In an ideal world, hard drives and other hardware never fail, software is never defective, users do not make mistakes, and hackers are never successful. However, we live in a less than perfect world and we should plan and prepare to handle adverse events.

In todays topic, I will focus on best practices for backing up large mission critical databases. Performing and maintaining good backups is one of the top priority for any DBA/Developer/Engineer working with databases.


RESTORING a database from a backup is simply a repair feature and not an availability feature. If you are running a mission-critical system and if your database requires high availability, then please look into various H/A features available with SQL Server.

If you are running a large/mission-critical database system than you need your database to be available continuously or for extended periods of time with minimal down-time for maintenance tasks. Therefore, the duration of situations that require databases to be restored must be kept as short as possible.

Additionally, if your databases are large, requiring longer periods of time to perform backup and restore than you MUST look into some of the cool new features that SQL Server offers to increase the speed of backup and restore operations to minimize the effect on users during both backup and restore operations.

Here are some such features that would help you improve database backups:

Use Multiple Backup Devices Simultaneously

If you are performing backups/restore on a large database than use multiple backup devices simultaneously to allow backups to be written to all the devices at the same time. Using multiple backup devices in SQL Server, allows database backups to be written to all devices in parallel. One of the potential bottleneck in backup throughput is the backup device speed. Using multiple backup devices can increase throughput in proportion to the number of devices used. Similarly, the backup can be restored from multiple devices in parallel.

Use Mirrored Media Set

Use a mirrored media set. A total of four mirrors is possible per media set. With the mirrored media set, the backup operation writes to multiple groups of backup devices. Each group of backup devices makes up a single mirror in the mirrored media set. Each single mirror set must use the same quantity and type of physical backup devices, and must all have the same properties.

Use Snapshot Backups (Fastest Backup)

This is the fastest way to perform backups on databases. A snapshot backup is a specialized backup that is created almost instantaneously by using a split-mirror solution obtained from an independent hardware and software vendor. Snapshot backups minimize or eliminate the use of SQL Server resources to accomplish the backup. This is especially useful for moderate to very large databases in which availability is very important. Snapshot backups and restores can be performed sometimes in seconds with very little or zero effect on the server.

Use Low Priority Backup Compression

Backing up databases using the newly introduced backup compression feature, could increase CPU usage and any additional CPU consumed by the compression process can adversely impact concurrent operations. Therefore, when possible create a low priority compressed backup whose CPU usage is limited by Resource Governor to prevent any CPU contention.

Use Full, Differential & Log Backups

If the database recovery model is set to FULL, than use different combination of backups (FULL, DIFFERENTIAL, LOG). This will help you minimize the number of backups that need to be applied to bring the database to the point of failure.

Use File / Filegroup Backups

Use file and file group backups and T-log backups. These allow for only those files that contain the relevant data, instead of the whole database, to be backed up or restored.

Use different disk for Backups

Do not use the same physical disk that holds database files or Log files for backup purposes. Using the same physical disk not only affects the performance, but also may reduce the recover-ability of the plan.