Tag Archives: backup

Azure Backup for SQL Server VMs

I am not sure why but sometimes I am glutting for punishment. Maybe its why I try every backup and restore solution I can get my hands on? While Microsoft has done an amazing job at building the best relational database engine Azure Backup for SQL Server Virtual Machines has some architecture problems. In this post, I will showcase things you need to focus on, problems, and workarounds for your initial run with an Azure Backup for SQL Server VMs.

What’s Azure Backup for SQL Server Virtual Machines (VMs)?

If you take a look at Azure Backup they added functionality for backing up SQL Server databases inside an Azure VM. This seems like a really cool feature. Let’s use the same technology we use to backup our VM’s to also backup our databases. You know the whole one-stop-shop for your disaster recovery needs. Comes with built-in monitoring and it also eliminates the struggle some people have with setting up certificates, encryptions, purging old backups in blob storage, backups and restores from blob storage. It is really nice to also have a similar experience as restoring Azure SQL Databases as well.

Unfortunately, the product doesn’t work as expected at this point in time. I would expect any database backup tool to be able and backup the system databases by default without any customization. Therefore, Last night I setup my first Azure Backup for SQL Server Virtual Machines in the Backup Vault and this morning you can see my results below.

Azure Backup for SQL Server VM’s gets 0/3 system databases backed up by default

Now we will dig into concerns and initial problems with Azure Backup for SQL Server Virtual Machines (VMs).

Automatically Backup New Databases

Having the ability to backup new databases automatically is taken for granted. So much, that I noticed that Azure Backup for SQL Server VM’s will not automatically backup new databases for you. That’s right. Make sure you remember to go in and detect and select your new database every time you add a database or you will not be able to recover.

Azure Backup for SQL Server VM’s has an interesting feature called Autoprotect. This should automatically backup all your databases for you. Unfortunately, this does not work. Yes, I double-checked by enabling autoprotect for a VM and I added a new database. The database didn’t get backed up so I had to manually add the database.

Simple Recovery Problems

Looking into the failures for my system database backups I noticed something interesting in the log for the master database. It looks like you will get errors with the only SQL Server backup policy created by default. The reason is the policy includes transactional log backups and as you know its impossible to take a transactional log backup if your database utilizes the simple recovery model. Now, most backup tools know how to roll with databases in simple and full recovery.

Looks like Azure Backup for SQL Server VM’s is not one of these tools that easily allow you to mix databases utilizing both simple and full recovery models.

Yup.. Simple recovery model is no bueno..
Yup, simple recovery model is no bueno..

So, how do we get around this? It is not too hard. Just create a new backup policy that does not include transactional log backups and assign it to your databases that utilize the simple recovery model.

Transactional Log Backup Problems

So, what happens when you try to take a transactional log backup of a database that doesn’t have a full backup? It fails. This is by design. If you try to take a log backup in this scenario with T-SQL it will fail as well. That said, several 3rd Party open source backup solutions like my recommended one can gracefully handle this for you. It can take a full backup instead of the log backup. I have grown to expect this behavior.

Here is what you will see in the logs of Azure Backup for SQL Server VM’s.

Log backups without a full backup fail. You have to force a full backup
You have to force a full backup or wait until the scheduled full backup occurs. Yuck!

So, the workaround here is simple. You can force a backup. This will start the process of allowing your schedule log backups to work as designed. You could also wait until the scheduled full backup runs but know this means you will not have point in time recovery until that full backup runs. There should be an option to perform a full backup instead of a transactional log backup if a full backup does not exist. This would prevent the transactional log scheduled backups from failing.

Things to Know!

Azure Backup for SQL Server VM’s pricing goes off of storage as well as instances of SQL. By default, compression is not used for the SQL Server Backups. You will most likely want to make sure you enable this to save some money.

Azure Backup for SQL Server VMs has a good amount of documentation for troubleshooting common problems.

There are many documented limitations that we didn’t cover in this blog post. Some shocking ones to me are SQL Server Failover Cluster Instances and don’t configure backup for more than 50 databases in one go

SQL Server 2017: Making Backups Great Again!

In some DBA circles, backups are just as popular as politicians! However, recoverability is the most important task for database administrators.  While SQL Server 2017 added so many great features like graph, SQL on Linux, and more.  Today, I want to focus on two small underdog features that might be game changers on how you do backups.

SQL Server Backups are often as popular as politicians.

SQL Server Backups are often as popular as politicians.

Smart Differential Backups

Databases are getting bigger, not smaller. More storage capacity is needed for these backups. Backup compression might hurt your storage capacity. Today, I am seeing more policies include full and differential backups along with transactional log backups. Differential backups are used to offset daily full backups. Typically people will use time increments as the basis for when backups should occur.  It’s very common to see automated jobs that do weekly full and daily differentials to reduce storage capacity needed for backups.

How often does your data change? Is the rate of change very consistent or does it change depending on the week?  Let’s assume this week it’s Tuesday and over 80% of your data pages have changed. You are not benefiting from taking daily differentials for the rest of the week. The opposite goes for data that doesn’t change that often.  Maybe you can save a lot of space by doing less frequent full backups.

Leveraging smart differential backups could greatly reduce your storage footprint and potentially reduce the time it takes to recover.

In SQL Server 2017 you can see exactly how many pages changed since your last full backup. This could be leveraged to determine if you should take a full or differential backup.  Backup solutions and backup vendors will be better for this.

select CAST(ROUND((modified_extent_page_count*100.0)/allocated_extent_page_count,2)
as decimal(6,2)) AS 'DiffChangePct'
from sys.dm_db_file_space_usage

Smart Transactional Log Backups

 The time your users are offline while you are recovering to the point of failure is critical. It could be the difference between keeping and losing customers.  Point-in-time recovery is mandatory for a critical database.  Transactional log backups have to be restored in order.

Recovery Point Objectives (RPO) drive how often you take transactional log backups.  If you have a policy that says you can only lose ten minutes of data, you need transactional log backups every ten minutes. Is this really true if there were no changes? What if your RPO is driven by the amount of data loss and not the time of the loss?  Either way, you can now control when transactional log backups occur based on the amount of data that has changed since the last transactional log backup.

SELECT name AS 'DatabaseName',dls.log_since_last_log_backup_mb,
dls.log_truncation_holdup_reason, dls.active_vlf_count,
FROM sys.databases s
CROSS APPLY sys.dm_db_log_stats(s.database_id) dls


This post was written by John Sterrett, CEO & Principal Consultant for Procure SQL.  Sign up for our monthly newsletter to receive free tips.  See below for some great related articles.

Adding a VLDB database to an SQL Server Availability Group

Recently, I was tasked with making an 60TB database highly available by adding it to an availability group. The following, is how I successfully completed adding the very large database (VLDB) to an Availability Group that had two replicas in the primary data center and a third replica in another data center with no downtime. We wanted to utilize the least amount of time during the initial synchronization process so we leverage log shipping to prepare the database on each replica.

We will call the three servers DC1Server1, DC1Server2, and DC2Server3.  We will have a pre-created AG called SQL2014AG1. We will say that the 60TB database is named VLDB.

Previously we did a side by side upgrade to upgrade VLDB from running on SQL Server 2012 to SQL Server 2014 on new hardware.  Previously, we also leveraged the new hardware to upgrade a subset of the data and build out the Availability Group for testing and training purposes.

  1. Create Availability Group. This was created in advance to deliver a proof of concept and to provide training for understanding how to use and manage an Availability Group. Therefore, there was no reason to break this and recreate it. If needed, you could obviously create the AG as part of this deployment where we just Add the VLDB into the AG.  Creating an Availability Group will not be covered here.
  2. Configure Log Shipping. The primary database in log shipping should be on the instance that is also the read/write replica for the availability group. In this case, VLDB already exists and is configured as primary on DC1Server1. This is also the primary replica for the SQL2014AG1 availability group. If you need examples on how to configure log shipping checkout my article on MSSQLTips.com.
  3. Identify the Log Shipping backup Job. This job usually starts with LSBackup_ for your database. This will be on DC1Server1.
    1. Execute the SQL Agent Job to take a log transactional log backup
    2. Disable the SQL Agent Job when the backup completes.
  4. On the secondary servers (DC1Server2 and DC2Server3) identify the LSCopy_ job for your database named VLDB.
    1. Execute the SQL Agent Job to copy the last log backup that you just created in step three.
    2. Disable the SQL Agent Job when copy backup job completes.
  5. On the secondary servers (DC1Server2 and DC2Server3) identify the LSRestore_ job for your database named VLDB.
    1. Execute the SQL Agent Job to restore the backups pending to be restored. This should include your backup taken in Step four.
    2. Disable the SQL Agent Job when the restore completes.
  6. Validate that the last log backups were copied and restored. This can be done using sp_help_log_shipping_monitor stored procedure on each instance. We would do this on DC1Server1 to validate the last log backup that was completed. On DC1Server2 and DC2Server3 we can validate that the backup was copied and also restored.
  7. On the primary server DC1Server1 add the VLDB to the existing availability group named SQL2014AG1. You can do this via the GUI.
    1. In SSMS under Availability Groups expand “SQL2014AG1” Availability Group and right click on Availability Databases and select “Add Database” to add VLDB.
    2. Select the “VLDB” database in the checkbox
    3. Select Join Only to start data synchronization as we used Log shipping to keep the VLDB in sync across all servers.
    4. Connect to all existing secondary servers (DC1Server2, and DC2Server3)
    5. Validate adding the Database to the Availability Group
    6. Add the Availability Group to your Availability Group named SQL2014AG1
  8.  Validate that Adding VLDB was successful to SQL2014AG1
    1. Remove log shipping on DC1Server1 for the VLDB database.
    2. Enable your log backup process for all three servers. This would be used to replace log shipping for taking transactional log backups.