Introducing Managed Backups in SQL Server 2014

Some of the new functionality of 2014 is straight forward, non-controversial and easily welcomed by the community. Think, updateable column store indexes. Some of the new functionality is going to raise an eyebrow or three (most of the time, not on one person, but you know the #sqlfamily, we have some interesting mutations represented). Think… managed backups.

Now, why on earth would a process that takes backups for you, including log backups, does it automatically per a schedule and/or when data has changed sufficiently, stores it offsite for protection and is easy to set up and maintain going to cause so much controversy? Hey, I’m wrong, it won’t, move along… Or, maybe, I’m right, and this is going to raise more than eyebrows.

We’re talking about surrendering control over your backup processes and letting Microsoft decide if and when you need a full backup or a log backup. We’re also talking about surrendering control over your storage and letting Microsoft manage your files in Azure Blob Storage. OMG! I said Azure. Several people vomited, just a little, into their mouths. Yep, Microsoft is going to take away your backups and your ability to control them. It will then store them in a way you can’t access and Microsoft will not let you have any control over them ever again…

Oh good gosh, really? You believe that? I do have a bridge for sale that I can let you have pretty cheap.

Let’s talk about what managed backup really is, who it might be for, where it could work extremely well and where it might not work well at all.

Managed backup is a service running on your system that is enabled, if you so desire, through T-SQL commands. That’s right, it’s not even turned on if you don’t want it to be. The service is pretty simple. When you enable it, you define a few parameters, which database or databases and a retention period. That’s pretty much it. From there it runs your first full backup on each of the databases you’ve put under management (no system databases and the backup size has to be less than 1tb, a limitation of Azure Blob Storage). Then, it runs log backups at least every two hours, or, after 5mb or more of transactions. Heck, if your log backup chain is broken, it’ll reset and start over. It’s smart. It’ll also run a full backup after 1gb of data growth, or once a week. And again, if you break the log backup chain, it’ll take a full and keep going. All the files go to Azure Blob Storage where you can use backup/restore from a URL to retrieve them. The backup format is, wait for it, SQL Server backups. Because they’re SQL Server backups you can restore them to a SQL Server machine. That’s it. It’s very simple and simplistic.

Who this is for, well, if you’re one of those people with the funny taste in your mouth right now, probably not you (although, you know I think you should start learning it). If you’re managing one of the larger database systems, over 1tb in size, you’re out. In fact, if you have a sophisticated backup routine in place now combining differentials and file/filegroup backups, you’re out as well. This is meant for those people who don’t want to or can’t take all the time and trouble to set up a sophisticated backup routine. It’s for people who are already running their servers on Azure VMs. It’s for small shops that don’t have the money to set up multiple off-site storage locations for their backups. It’s for consultants who want a really simple and reliable method for getting clients to have protected backups with off-site storage with a minimal number of steps. In short, there are a lot of people who are going to find this pretty handy. Again, not everyone. But that’s OK, every feature isn’t for everyone either. That mom & pop database that’s about 8gb in size and running on a 32bit server just isn’t going to benefit from in-memory table storage either. Does that negate that functionality? Nope. Nor should the fact that some large enterprise clients will never use this.

If you’ve never set up log backups and aren’t sure how often your system should have them, this is going to be pretty handy since it does it for you. If you don’t have access to a DBA… well, you may still need one because setting up is T-SQL only currently, no GUI, so it might not work well for everyone, but I’m sure someone will write an app or a script for it soon. If you’re already running your databases on Azure VMs, this thing is fast. Really fast. In fact, I think it works quicker than my local disks (the spinning ones, not the SSDs). And, the storage is right there in the cloud, so you won’t have to pay for transfer down to your machine (although plucking a weekly backup out of the blob storage might be a good idea).

Now, there are a few things I don’t like about it. First, I’d like to have the option to backup locally first and then copy to the cloud (that’s how Red Gate implemented their cloud backup solution and it works great). And, I’d like to be able to tweak the knobs on when the backups occur. I’m also still not convinced I like how the monitoring is done with it, although since the schedule is maintained by SQL Agent, you can set up alerts, secondary monitors, all that fun stuff, all on your own. While some sophisticated DBA types will absolutely use this, I think the prime audience is non-DBAs. As such, it needs a clean & extremely simple GUI. You’ll get more implementation of it. Heck, I’d say it ought to be a check box on the SQL Server install process, and one you have to uncheck to prevent getting it set up when you install the instance. That way, Next-Next-Next deployments that probably never even consider recovery models or any of the rest of that fun stuff, will get backups as part of their installation.

Overall though, I’m excited about the added functionality. I’m especially excited because this functionality is added. It’s not replacing anything. I can still do all my backups my way, completely and utterly. Or, I have another automation tool that I can put to work. I’ve been running this on a test platform for over a month with no issues (while running other tests for other new functionality, I’m finally digging into 2014). I’ll write another post on how to configure this, although I don’t really need to because the Books Online are pretty clear. But, I wanted to get the “They’re taking away my control and putting it all on Azure” freak out done before I posted the technical part of the info. Proceed with the meltdown.

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