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Understanding Log Shipping

Log shipping allows you to automatically send transaction log backups from a primary database on a primary server instance to one or more secondary databases on separate secondary server instances. The transaction log backups are applied to each of the secondary databases individually. An optional third server instance, known as the monitor server, records the history and status of backup and restore operations and, optionally, raises alerts if these operations fail to occur as scheduled.

Log shipping consists of three operations:

  1. Back up the transaction log at the primary server instance.
  2. Copy the transaction log file to the secondary server instance.
  3. Restore the log backup on the secondary server instance.

The log can be shipped to multiple secondary server instances. In such cases, operations 2 and 3 are duplicated for each secondary server instance.

A log shipping configuration does not automatically fail over from the primary server to the secondary server. If the primary database becomes unavailable, any of the secondary databases can be brought online manually.

You can use a secondary database for reporting purposes. For more information, see Using Secondary Servers for Query Processing.

ms187103.note(en-US,SQL.90).gifNote:
The primary and secondary servers can be on the same computer; however, in this case, SQL Server failover clustering may provide better results. For more information, see Failover Clustering.

In addition, you can configure alerts for your log shipping configuration.

The primary server in a log shipping configuration is the instance of the SQL Server Database Engine that is your production server. The primary database is the database on the primary server that you want to back up to another server. All administration of the log shipping configuration through SQL Server Management Studio is performed from the primary database.

The primary database must use the full or bulk-logged recovery model; switching the database to simple recovery will cause log shipping to stop functioning.

The secondary server in a log shipping configuration is the server where you want to keep a warm standby copy of your primary database. A secondary server can contain backup copies of databases from several different primary servers. For example, a department could have five servers, each running a mission-critical database system. Rather than having five separate secondary servers, a single secondary server could be used. The backups from the five primary systems could be loaded onto the single backup system, reducing the number of resources required and saving money. It is unlikely that more than one primary system would fail at the same time. Additionally, to cover the remote chance that more than one primary system becomes unavailable at the same time, the secondary server could be of higher specification than the primary servers.

The secondary database must be initialized by restoring a full backup of the primary database. The restore can be completed using either the NORECOVERY or STANDBY option. This can be done manually or through SQL Server Management Studio.

The optional monitor server tracks all of the details of log shipping, including:

  • When the transaction log on the primary database was last backed up.
  • When the secondary servers last copied and restored the backup files.
  • Information about any backup failure alerts.

The monitor server should be on a server separate from the primary or secondary servers to avoid losing critical information and disrupting monitoring if the primary or secondary server is lost. A single monitor server can monitor multiple log shipping configurations. In such a case, all of the log shipping configurations that use that monitor server would share a single alert job.

ms187103.note(en-US,SQL.90).gifImportant:
Once the monitor server has been configured it cannot be changed without removing log shipping first.

For more information, see Monitoring Log Shipping.

Log shipping involves four jobs, which are handled by dedicated SQL Server Agent jobs. These jobs include the backup job, copy job, restore job, and alert job.

The user controls how frequently log backups are taken, how frequently they are copied to each secondary server, and how frequently they are applied to the secondary database. To reduce the work required to bring a secondary server online, for example after the production system fails, you can copy and restore each transaction log backup soon after it is created. Alternatively, perhaps on a second secondary server, you can delay applying transaction log backups to the secondary database. This delay provides an interval during which you can notice and respond to a catastrophic action on the primary, such as accidental deletion of critical data.

Backup Job

A backup job is created on the primary server instance for each primary database. It performs the backup operation, logs history to the local server and the monitor server, and deletes old backup files and history information. By default, this job will run every two minutes, but the interval is customizable.

When log shipping is enabled, the SQL Server Agent job category "Log Shipping Backup" is created on the primary server instance.

Copy Job

A copy job is created on each secondary server instance in a log shipping configuration. This job copies the backup files from the primary server to a configurable destination on the secondary server and logs history on the secondary server and the monitor server. The copy job schedule, which is customizable, should approximate the backup schedule.

When log shipping is enabled, the SQL Server Agent job category "Log Shipping Copy" is created on the secondary server instance.

Restore Job

A restore job is created on the secondary server instance for each log shipping configuration. This job restores the copied backup files to the secondary databases. It logs history on the local server and the monitor server, and deletes old files and old history information. The SQL Server job category "Log Shipping Restore" is created on the secondary server instance when log shipping is enabled.

On a given secondary server instance, the restore job can be scheduled as frequently as the copy job, or the restore job can delayed. Scheduling these jobs with the same frequency keeps the secondary database as closely aligned with the primary database as possible to create a warm standby database.

In contrast, delaying restore jobs, perhaps by several hours, can be useful in the event of a serious user error, such as a dropped table or inappropriately deleted table row. If the time of the error is known, you can move that secondary database forward to a time soon before the error. Then you can export the lost data and import it back into the primary database.

Alert Job

If a monitor server is used, an alert job is created on the monitor server instance. This alert job is shared by the primary and secondary databases of all log shipping configurations using this monitor server instance. Any change to the alert job (such as rescheduling, disabling, or enabling the job) affects all databases using that monitor server. This job raises alerts (for which you must specify alert numbers) for primary and secondary databases when backup and restore operations have not completed successfully within specified thresholds. You must configure these alerts to have an operator receive notification of the log shipping failure. The SQL Server Agent job category "Log Shipping Alert" is created on the monitor server instance when log shipping is enabled.

If a monitor server is not used, alert jobs are created locally on the primary server instance and each secondary server instance. The alert job on the primary server instance raises errors when backup operations have not completed successfully within a specified threshold. The alert job on the secondary server instance raises errors when local copy and restore operations have not completed successfully within a specified threshold.

The following figure shows a log shipping configuration with the primary server instance, three secondary server instances, and a monitor server instance. The figure illustrates the steps performed by backup, copy, and restore jobs, as follows:

  1. The primary server instance runs the backup job to back up the transaction log on the primary database. This server instance then places the log backup into a primary log-backup file, which it sends to the backup folder. In this figure, the backup folder is on a shared directory—the backup share.
  2. Each of the three secondary server instances runs its own copy job to copy the primary log-backup file to its own local destination folder.
  3. Each secondary server instance runs its own restore job to restore the log backup from the local destination folder onto the local secondary database.

The primary and secondary server instances send their own history and status to the monitor server instance.

Configuration showing backup, copy, & restore jobs
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