As a database administrator, one of the tasks you must handle is creating backups, for your SQL database. Having a copy is crucial, in case your primary database experiences failure or damage as it provides a way to recover the data. In this tutorial we will guide you through each step involved in backing up a SQL database.
Understanding Database Backups
Before we delve into the process of backing up lets first ensure that you have an understanding of the purpose, behind database backups. In essence a backup is essentially a duplicate of your database that serves as a safety net, in case anything were to happen to your database. For example if your database were to become corrupted or cease functioning you could restore it using the copy and resume operations.
Additionally, backups protect against data loss scenarios like hardware failures, hacks, or accidental data corruption. If any data disappears or gets compromised, the unchanged backup acts as a snapshot you can turn back to. Having backups provides a sense of security by ensuring that you have a plan, in place in case an unexpected calamity occurs.
Considering this now we can explore the recommended approaches to create backups, for databases.
Best Practices for Backing Up SQL Databases
To make sure your SQL database backups are done right, here are some best practices to follow:
- Schedule regular automatic backups instead of sporadic manual backups to ensure backups are created consistently without relying on human initiative.
- Store backups in multiple locations onsite and offsite so you have backup redundancy if one storage medium becomes unavailable.
- Test restoring from backups periodically to verify your backups can be successfully restored when needed.
- Back up transaction logs more frequently than full database backups to reduce potential data loss.
- Apply backups on secondary read-only copies of production databases first before backing up production servers directly.
Rest assured that if you adhere to these practices your database backups will work effectively for emergency recovery purposes.
Now let’s go through the step-by-step process of backing up a SQL database.
Backing Up a SQL Database Using SSMS
The straightforward method for beginners to back up a SQL database is, by utilizing the graphical user interface (GUI) of SQL Server Management Studio (SSMS). Follow these step, by step instructions:
Step 1: Start by launching SQL Server Management Studio (SSMS). Establish a connection, to the instance that houses the database you wish to create a backup, for. Then expand the “Databases” folder. Proceed to click on the desired database.
Step 2: Select “Tasks > Back Up”. This opens the Back Up Database window.
Step 3: Select the location to save the backup file under the “Destination” section. You can save it as a disk file location, tape drive, Azure storage, or other medium.
Step 4: Select desired backup type – Full, Differential, or Transaction Log. Full backs up everything, Differential backs up changes since last full backup, Transaction Log only backs up transaction log.
Step 5: Configure when to expire old backups if disk space is limited under “Backup set will expire”.
Step 6: Optionally, you can add a backup description under “Backup set name” for your reference.
Step 7: Click OK to perform the backup. Monitor progress from messages pane at the bottom.
And you’re done! Just repeat this process based on how often you want to create SQL database backups. Easy.
Alternative: Using T-SQL Commands to Backup SQL Database
You can also backup a SQL database without using SSMS’s graphical interface by executing T-SQL statements instead. Here is what that looks like:
First, connect to your SQL Server instance and database from your programming tool of choice. Then construct a BACKUP DATABASE command that specifies key parameters:
BACKUP DATABASE ExampleDB
TO DISK = 'C:\backups\exampledb.bak'
WITH NOFORMAT, NOINIT,
NAME = 'Full Backup of ExampleDB',
SKIP, NOREWIND, NOUNLOAD, STATS = 10;
This example creates a full backup of “ExampleDB” to disk location C:\backups\ with additional options configured. The T-SQL-based approach enables scripting and automation of SQL database backups.
Setting Up Maintenance Plans for Automatic Backups
Rather than backing up databases manually, you can create maintenance plans that run automatic backups on whatever schedule meets your business requirements. Here is how to implement that:
Step 1: Right click “Management” in SSMS object explorer then select “Maintenance Plans”.
Step 2: Right click the “Maintenance Plans” folder then choose “New Maintenance Plan”.
Step 3: Give maintenance plan a name and optional description explaining purpose.
Step 4: Under “Select a Subplan”, check off “Back Up Database Task” to add backup subplan.
Step 5: In newly added Backup Database Task, configure backups settings including source database, backup type, and destination.
Step 6: For scheduling, check off “Schedule” box. Then under “New Job Schedule” choose desired frequency such as daily.
Step 7: Click OK to create the maintenance plan with recurring backups based on your schedule.
Now your database backups run automatically based on the maintenance plan schedule rather than having to remember to manually run backups repetitively.
Verifying Database Backups
Creating database backups doesn’t guarantee they will work when needed -backups need to be validated by restoring them. Here are some ways to verify and test your SQL database backups:
- After backing up, check backup file properties like backup timestamp, compressed size, folders location, to indirectly validate backup likely succeeded.
- Periodically restore backups to an isolated test environment separate from production to try directly restoring backups as a disaster recovery test.
- Use RESTORE VERIFYONLY in T-SQL on recent backups to check integrity of backup file contents and ensure the backup file is not corrupted without needing to do full restore.
- Configure a SQL Server Agent job to periodically restore your latest backup with a CHECKSUM comparison to automatically detect broken backups needing remediation.
Validating your database backups gives you confidence they can successfully bring back databases when catastrophic failure hits.
Optimizing Large Database Backups
As databases grow larger in size over years of accumulating data, their backup sizes also balloon. Excessively large backup files make storage more expensive and recovering from them slower. Luckily, there are optimization techniques to shrink down large database backups:
- Enable SQL Server backup compression to minimize how much space backup files consume using compressed data. Tests often show 2x-4x better compression from this option.
- Truncate very old unused log data or data partitioned into separate filegroups – only back up what you realistically need to restore your core operational data.
- Archive and purge aged rows of historical data from production database using table partitioning by date then only backup active partition.
- Harvest performance counters during backup process itself to understand bottlenecks using built-in diagnostics, then address underpowered CPU, memory, disk or network constraints holding back backups.
By combining these large database backup optimizations, you reclaim storage capacity while retaining the ability to restore necessary data.
Security Best Practices for Backups
Since database backups contain sensitive business or customer data, they need security precautions:
- Encrypt database backup files with certificates or AES-256 encryption keys so that backup data remains protected if backups fall into malicious hands offline.
- Restrict folder/share permissions so only authorized sysadmin-type accounts have access rights to read backup files, preventing unauthorized visibility of data at rest in backups.
- Transmit backups to offsite locations over encrypted VPN tunnels rather than exposing unencrypted backups to public internet routes easier to intercept.
- Obscure exact physical filenames on disk using randomized backup names to raise difficulty of cyber attackers targeting identifiable backups for exfiltration or encryption ransomware attacks.
By integrating prudent backup security practices, you fulfill compliance duties around data protection while minimizing attack surface.
Leveraging Third Party Backup Solutions
While native SQL Server backup capabilities covered in this guide work, purpose-built third party SQL backup software brings additional capabilities:
- Data masking to scramble sensitive fields like credit card numbers getting stored unencrypted in backups.
- Long-term archiving to cheaper storage tiers – tape, object storage, etc.
- Backup monitoring with alerts when backup corruption detected from validation checks.
- Security features like role-based access control to govern database backup management.
For organizations with complex environments, regulatory requirements or specialized needs beyond basics, commercial SQL Server backup tools might become worthwhile investments at scale.
Next Steps in Your SQL Backup Journey
We covered a ton of ground on the basics of backing up SQL Server databases as a beginner. By now, you understand why database backups are important, best practices in using them, how to manually or automatically back up databases, options for testing/verifying backups, and optimizations plus security considerations for enterprise-grade backup regimens.
Where should you go from here in advancing your SQL database backup chops? Some suggested next steps:
- Set up an automated maintenance plan for important databases rather than relying on irregular manual backups.
- Practice restoring recent backups in an isolated environment quarterly to increase confidence in your backup solution ahead of ever needing it.
- Research and present options to your lead DBA around encryption, security hardening, or third party tools to take organizational maturity up a level over time.
While following the fundamentals highlighted in this beginner’s guide puts you well ahead of many organizations just starting out, there is always more progress to be made in pursuit of backup excellence.