Relearning an Old Lesson

Anyone who’s ever used a computer has — at some point — lost a carefully-crafted sequence of ones and zeros to the unforgiving gods of the digital realm. Every time it happens, you mourn, you rage against the sky, you re-write and you move on. Each time, you add another rule-of-thumb to the mental checklist designed to minimize the losses or at least ease the reconstruction effort of the next minor catastrophe. In the end, it all boils down to one simple rule. That’s right, ladies and gentleman: save often.

I was reminded of this basic lesson when I arrived at work on Monday and was presented with an odd little e-mail from the data warehouse team. Why had I changed the user profile for the data feed to the Marketing server? Hmm … I hadn’t actually done anything to the profile and, when I checked the database, it was more than altered, it was completely missing. Not a big deal, I thought, because I could always re-instate the permissions from another source and then we’d be ready to continue with the upload process. Easy peasy.

But upon closer inspection of the tables, it became clear that something was slightly off. First of all, the tables were old — not really old but still missing a few months of data. Then I checked a few structural updates I’d made the previous week and they weren’t there. Several new procedures were missing, too, as were a couple of new tables and even recently stored files on the shared network. Not good. It was becoming pretty apparent that the DBA team had done something major over the weekend and that everything on our server had been rolled back to July. Further investigation suggested that they had done their overhaul without a backup.

It took two days of effort for everyone to finally accept that the information was just plain gone. I began the re-building effort rather reluctantly but it soon dawned on me that this whole incident was really a blessing in disguise. Our department had been working without a net for too long — our server was a creaky old SQL 2000 box leftover from a failed project and we’d never really had any official technical support. Now, we’ll probably be able to switch the whole thing over to a full-fledged production server with upgraded software, a routine maintenance plan and — best of all — a robust data backup procedure.

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