Disaster, or Migration?

June 14, 2011

This post is in two parts – technical and personal. And I should point out that it’s prompted in part by this month’s T-SQL Tuesday, hosted by Allen Kinsel. TSQL2sDay150x150

First, the technical:

I’ve had a few conversations with people recently about migration – moving a SQL Server database from one box to another (sometimes, but not primarily, involving an upgrade). One question that tends to come up is that of downtime. Obviously there will be some period of time between the old server being available and the new one.

The way that most people seem to think of migration is this:

  1. Build a new server.
  2. Stop people from using the old server.
  3. Take a backup of the old server
  4. Restore it on the new server.
  5. Reconfigure the client applications (or alternatively, configure the new server to use the same address as the old)
  6. Make the new server online.

There are other things involved, such as testing, of course. But this is essentially the process that people tell me they’re planning to follow. The bit that I want to look at today (as you’ve probably guessed from my title) is the “backup and restore” section.

If a SQL database is using the Simple Recovery Model, then the only restore option is the last database backup. This backup could be full or differential. The transaction log never gets backed up in the Simple Recovery Model. Instead, it truncates regularly to stay small.

One that’s using the Full Recovery Model (or Bulk-Logged) won’t truncate its log – the log must be backed up regularly. This provides the benefit of having a lot more option available for restores. It’s a requirement for most systems of High Availability, because if you’re making sure that a spare box is up-and-running, ready to take over, then you have to be interested in the logs that are happening on the current box, rather than truncating them all the time.

A High Availability system such as Mirroring, Replication or Log Shipping will initialise the spare machine by restoring a full database backup (and maybe a differential backup if available), and then any subsequent log backups. Once the secondary copy is close, transactions can be applied to keep the two in sync. The main aspect of any High Availability system is to have a redundant system that is ready to take over.

So the similarity for migration should be obvious. If you need to move a database from one box to another, then introducing a High Availability mechanism can help. By turning on the Full Recovery Model and then taking a backup (so that the now-interesting logs have some context), logs start being kept, and are therefore available for getting the new box ready (even if it’s an upgraded version). When the migration is ready to occur, a failover can be done, letting the new server take over the responsibility of the old, just as if a disaster had happened. Except that this is a planned failover, not a disaster at all.

There’s a fine line between a disaster and a migration. Failovers can be useful in patching, upgrading, maintenance, and more. Hopefully, even an unexpected disaster can be seen as just another failover, and there can be an opportunity there – perhaps to get some work done on the principal server to increase robustness.

And if I’ve just set up a High Availability system for even the simplest of databases, it’s not necessarily a bad thing. 🙂

So now the personal:

It’s been an interesting time recently… June has been somewhat odd.

A court case with which I was involved got resolved (through mediation). I can’t go into details, but my lawyers tell me that I’m allowed to say how I feel about it. The answer is ‘lousy’. I don’t regret pursuing it as long as I did – but in the end I had to make a decision regarding the commerciality of letting it continue, and I’m going to look forward to the days when the kind of money I spent on my lawyers is small change. Mind you, if I had a similar situation with an employer, I’d do the same again, but that doesn’t really stop me feeling frustrated about it.

The following day I had to fly to country Victoria to see my grandmother, who wasn’t expected to last the weekend. She’s still around a week later as I write this, but her 92-year-old body has basically given up on her. She’s been a Christian all her life, and is looking forward to eternity. We’ll all miss her though, and it’s hard to see my family grieving.

Then on Tuesday, I was driving back to the airport with my family to come home, when something really bizarre happened. We were travelling down the freeway, just pulled out to go past a truck (farm-truck sized, not a semi-trailer), when a car-sized mass of metal fell off it. It was something like an industrial air-conditioner, but from where I was sitting, it was just a mass of spinning metal, like something out of a movie (one friend described it as “holidays by Michael Bay”). Somehow, and I’m really don’t know how, the part of it nearest us bounced high enough to clear the car, and there wasn’t even a scratch. We pulled over the check, and I was just thanking God that we’d changed lanes when we had, and that we remained unharmed. I had all kinds of thoughts about what could’ve happened if we’d had something that size land on the windscreen…

All this has drilled home that while I feel that I haven’t provided as well for the family as I could’ve done (like by pursuing an expensive legal case), I shouldn’t even consider that I have proper control over things. I get to live life, and make decisions based on what I feel is right at the time. But I’m not going to get everything right, and there will be things that feel like disasters, some which could’ve been in my control and some which are very much beyond my control. The case feels like something I could’ve pursued differently, a disaster that could’ve been avoided in some way. Gran dying is lousy of course. An accident on the freeway would have been awful. I need to recognise that the worst disasters are ones that I can’t affect, and that I need to look at things in context – perhaps seeing everything that happens as a migration instead.

Life is never the same from one day to the next. Every event has a before and an after – sometimes it’s clearly positive, sometimes it’s not. I remember good events in my life (such as my wedding), and bad (such as the loss of my father when I was ten, or the back injury I had eight years ago). I’m not suggesting that I know how to view everything from the “God works all things for good” perspective, but I am trying to look at last week as a migration of sorts. Those things are behind me now, and the future is in God’s hands. Hopefully I’ve learned things, and will be able to live accordingly. I’ve come through this time now, and even though I’ll miss Gran, I’ll see her again one day, and the future is bright.

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Mark Broadbent

    Thanks Rob for sharing this with us, it couldn’t have been easy to write and is more useful than you can imagine in putting perspective to ones own problems and difficulties.
    Thanks again and take care.

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