Oracle backup and recovery challenges resellers

By Nicole Lewis, Senior News Writer
02 Jul 2007 |

Setting up a backup and recovery system for an Oracle customer wanting to protect critical databases can be frustrating, for both the customer and the Oracle reseller or solutions provider.

Among the problems, according to Ari Kaplan, president of the Independent Oracle User Group (IOUG), is that Oracle's own backup products aren't fast enough for large customers or flexible enough to cover the majority of backup situations. There is no "one-size-fits-all" backup and recovery solution for Oracle users, Kaplan said.

Value-added resellers (VARs) can make themselves more valuable to the customer by knowing the best third-party applications, and how to tailor them to a particular customer in order to meet both reliability and time requirements, said Kaplan, who is also senior consultant at Chanhassen, Minn.-based systems integrator Datalink Corp.

While Oracle has developed several tools, such as Oracle Recovery Manager (RMAN), Oracle Data Guard and Oracle Data Pump, for Oracle backup and recovery, replication and other data management tasks, Kaplan said these tools were designed with a standard operating system and standard backup tape libraries in mind. What's missing is storage snapshot tools and storage companies like EMC, IBM and Network Appliance (NetApp) are filling the vacuum.

Many Oracle channel partners are unaware of the breadth of third-party backup and recovery options; and many storage VARs don't know the strengths and weaknesses of Oracle's backup and recovery tools.
Ari Kaplan
President,  Independent Oracle Users Group

"If you have a large multi-terabyte database, it can take customers 20 or more hours using Oracle-only products to do the backup," Kaplan said. "But by using storage snapshot from vendors like Network Appliance, EMC and IBM, you could reduce that to a matter of minutes," Kaplan said.

Not only do Oracle database backups tend to be large, they tend to be the integration point stored in many databases and applications that sit on different servers, in different geographic locations. And, he said, many VARs are unaware of the third-party products available to make the whole process easier to manage.

Sandy Cohn, general manager and director of technical services at Albany, N.Y.-based Atec Group, said he uses NetApp's SnapManager for Oracle. SnapManager automates, organizes and provides disk-based Oracle backup and recovery of data for customers.

"By using SnapManager for Oracle it gives us recovery point objectives. You can recover an entire database in seconds or minutes rather than hours off of tape. It could be a 50 gigabyte database, it could be a 2 terabyte database, it does not matter," Cohn said.

Keith Baskin, storage practice manager at Norcross, Ga.-based Optimus Solutions said when he approaches Oracle backup jobs he first looks at what business applications the customer is running in their Oracle database. The next step is to discuss with customers their requirements, including their recovery point objectives and recovery times objectives. Once that's determined Baskin develops his strategy.

"Some of these backup tools can affect the performance of the database. If you are looking at a performance-heavy, critical application you can't do anything to it to reduce that performance," Baskin said. "You have to design your recovery in a different way than less critical applications that do not require consistent uptime," Baskin said.

Baskin uses Oracle's RMAN, Oracle Data Guard and other Oracle software as well as IBM's FlashCopy, Metro Mirror and Global Mirror, which are Oracle compatible. But that lineup doesn't work for every customer.

"It's pretty much custom manufacturing; every scenario is different," Baskin said.

"Many Oracle channel partners are unaware of the breadth of third-party backup and recovery options; and many storage VARs don't know the strengths and weaknesses of Oracle's of backup and recovery tools," Kaplan said.

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Kaplan recently posted a white paper in which he describes Oracle's environment as complex systems of interrelated files where multiple databases and applications often talk to one another. In such a database it can be difficult to know which sets of files to back up and recover.

"It is essential to know which files are interrelated so that the proper sets of files can be grouped together in a backup. Otherwise, it may not be possible to restore the system to a consistent state," he wrote.

One example of data inconsistency, the report sites, is that of a customer placing an order for a product.

"Depending on how the system is architected, the order information could potentially be housed in two different databases (one where the order is placed and one where the order is fulfilled). If there is an outage and the databases are not restored to consistent states, then it may appear in one database as if the order was placed and the other database would not show the order," the report said.

If files are not backed up in the correct order, the report said, it's easy to inadvertently overwrite a control file, which is a set of pointers that indicates where various files are located and which files are associated with one another.

"This then becomes an issue if the organization needs to recover the database to a particular point in time. Without the control files, the organization cannot recover the database to a certain point in time and will lose data. Unfortunately, this is not an uncommon occurrence," Kaplan's white paper adds.

For its part, Oracle executives said they will continue to increase their investment in developing software for Oracle data backup and recovery. Within the last two years the company has introduced information lifecycle management functions for tiered storage installations, to help users set priorities and time limits on specific data, and choose where to store the data or when to delete it based on that information.

It has also developed data compression tools, automatic storage management and a flashback database that captures data without extended downtime.

"Within Oracle we are aware of customer's challenges and we know it's a continuing work on our part to make sure that they have a simple, easy to follow and robust backup strategy," according to Sushil Kumar, senior director of product management.

Let us know what you think about this story; email: Nicole Lewis, Senior News Writer

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