Friday, August 24, 2012

SOP Friday: Backups Part 3 - Backup Monitoring, Testing, and Management

This is the third article in the mini-series on backups. See Part 1: Defining Your Client Backup and Part 2: Backup Philosophies and Client Communication.

Also see earlier articles on Documenting Backups and Daily Monitoring Procedures.

Those articles walk through the basics of monitoring backups. Here we're going to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. When you manage the backups for several companies, you should have a systematic way of keeping track of what's going on - and documenting it.

Monitoring backups can be totally manual, totally automatic, or somewhere in the middle. I strongly favor somewhere in the middle. A totally manual backup monitoring means that you either sit down at the server or connect remotely and verify that the job ran, job finished, and job was successful. This is a very old-school way of doing things.

Totally automatic monitoring means that you trust some system to verify that a job started, job finished, and job finished successfully. This sounds like the super-cool future we all want. But it's very dangerous. Last time we talked about how How Pixar Almost Lost Toy Story 2. That was possible because they had a super-cool automated backup system . . . that failed for a month and no one noticed.

Backups (and restores) are absolutely critical and therefore need more attention than that. Good enough isn't.

We highly recommend that you use a professional backup solution such as Backup Exec, which has rich reporting. We have never relied on the backup system built into Windows Server, but you could use that. Just make sure that you check those backups! If you're running SBS, you can get reports on backups via the built-in backup but not other solutions. Other solutions need to provide their own reporting.

If you have an RMM (remote monitoring and management) tool, you should find a backup that integrates with that tool so you can monitor backups automatically and remotely. As strange as it sounds, you will get false positive and false negative reports from all these tools. Backups will report a failure because they couldn't open a temporary file that just happened to be in use when the backup occurred but is unimportant and has since been removed by the system. Grrrr. And backups will report success even when they don't finish. Happily, this is rare.

The bottom line is: You need to actively monitor these systems. In truth, a well-designed backup system with good hardware and good software will work very well. Human error is the culprit 99% of the time when there's a failed backup. So you're monitoring your clients as well as their systems.

Create an automated system, but check it regularly. Trust but verify.

We recommend the process defined in the article Daily Monitoring of Client Machines.

We certainly do not do a test restore every day, but we DO schedule a test restore every month along with monthly maintenance. As mentioned before, we restore the system state, something from each drive that was backed up (e.g., C:, D:, x:), something from each medium used (e.g., disc 1, disc 2), and from within key databases (e.g., a few mails within the Exchange database).

This takes time. And it may mean that you're on site to perform these tasks. It's good for the client to see you doing some work rather than being 100% remote. It's also good for them to see you when it's not an emergency. It breaks them of the habit of saying "Oh no" every time you walk in the door.

The Big Picture

Your overall management of backups is arguably the most important thing your company does. It is the one thing that is guaranteed to keep your clients in business when disaster strikes. Maintenance is critical, but backups are more critical. Clients don't always see the importance here, but they will assume you're taking care of it when something goes bad.

In the big picture, managing backups is really a big sub-system of your managed service operation. That's why you need an overall philosophy that can be applied across all your clients. That's why you need standardized processes and procedures. That's why you need to train all of your staff to understand your philosophies and how they're implemented. That's why you do regularly daily monitoring and monthly restores.

If you have enough clients, you might actually have one or two technicians who specialize in monitoring and managing client backups.

I know it's easy to put this off. After all, the backup does seem to work most of the time and other things break. But you have to keep in mind that the backup is more important than almost anything else. So spending a few minutes (per client) per day is a great investment of your time. Remember, one of my mantras is

Slow Down, Get More Done

This is a great example of that. Af few minutes spent on backups every day can save many hours and dollars when something goes wrong down the road.

Your Comments Welcome.

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About this Series

SOP Friday - or Standard Operating System Friday - is a series dedicated to helping small computer consulting firms develop the right processes and procedures to create a successful and profitable consulting business.

Find out more about the series, and view the complete "table of contents" for SOP Friday at

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Next week's topic: Backups 4: Changing Technologies


Life After SBS: Making Order Out of Chaos

Please join us October 11th in Las Vegas, NV for a special all-day training on Life After SBS.
October 11th, 2012
9 AM - 4:00 PM
 Price includes lunch, snacks, and drinks.

More Info

 Live Seminar - One Day Only With Karl W. Palachuk (CEO Small Biz Thoughts, author, blogger) and Manuel Palachuk (CEO Conceptual Age Consulting, author, blogger). In addition to writing The Network Migration Workbook, we have worked together for seven years and developed some great "best practices" that are serving us well as we prepare for the SBS End of Life. 

This seminar is part of the SMB Nation Preday Events. SMB Nation's Fall Conference is October 12-14 at the Rio in Las Vegas. Early bird pricing is now in effect at This event is not associated with SMB Nation itself, but we have worked with Harry for eight years to put on some kind of preday event. 

This year's topic is extremely timely and important: What do next! The clock is ticking on SBS and you need both a business plan and a technical process for moving from SBS to the Next Big Thing. 25% of this seminar will be on business model considerations for moving to stand-alone servers, cloud services, and hybrid combinations. 75% cover the technical click-by-click of moving to other services. 

And OF COURSE we'll show you how to do this with Zero Downtime. More details are at This is a $399 seminar - and we think you save WAY more than that with the first client you migrate off SBS. 

But we also have some special pricing for you. Here's the run-down: Everyone who registers during August pays $199 September Registration is $299 And October Registration is full price at $399 

Do yourself a favor: Register today!

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