A good backup horror story can make you a better backup administrator

Broad IT skill sets are fine. But to truly be an exceptional backup administrator, one must have survived a nightmarish backup experience.

Good backup administrators must possess not only a comprehensive technical understanding of their backup products, but also of the wider IT environment. They need to understand the fundamentals of networking, storage, Unix, Windows and database functionality.

Backup administrators must be able to grasp how the business functions, how data moves throughout the organisation, and when and how to secure that data. Backup administrators must have research skills to assess and evaluate the latest product releases in addition to solid design knowledge needed to build and operate an ever-changing IT environment.

Bad backup experiences can urn an average backup administrator into an exceptional one.


David Boyd
Senior ConsultantGlassHouse Technologies

But there is another key component that can turn an average backup administrator into an exceptional one: bad experiences! Most backup administrators can share stories of how close they have come to their P45 when unable to restore an important platform and how it changed their job approach. My own story occurred in my early IT days when I was responsible for backing up a large Oracle database that seemed to never complete within its assigned window.

Several days after the last usable copy had expired from tape, we left the cold backup to run into the day with complete disregard for service interruption. About 90% of the way through the backup, the server team reported they had a double disk failure in the attached disk array and that several file systems were unreachable. Somehow the backup was still running, and by chance it had progressed past the point of corruption and went onto successful completion. A subsequent successful recovery saved our collective blushes.

Two things happened after that incident.

  1. The backup environment received a long overdue capital injection.
  2. I vowed never to put myself in that position again and never to let a situation continue to a point where a recovery, to an acceptable point, was not possible.

This particular incident made me a better administrator and taught me to escalate problems earlier rather than later.

As backup administrators, we can have all the relevant qualifications and necessary skill sets that make us look respectable on paper. However, we are only human beings and sometimes we need that first-hand experience of an unpleasant situation to make us more cautious in our planning and approach to everyday activities.

About the author: David Boyd is a senior consultant at GlassHouse Technologies (UK), a global provider of IT infrastructure services, with more than seven years experience in backup and storage, with a major focus on designing and implementing backup solutions for blue-chip companies.

Read more on Data protection, backup and archiving