Regularly scheduled backups.
I won't harp on the obvious: The ability to access recent, consistent backup files and archived redo logs is the key to recovering from and surviving a disaster. Of course, I am assuming your production database is running in ARCHIVELOG mode for maximum flexibility for recovery. Moreover, if the database is running in ARCHIVELOG mode, I am assuming that Recovery Manager (RMAN) is being used for creating backups and recovery.

As in most shops, we have designed our production backup scheme to run overnight during off-peak hours. We have the luxury of a relatively small production database (330GB) at about 20% utilization, so nightly Incremental Level 0 RMAN backups only consume about 45-50 GB of disk space, and they are completed in approximately 4 hours. However, this gives me extreme flexibility in rolling forward from a potential disaster, including point-in-time incomplete recovery via RMAN.

Alternatives to RMAN backups.
My Oracle University teacher repeated this in class over and over again: "RMAN is the best way to back up a database - but it's not the only way." I thank him every day for the reminder! Even though our RMAN backups are created nightly, as a second line of defense against data loss I create a full set of exports every night. If I should need to recover just one table, or a portion of the table, it is a lot easier to recover it from an export than from a full tablespace backup. In addition, if a disaster does arise, and my backups are damaged as well, I have a chance of recovering at least some of the data from an export.

Alternate media storage of backup files.
While writing to disk media is probably the speediest and easiest mechanism for backup files retention, in many cases the disk space required is a luxury. Even though I do have the advantage of sufficient disk space, however, I have worked out a scheme of alternate media backups (tape) as a third line of defense against loss of the database server. In an absolute worst-case scenario - complete loss of the physical hardware - I still have a guaranteed method to recover a significant portion of my production database, albeit limited by the most recent available set of archived redo logs on tape.

Another word about alternate media backups: Offsite storage is strongly recommended for at least some of the backup tapes. We currently send a complete set of backups off to a remote site once a week for vaulted archival with guaranteed turnaround of one hour for any particular tape (for a small fee, of course).

If you're having a hard time imagining why you'd ever need offsite storage for backups, here's a classic Oracle "urban legend" I heard at a recent seminar. A panicked DBA called Oracle for help because his production server had been destroyed when a truck backed up through his company's loading dock, which was on the other side of the server room. Part of the collapsed wall crashed down directly on top of the production server, destroying it. The DBA had an alternate server available, and had been backing up his database to tape.

Unfortunately, the backup tapes were stored - you guessed it - on top of the production server.

Evaluating the disaster recovery plan.
Once all the disaster recovery pieces I have discussed previously are in place, I have found it is important to determine if the disaster recovery plan will work by actually simulating at least the most critical disaster scenarios.

After my experiences a few Saturdays ago, I reviewed all the media failure possibilities, including the loss of one or more datafiles containing SYSTEM, UNDO/rollback, index, and data segments. Then I constructed scenarios under which they might fail, and my expected course of action. Finally, I constructed methods to simulate the failure.

To simulate media failures of the various segment types, for example, I configured a RAID-0 drive on one of our development servers and then restored copies of a test database so that the appropriate datafiles were installed on that drive. While our QA manager simulated activity against that datafile by running application code that accessed that datafile's tablespace, I simply pulled that drive out of the disk array. I compared the expected results from the simulated failure against my expectations, and then attempted to restore and recover the damaged datafile using appropriate RMAN scripts.

I ran into some unexpected challenges with my initial attempts at RMAN recovery scripts, since some of the commands to rename and switch datafiles during restoration are slightly different from those used when restoring from "hot" or "cold" backups of datafiles and tablespaces. However, I have considered the lessons I learned during the evaluations of these scenarios to be invaluable, since I now have working examples of RMAN scripts for each specific scenario.

The result? I am now fully confident that in the worst-case scenarios of a partial or complete media failure of my production databases, I can easily restore and recover the appropriate datafiles from an RMAN backup set - something I do not ever want to have to do under the gun with one hand on the manual and one hand on the keyboard!

Jim Czuprynski is an Oracle DBA for a telecommunications company in Schaumburg, IL. He can be contacted at