Protection

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With databases playing more critical role than ever in business operations, it is no surprise that the database administrator has become one of the most demanding positions in enterprise IT. When a critical database crashes or gets corrupted, a business grinds to a halt. To ensure the reliability of their systems, therefore, DBAs typically demand far higher levels of service and reliability from their backup administrators than others in IT.

Many DBAs now feel that the best way to preserve database reliability may be to take over the job of backing up their own databases.  Just as end users are happier when they can do their own password resets or restore an accidentally deleted file, DBAs want greater control over their backups, restores and recoveries, and also the peace of mind of knowing that it is done to their standards. The key to making this work is integrating database applications with purpose built backup appliances (PBBAs).

Unique Challenges Inherent in Database Backups

Backing up databases creates unique challenges. They are large, often multi-terabyte. They can’t be taken off line. They are continually undergoing change. When there is a problem, it is not always enough to just restore it to the state that existed at the time of the last backup, but also to recover every single change logged since that time. If backup admins aren’t fully aware of the difference, a DBA may wind up with just a simple restoration. Even if backup admins understand the difference, recovering from tape can easily blow through any Recovery Time Objectives (RTOs) by the time they retrieve the tape, mount the tape, restore the database and then perform a recovery.

To make database recoveries more effective, database vendors have been creating and delivering their own native backup utilities that are specifically geared for the task.  One example is Oracle Recovery Manager (RMAN), a command-line utility that can be used on its own or can be accessed through the Oracle Enterprise Manager application. RMAN includes file multiplexing and backup set compression, and block-level corruption detection during backup and restore. It follows backup retention policies and provides a history of all backups.

But even if a DBA is using RMAN, he or she may still be dependent on backup administrators to manage the physical storage, including any disk-based backups, virtual tape libraries or physical tape libraries and offsite archives. To gain full control, DBAs need direct access to their backups, but this often results in additional storage assets being purchased that are dedicated to protecting a specific database, which creates another silo of infrastructure to be managed and introduces additional capital costs.

Why Purpose Built Backup Appliances Make Sense

As their name states, PBBAs are devices optimized for data protection applications, easing the load on administrators and the rest of the IT infrastructure. With the right PBBA, DBAs can simply be given access to a share of the PBBA which they can use to manage their own backups and recoveries, using tools such as RMAN that afford specific backup functionality geared for the database. That way DBAs won’t have to wait for the backup admins to retrieve the tapes to get the database back on line or try to use backup software that has been chosen by the backup administrator based on the more general needs of the rest of the organization.

PBBAs also address capacity issues. The deduplication features in PBBAs make disk backups of databases fast and efficient by only storing changed data blocks.  This also results in a 10-30 fold reduction in the amount of space needed to store multiple backup copies of the database.

The Icing on the Cake: PBBA Integration with Database Apps

Some PBBA vendors have taken steps to ensure that DBAs don’t trigger additional silos of backup infrastructure or create duplicate data protection processes by breaking ranks with the rest of the organization and using their preferred app-based backup utility.  Certain PBBAs can directly integrate with enterprise database apps and still support other workload and backup/archive software types, in effect creating a single, open protection storage platform for the whole organization.  So the DBAs can “have their cake and eat it too,” without adding costs to the business or creating additional management overhead.  The advantages of this are numerous.  Backups and replication for disaster recovery, while managed by the app owner, are still visible to the backup administrator managing the infrastructure-who let’s not forget has a lot of specialized experience and still has a stake in the organization’s overall data protection processes.  Replication via PBBAs can also still be on a consolidated platform, yet managed by the DBA.  Even deeper integration of PBBAs and apps can place data deduplication intelligence on the application client, so redundant data never even moves across the network to the PBBA.  This can speed backup times by as much as 50%.

While DBAs have specialized data protection needs that go against the grain of yesterday’s “let’s standardize on one backup software app” approach, supporting DBA’s needs does not necessarily have to lead to operational chaos, disenfranchisement of the backup admin and fragmentation of an organization’s data protection strategy.

Rob Emsley is Senior Director of Marketing, EMC Data Protection and Availability Division.