MySQL data backup: going beyond mysqldump

A user on a linux user group mailing list asked about this, and I was one of the people replying. Re-posting here as I reckon it’s of wider interest.

> [...] tens of gigs of data in MySQL databases.
> Some in memory tables, some MyISAM, a fair bit InnoDB. According to my
> understanding, when one doesn’t have several hours to take a DB
> offline and do dbbackup, there was/is ibbackup from InnoBase.. but now
> that MySQL and InnoBase have both been ‘Oracle Enterprised’, said
> product is now restricted to MySQL Enterprise customers..
>
> Some quick searching has suggested Percona XtraBackup as a potential
> FOSS alternative.
> What backup techniques do people employ around these parts for backups
> of large mixed MySQL data sets where downtime *must* be minimised?
>
> Has your backup plan ever been put to the test?

You should put it to the test regularly, not just when it’s needed.
An untested backup is not really a backup, I think.

At Open Query we tend to use dual master setups with MMM, other replication slaves, mysqldump, and XtracBackup or LVM snapshots. It’s not just about having backups, but also about general resilience, maintenance options, and scalability. I’ll clarify:

  • XtraBackup and LVM give you physical backups. that’s nice if you want to recover or clone a complete instance as-is. But if anything is wrong, it’ll be all stuffed (that is, you can sometimes recover InnoDB tablespaces and there are tools for it, but time may not be on your side). Note that LVM cannot snapshot between multiple volumes consistently, so if you have your InnoDB ibdata/IBD files and iblog files on separate spindles, using LVM is not suitable.
  • mysqldump for logical (SQL) backups. Most if not all setups should have this. Even if the file(s) were to be corrupted, they’re still readable since it’s plain SQL. You can do partial restores, which is handy in some cases. It’ll be slower to load so having *only* an SQL dump of a larger dataset is not a good idea.
  • some of the above backups can and should *also* be copied off-site. that’s for extra safety, but in terms of recovery speed it may not be optimal and should not be relied upon.
  • having dual masters is for easier maintenance without scheduled outages, as well as resilience when for instance hardware breaks (and it does).
  • slaves. You can even delay a slave (Maatkit has a tool for this), so that would give you a live correct image even in case of a user error, provided you get to it in time. Also, you want enough slack in your infra to be able to initialise a new slave off an existing one. Scaling up at a time when high load is already occurring can become painful if your infra is not prepared for it.

A key issue to consider is this… if the dataset is sufficiently large, and the online requirements high enough, you can’t afford to just have backups. Why? Because, how quickly can you deploy new suitable hardware, install OS, do restore, validate, put back online?

In many cases one or more aspects of the above list simply take too long, so my summary would be “then you don’t really have a backup”. Clients tend to argue with me on that, but only fairly briefly, until they see the point: if a restore takes longer than you can afford, that backup mechanism is unsuitable.

So, we use a combination of tools and approaches depending on needs, but in general terms we aim for keeping the overall environment online (individual machines can and will fail! relying on a magic box or SAN to not fail *will* get you bitten) to vastly reduce the instances where an actual restore is required.
Into that picture also comes using separate test/staging servers to not have developers stuff around on live servers (human error is an important cause of hassles).

In our training modules, we’ve combined the backups, recovery and replication topics as it’s clearly all intertwined and overlapping. Discussing backup techniques separate from replication and dual master setups makes no sense to us. It needs to be put in place with an overall vision.

Note that a SAN is not a backup strategy. And neither is replication on its own.

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