Fear not the backup upgrade: It’s not as scary as you think.

Fear not the backup upgrade: It’s not as scary as you think.

There’s a fairly common scenario in backup environments that I’ve seen at many of the small-to-medium-size shops where I’ve worked. It seems that the backup administration role is oftentimes inherited by (or otherwise bestowed upon) the unsuspecting new hire. This person may have lots of IT experience but little or no background in managing backups per se, or in the backup application(s) of choice within the new realm.  And soon there is talk of upgrading.  It need not be daunting, a little homework and support can make the effort successful.

1. Embrace change.

The backup system you’ve inherited may be working fine, but backup technology, especially software, is changing all the time, often times trying to keep pace with your customer-facing technology and applications.  Backup vendors are constantly facing growing data, shrinking windows and tighter SLAs.  The software needs to keep up with the upgrades to your business software and new features in the hardware, and it can also leverage new technologies (deduplication is everywhere now). And, of course, with all those new feature upgrades, there will be patches to the new features and you’ll likely want to step up to some of the new options for backup, like cloud.

2. Get support.

Before venturing into any upgrade, and as a general rule-of-thumb in any case, check your support situation.  There can be customer numbers, serial numbers, certificate numbers, limited hours, multiple web sites and e-mail accounts, etc.  It behooves you to take the time to gather and update the information as required and to have it all readily accessible.  Open a case with your backup software vendor, tell them you’re considering an upgrade and you want to do a health check.  The checks may take a day or two, you can choose to continue, reschedule, or opt out and close the ticket. In any case, you’ll get insight into the upgrade and support process and be better prepared moving ahead.

3. Check your work.

Most shops that have been kept reasonably up to date are probably in pretty good shape, but of course that is not a guarantor of success.  If there is a “catch” to upgrading, it’s that the environment needs to be upgrade-ready.  In addition to the health check cited above, or probably before, a few basic checks:

  • Do you know how all the parts are connected, like a topology drawing?
  • Are backups completing successfully, as in 98%–99% or better every day?
  • Are restores completing successfully? If need be consider random restores, like an audit.
  • Can you describe normal, daily behavior of the system?
  • Are you getting e-mails, about things like catalogs, file system cleanups, pool utilizations, alerts, etc?

4. Plan Ahead

Backup upgrades, one or two per year, should be part of an IT road map.  Pick a couple dates, allow plenty of time and prep your customers, especially if yours is the kind of shop where backups run all day.  And an often neglected but time-consuming piece is the client upgrades.  Even though the versions are supposed to be compatible, older clients often start experiencing minor glitches after the server software has been upgraded.  Finally, open a case in advance with your vendor, they want you to be successful and are often receptive to pre-opening a support ticket.

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