Serio Blog

Thursday, 18 Oct 2007

As some of you are aware, we’re currently working hard on a major upgrade to both the Serio Helpdesk and Serio Service Desk lines, which we are planning to release in the next quarter (although a firm release has not been set yet).

Currently the changes list details some 40 amendments, some big, some small.

The ‘big-ticket’ items relate to web access and web functionality.


The first of these is PocketSerio-i. This is a browser-based piece of software that complements our mobile product line by allowing you to:

Manage Incidents and Changes

Manage Items

from a handheld, mobile device. We’ve been quite careful with what we assume that the host browser is capable of (ie, it doesn’t need to be the latest and greatest Internet Explorer version, or even Internet Explorer at all), so it should run on a wide-range of hand-held devices that have an ‘always on’ internet connection.

This product doesn’t replace PocketSerio, it complements it. PocketSerio is still good for users that need a download/work and edit/upload model where no persistent wireless internet connection exists.

PocketSerio-i however is aimed at mobile engineers performing site visits to resolve problems, and those performing on site inventory checks and reconciliations where the engineer has an always-connected device. PocketSerio-i actually been around for some time, but Release 5 will be the first time we've bundled it with the standard distribution.

For the technically minded amongst you, PocketSerio-i is an ASP.NET application that uses SerioServer in the same way as the other Serio applications do (in other words, it's a another client using the same business object layers).

As soon as we've sorted-out a few hosting issues, you'll be able to obtain access to this over the web. Simply contact support, letting them know the exact model designation of the mobile device you are using, and the type of wireless connection you have, and we'll send you the access details once we know them. The system will be connected to a simple database we'll set-up for you.


Although this won't replace SerioClient, at least in Release 5, it will allow customers to log Incidents, Problems and Changes over the web, as well and manage Incidents, Problems and Changes. It will certainly allow you to log new tickets, and to place Actions on them (for instance, so make assignments, send eMails, or record resolutions).

Like I said, the plan is not to replace SerioClient immediately but to offer SerioClient-i as an alternative for off-site working.

There are other enhancements due as well. I'll post about these at a later date. Release 5 will be available to customers with a current (active) support plan.

Tuesday, 16 Oct 2007

This is a follow on from last week’s imaginatively titled post ‘Creating a Change Plan Template Part 3’ – follow the posts backwards to catch up.

Recap: I’m creating a simple 4 Stage Change Plan Template (CPT) on the subject of how to change a wheel. So far, I’ve done all the up-front designing I need to do, I’ve created an empty Change Plan, and into this I’ve placed 4 Stages as per my design.

So far so good. At the moment, we still can’t use this CPT because it does not have any Tasks. As I’ve mentioned previously, Tasks are the things the people actually do, and so a Stage without any Tasks is not much use.

I’ve already written down my Tasks – you’ll find them in Parts 1 and 2. What I’ll do now is add them to the Change Plan Template, which you can do as follows.

1. Login to SerioAdmin, and then open a Change Explorer.

Because we are going to create Tasks, we need to create something called an Issue Template. This is basically a shortcut for an Incident – it contains the Issue Type, Problem Area, Priority and other such data. We'll use it when creating the Task.

2. Expand ‘Change Set-up’ and click ‘Issue Templates’. Open-up a new Issue Template editor, and create an Issue Template as follows:

Name: Generic/Generic Issue Template
Description: (You can leave this blank if you wish).
Enter some non-specific values for Issue Type and Problem Area. Examples might be:
Issue Type: Change
Problem Area: Change Task

Set a medium or moderate Priority, and save your work.

4. Within the Change Explorer, click ‘Change Plan Templates’.

5. Select the ‘Change Wheel’ Template, open the flowchart viewer as I described in my last post, and then double-click the 'Change Wheel' Template to begin editing it. You’ll see the Template details and the Stages all listed in the editor form.

6. Double-click the first Stage, called ‘Location Inspection’. This will allow you to edit that Stage. Notice that at the bottom of the Stage edit form there is a list of Tasks – which is of course empty. Right-click here and click ‘New’ from the pop-up menu to add a new Task.

7. Using the Task form, create a Task as follows.

Task Name: Deploy Safety Warning Triangle
Task No: 1
Description: The safety triangle should be deployed about 50 metres behind the vehicle. If you are on a bend, choose a location that gives good visibility to traffic travelling in your direction (Notice that the description is basically the same as the one I created in Part 1.).
Issue Template: Generic (the one we created earlier in this post).

Save this Task.

8. Close the Task editor down, and you’ll see the Task you’ve just created listed with its Stage. Now repeat the process for the second Task which is called ‘Inspect the location of the Vehicle’.

Task Name: Inspect location of Vehicle
Task No: 2
Description: If you are changing a driver-side wheel, and are close to the flow of traffic, abort the Change. If the vehicle is in the flow of traffic, abort the Change.

Save your work.

9. Close down the Stage editor we have open for Stage ‘Location Inspection’. For each of the remaining 3 Stages, add the Tasks I wrote down in Parts 1 and 2.

The CPT is almost ready to go. The next post will create the Actions we need, and then we can run it.

Friday, 12 Oct 2007

Just as we are getting our heads round the idea of online applications, the wheel, we are told, is turning a full circle and the focus is moving back to the desktop. A number of browser plug ins are bringing applications out of the browser and creating hybrid apps that have been dubbed the new webtops. These include Microsoft’s Silverlight, Google’s Gears and Adobe’s AIR. Crucially though, Adobe takes things a step further with AIR, which can operate entirely independently of the browser. The race is on to develop must-have website applets for the desktop, keeping websites in the user’s face as never before, which is exciting the marketing and media types, and potentially replacing core desktop applications such as word processing with hybrid web/internet applications, which is scaring IT support. But why should the hapless user give up precious desktop space anyway? This confusing state of affairs is best clarified by example. A developer might write a desktop application that links to an online service allowing local storage to be combined with online features such as streaming media. The success of this latest generation of webtops lies as always with the killer app. In a move that could well put pressure on Google’s online apps offer, Adobe bought up the Buzzword online word processor this month as part of its strategy for internet application development. Buzzword was built with Adobe's Flex and runs in Flash, allowing people to collaborate on documents - and work with hosted and local documents. As well as its purchasing muscle, Adobe is using the latest crowdsourcing development methodology, running an AIR developer derby with $100,000 for the winning developer and last week it got together with MTV to launch another big ticket developer competition. Some big names have got in the web-desktop act – Ebay, AOL, The New York stock exchange NASDAQ and Business Objects are reported to have demoed hybrid applications for business and consumers. Applets can be knocked up in AIR by web developers in HTML (JavaScript, CSS, XML) and Adobe Flash (ActionScript, Flex, XML) and can be run on Windows or Mac operating systems, with versions for Linux and mobile devices in the pipeline. A big advantage is that browser specific code can be used to create the independent desktop app too. Downsides are the 10Mb runtime load and the need to install the application. Regular readers may remember mutterings about the security threats posed by desktop gadgets and widgets and there are similar murmurings that webtop hybrids carry the same risk of being a chink in the network armour. That health warning aside though, the results of the AIR developer derby should make interesting viewing. [tags] Adobe AIR, Applets [/tags]

Tuesday, 09 Oct 2007

This is a follow-up to Part 2, posted last week. Recall I’m setting-up a simple 4 Stage Change Plan Template (CPT). The previous posts carry all of the background and set-up info you need.

So far, you’ve created a CPT. However, it isn’t terribly useful at the moment in that it’s just a hollow shell – it has no Stages, and no Tasks. However, as we’ve written these down beforehand it’s a simple case of data entry. Follow these steps carefully to get the rest of the data entered.

1. Login to SerioAdmin, and open a new Change Explorer.

2. Expand ‘Change Set-up’ and click on Change Plan Templates. You’ll see the Change Plan ‘Wheel Change’ we created in Part 2. Make sure this is highlighted, and then right-click on it and choose ‘Show Flowchart’.

This is where having a big, high resolution display comes in handy. Move the Flowchart window over to the side, so that you can still see it and use SerioAdmin at the same time.

3. Right click on ‘Change Wheel’ and then click ‘Amend’.

4. You’ll be presented with the Change Plan Template edit form. Look to the bottom of this, and you’ll see a list of Stages, which is (of course) blank – because we haven’t defined any.  Right-click on this list and select ‘New’.

5. You will now see the ‘New Stage’ form. Create your first Stage as follows.

Name: Location Inspection.
Stage Number: 1 (recall we previously defined this [Stage Number 1] as the starting Stage).
Description: Use the summary I created for this Stage – the one beginning ‘Check that the car is not in a dangerous location…’. This helps you to focus on what this Stage is for.

That’s all we need to enter for now.  Save your work. Notice that the flowchart has updated for you.

6. Now repeat the process, and create Stages for ‘Inspect spare wheel and tools’ and ‘Replace wheel’. When creating these, increment the Stage Number you use, so that Inspect is Stage Number 2 and Replace is Stage Number three.

Example flowchart

7. When you create the final Stage (Safety Inspection) you need to do things in the same way, but before saving click the ‘Stage Start/End’ tab you’ll find on the Stage editing form. We need to tell Serio this is our end point (i.e., this is where the Change ends). Click this tab, and choose the option ‘End the Change Plan’ and then save your work.

The flowchart will now show you how your Stages look within the CPT. It should look something like the flowchart in Figure 1.






Figure 1 - Example Flowchart

Let’s recap what we’ve done. We’ve create a Change Plan Template, and then defined the 4 Stages that comprise this. We’ve entered this into Serio, which is now able to show us a graphical representation of what is involved in Wheel Change (in as much as it knows the correct order of Stages). However, the CPT is not useable right now because there are no actual Tasks for people to perform. What we have now however is a framework into which those Tasks can be added.

I’ll move onto Tasks and Actions in the next post.

Thursday, 04 Oct 2007

Part 1 (Server Core and Windows Server Virtualization)

Whilst the first two posts that I wrote for this blog were quite generic, discussing such items as web site security for banks and digital rights management, this time I'm going to take a look at the technology itself – including some of the stuff that excites me right now with Microsoft’s Windows Server System.

Many readers will be familiar with Windows XP or Windows Vista on their desktop but may not be aware that Windows Server operating systems also have a sizable chunk of the small and medium size server market.   This market is set to expand as more enterprises implement virtualisation technologies (running many small servers on one larger system, which may run Windows Server, Linux, or something more specialist like VMware ESX Server).

Like XP and Vista, Windows 2000 Server and Advanced Server (both now defunct), Windows Server 2003 (and R2) and soon Windows Server 2008 have their roots in Windows NT (which itself has a lot in common with LAN Manager).  This is both a blessing and a curse as while the technology has been around for a few years now and is (by and large) rock solid, the need to retain backwards compatibility can also mean that new products struggle to balance security and reliability with legacy code.

Microsoft is often criticised for a perceived lack of system stability in Windows but it’s my experience that a well-managed Windows Server is a solid and reliable platform for business applications.  The key is to treat a Windows Server computer as if it were the corporate mainframe rather than adopting a   personal computer mentality for administration.  This means strict policies controlling the application of software updates and application installation as well as consideration as to which services are really required.

It’s this last point that is most crucial.  By not installing all of the available Windows components and by turning off non-essential services, it's possible to reduce the attack surface for any would-be hacker.  A reduced attack surface not only means less chance of falling foul of an exploit but it also means less patches to deploy.  It's with this in mind that Microsoft produced Windows Server Core - an installation option for the forthcoming Windows Server 2008 product (formerly codenamed Longhorn Server).

As the name suggests, Windows Server Core is a version of Windows with just the core operating system components and a selection of server roles available for installation (e.g. Active Directory domain controller, DHCP server, DNS server, web server, etc.).  Server Core doesn’t have a GUI as such and is entirely managed from a command prompt (or remotely using standard Windows management tools).  Even though some graphical utilities can be launched (like Notepad), there is no Start Menu, no Windows Explorer, no web browser and, crucially, a much smaller system footprint.  The idea is that core infrastructure and application servers can be run on a server core computer, either in branch office locations or within the corporate data centre and managed remotely.  And, because of the reduced footprint, system software updates should be less frequent, resulting in improved server uptime (as well as a lower risk of attack by a would-be hacker).

If Server Core is not exciting enough, then Windows Server Virtualization should be.  I mentioned virtualisation earlier and it has certainly become a hot topic this year.  For a while now, the market leader (at least in the enterprise space) has been VMware (and, as Tracey Caldwell noted a few weeks ago, VMware shares have been hot property), with their Player, Workstation, Server and ESX Server products.  Microsoft, Citrix (XenSource) and a number of smaller companies have provided some competition but Microsoft will up the ante with Windows Server Virtualization, which is expected to ship within 180 days of Windows Server 2008.  No longer running as a guest on a host operating system (as the current Microsoft Virtual Server 2005 R2 and VMware Server products do), Windows Server Virtualization will directly compete with VMware ESX Server in the enterprise space, with a totally new architecture including a thin “hypervisor” layer facilitating direct access to virtualisation technology-enabled hardware and allowing near-native performance for many virtual machines on a single physical server.  Whilst Microsoft is targeting the server market with this product (they do not plan to include the features that would be required for a virtual desktop infrastructure, such as USB device support and sound capabilities) it will finally establish Microsoft as a serious player in the virtualisation space (even as the market leader within a couple of years).  Furthermore, Windows Server Virtualization will be available as a supported role on Windows Server Core; allowing for virtual machines to be run on an extremely reliable and secure platform.  From a management perspective there will be a new System Center product – Virtual Machine Manager, allowing for management of virtual machines across a number of Windows servers, including quick migration, templated VM deployment and conversion from physical and other virtual machine formats.

Windows Server Core and Windows Server Virtualization are just two of the major improvements in Windows Server 2008.  Over the coming weeks, I’ll be writing about some of the other new features that can be expected with this major new release.

Windows Server 2008 will be launched on 27 February 2008.  It seems unlikely that it will be available for purchase in stores at that time; however corporate users with volume license agreements should have access to the final code by then.  In the meantime, it's worth checking out Microsoft's Windows Server 2008 website and the Windows Server UK User Group.

Tuesday, 02 Oct 2007

This is a follow on from Thursday's post about Change Plan Templates.

In this post, I’m going to continue my definition of the roadside wheel change. See Thursday’s post for more info and background. My last post got halfway through defining my Tasks, so before moving on I’ll finish this by refining Stages Replace Wheel and Safety Inspection.

Stage: Replace Wheel. Tasks: (1)

(Recall I said to avoid micro management. So I’m going to assume that the person replacing the wheel knows how to use a jack and a spanner. What I will do is put a few things that can go wrong).

1. Change Wheel. Wear the high-visibility vest and latex gloves. Using the Jack from the tool kit, remove the old wheel and replace with the new. Hub caps (if fitted) should be stored in the boot and not used on the spare wheel. Inflate the replacement tyre to 36PSI.

Stage: Safety Inspection. Tasks: (1)

(Another opportunity for checklists)

[ ] Re-check tyre pressure is at 36PSI.
[ ] Recover all tools from the work area. You should account for the old wheel, hub cap (if fitted), jack, 17mm spanner.
[ ] Recover the safety triangle.
[ ] Place warning note or sticker on the dashboard that the maximum vehicle speed should not exceed 60 MPH.

What we have then are 4 Stages, and 5 Tasks in our simple exercise. You could have set-up a single Stage (‘Change Wheel’) composed of 5 Tasks to achieve the same thing but I’ve used Stages in this way to communicate the most important steps involved. My Change is linear in that it does not have any branching – I’ve done this to make it as simple as possible. It also involves a single person, and does not co-ordinate teams or individuals. However, it will serve to illustrate the understanding of the problem domain you need to have before getting started, and will illustrate the basic use of the tool.

As always, please remember that this blog is NOT the product documentation – it’s designed to complement the product documentation, not replace it. The product documentation is distributed with the software, and you’ll find it in the HowTo guide.

Creating the Change Plan Template

I’m going to assume you know how to use SerioAdmin to create, amend and delete records.

1. Login to SerioAdmin on your test system.

2. Open a new Change Explorer.

3. Expand Change Set-up, click on Change Plan Categories and create a Change Plan Category called ‘Examples’.

4. Now click on Change Plan Templates. Create a new Change Plan Template as follows.

Name: ‘Wheel Change’
Category: ‘Examples’, as you created in 3.
Description: Use the definition of the Change I created in the last post (‘The safe and speedy replacement…’)
Start the Change with this Stage Number: Use the number 1 (this will be the Stage number we begin with).

Save when you are ready. You will now see that you can go and define Stages, which I’ll do in later posts

Thursday, 27 Sep 2007

After taking a diversion to discuss the topics of backups last week, I’m going to come back to the subject of Change Management, which I last wrote about here.

In this post, I’m going to create a Change Plan Template you can follow as an example. Recall that I’ve said you should have a Test SerioServer set-up (please don’t use your live system) and that before attempting to create a Change Plan Template you should really understand what it is you need to do – don’t sit in front of the computer and expect inspiration to come.

If all this seems new, I strongly suggest you stop and review the earlier posts.

For my example, I’m NOT going to use an IT subject, as I think it will be clearer if I choose a problem domain we all have similar and direct experience of – my main objective here is to illustrate use of the software. Therefore, my example Change will concern the changing of a car wheel by the roadside.

First of, I’m going to define what the Change aims to accomplish:

The safe and speedy replacement of a punctured tyre by the roadside, using the spare wheel and tools carried in the boot.

Recall that Serio Changes Plan Templates are primarily composed of both Stages and Tasks. Therefore, I’ll start with Stages as follows.

Location Inspection
Inspect spare wheel and tools
Replace Wheel
Safety Inspection

What I’m going to do now is, for each of the Stages, jot down some information about each of these so I stay focused on what each is meant to represent.

Location Inspection – Check that the car is not in a dangerous location, can we change the wheel safely, deploy safety triangle.

Inspect spare wheel and tools – Is the jack, spanners, spare wheel and other tools all there?

Replace wheel – Remove the old, replace with spare.

Safety inspection – Inflate the spare tyre, recover tools, place speed note on dashboard.

Still outside of the tool, I’m now going to define some Tasks. Tasks offer instruction and background, and are specific things that people do. In the examples below, I’ve given the Task a name (underlinned), and then included instructions with each that helps me do the job effectively.

Stage: Location Inspection. Tasks: (2).

1. Deploy Safety Warning Triangle. This should be deployed about 50 metres behind the vehicle. If you are on a bend, choose a location that gives good visibility to traffic travelling in your direction.

2. Inspect the location of the Vehicle. If you are changing a driver-side wheel, and are close to the flow of traffic, abort the Change. If the vehicle is in the flow of traffic, abort the Change.

Stage: Inspect spare wheel and tools. Tasks: (1) (This seems like a good opportunity for a checklist)

1. Kit Inspection. Check that the boot of the car holds the following:
[ ] Spare wheel
[ ] Car Jack
[ ] High visibility vest
[ ] Latex gloves
[ ] 17mm spanner or socket
[ ] Foot pump
If any are missing, abort the wheel Change.

I’ll continue this in my next post (probably Monday).

Tuesday, 25 Sep 2007

Widgets and gadgets of the desktop variety are becoming a headache. When they are not swallowing up memory they are proving to be the tiny crack through which virus nasties are slipping.

A quick glance to the right of my screen reveals a pot of virtual tulips that needs a virtual watering, a smiley face tracking my CPU usage, rolling news feeds, a weather forecast for London (not my location, but it's a long story), a notepad and the to do list I couldn’t do without. OK I am the kind of widget addict that support teams running out of thumbs to plug the virus dam could do without

It gets worse. Turns out gadget fans may be inviting all sorts of horrors on to their PC that are finding their way on to the network and putting network security at risk. True widget warriors who like to customise their desktops daily may remember that some come with a health warning – “Google has not tested this” etc.

Finjan’s Malicious Code Research Center tracks the latest top priority security threats and has found that widgets and gadgets are vulnerable to a range of attacks. These findings did spark a few security advisories by major vendors who rushed out patches, and an overhaul of the security models used to host these widgets and gadgets online as well as in operating systems.

Finjan found problems with Windows Vista contacts sidebar, RSS feed and the Yahoo contacts widget. All these vendors have since fixed these problems.

Yahoo told its widget users about a security issue, commonly referred to as a buffer overflow, in an ActiveX control in the Summer. This is part of the software package downloaded with Yahoo! Widgets. Users were asked to download a security patch but those that haven’t remain vulnerable.

A buffer overflow might cause applications to crash but Yahoo points out this could only happen if an attacker is successful in prompting someone to view malicious HTML code, such as by getting a person to visit their web page.

Microsoft has recognised the problem and has guidelines for secure programming best practices for building Windows Vista sidebar gadgets. Its developer network blog points out that, the Windows Vista sidebar hosts gadgets built from HTML, JavaScript, and potentially ActiveX controls, and because gadgets are HTML, they are subject to scary cross-site scripting style bugs allowing script in the sidebar to run arbitrary code on the locally logged-on user’s PC.

It advises us not to trust input and validate and sanitise untrusted input. Obvious you might think but clearly too many of us are ignoring the “not from a trusted source” notices.

Interactive widgets – the really useful ones that rely on external feeds - present the greatest risk offering a free ride to malicious code. It looks as if the time has come to block widget and gadget application file types at the gateway to the business if networks are to be kept secure. 

Thursday, 20 Sep 2007

This is a continuation of Monday's post about Backup Basics.

There are different types of backup

Think for a second about how databases work. They typically have a large pool of data to deal with that doesn’t change that often (like all of your resolved Incidents) and then smaller amounts of new data and data amendments to record, which it needs to store as quickly as possible. The way that such systems handle this is by having a Transaction Log, which is where all the changes go.

Think for a second about that this means. It means you could take a backup of the data that does not change a lot, and then just keep backing-up the Transaction Log so that you are backing up all of the changes you’ve made.

So, SQL Server has two types of backup. There’s the Full or Complete backup, and the [transaction] Log backup. One backs up everything, and one backs up data changes.

So why bother? The answer lies in frequency of backup. Full backups can slow down your system, simply because the database has a lot of work to do is gathering and then writing all of your data. So, these are typically done just once, when the database is quiet (like late in the evening). The rest of the time, you perform Log backups to record your changes because this is much quicker, and places less of a burden on the system.

Tip: Don’t perform multiple Full backups during the day – your users will notice, particularly if you have a large amount of data.

If the worst happens, you restore from your last good Full backup, and then perform rollforwards using the backups you’ve taken of the Log – effectively re-applying all the changes you made.

When you perform your SQL Server backup, one of the things you can choose to do is to truncate the Transaction Log (otherwise, on SQLServer, it will just keep on getting bigger).

Frequency of Backup is Important

If you do your backup once a day, think about how many hours of data you could lose if it all goes pear shaped – almost a day’s worth. As a manager, think about your Helpdesk or Service Desk’s throughput during the day and how much data you could ‘afford’ to lose, and then build your backup strategy around this, for example by having a Full backup during the day, and an hourly Log backup during the day. Remember, don't rely on fault-tolerant hardware. If there is a fire, theft, or one of the engineers spills his bottle of Irn Bru over the server, you could lose everything in an instant.

Using 3rd-party software

Using third party utilities and software to backup your database is fine, provided you choose wisely. However, don’t think that will necessarily excuse you from understanding the issues I’ve highlighted above. All such programs that I’ve seen simply provide convenient interfaces to SQLServer’s own backup mechanisms – so everything I’ve said above still applies. You still have to think about frequency, type of backup and log truncation.

Practice, Practice, Practise

Have you ever practised recovery? Don’t make your first recovery a real recovery – practice will prove that your backup and recovery procedures are effective. Don't trust to luck.

A Word of Caution to Managers

Users tend to hold senior managers responsible for data loss. Take an interest in your backup and recovery procedures, and don’t assume it’s all been taken care of.

Monday, 17 Sep 2007

This is a follow-on from Friday’s post about Backups

Database Backups – The Basics

Serio, like many systems, stores most (but not all) of it’s data in a relational (ie, table based) database which can be either Oracle or SQL Server. I’m going to talk about SQL Server, but most of this applies to Oracle as well. So when you log an Incident, it’s stored in a the database, when you compose an email, it's stored in the database, and on - pretty much all of the content you create is stored there.

Serio doesn’t actually write to the files. Instead, Serio says ‘here’s an Incident, store it somewhere, I don’t want to know where’ and this SQL Server duly does. Then it sits waiting for the next instruction.

All the time SQL Server is waiting, the files that it uses (of which there are quite a few) are held open, and the contents might be in what you could call an inconsistent state – in the middle of being written to, read from, reorganised or generally tidied as the database processes requests.

From a backup point of view, this means you cannot just leave the database running and then copy the files onto backup medium, because you never know what state they will be in (even if you can read them, because they are usually opened with exclusive access).

If you think this is so obvious it’s not worth pointing out, I’d bet there are people reading this who ‘backup’ by doing exactly that.

Shutdown & Startup Backups

Of course, you could shut the database down (say overnight) and then copy those files. This may work just fine (but it's something I regard as ill-advised and risky), but it’s inconvenient and can lead to large data loss. It’s inconvenient because you first of all have to shut down the applications using the database, then shut the database down, then backup, and then re-start everything.

The data loss comes about because this type of backup is typically done once every day (at night). So, if you have a system failure towards the end of the next business day, you’ve lost a day’s worth of data. Maybe you think that's OK for your environment, but to me that seems like a lot of work and information to discard.

Usually, this type of strategy is adopted by those that are not comfortable with their database tools.

Better Backups

Backing-up your database is best done by saying to the database ‘back yourself up’. The output from this command is usually a file (in SQLServer’s case), that you simply place on different (safe) media. If the worst happens and your own server starts to go ‘boing…’ (see my last post for what I mean) when it is powered on, you take this file and recover using it – buy telling the database to restore from backup file.

This kind of approach is superior to the shutdown and startup backups I’ve mentioned above for another reason – during this process of backing itself up, the database will check it’s own integrity – so if it has any internal issues you may hear about these sooner rather than later (which is a good thing).

I'll post about Full backups and the Transaction Log shortly.