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Are my Act! backups any good?

Monday morning.  It’s your busy season.  You flip on the lights to your office and sit at your desk, hot coffee in hand.  You log into your computer, open your Act! CRM and…that’s funny, the database won’t open.  You call IT, tell them what you see, and they have a look.  Turns out the server had a hard drive failure!  Fortunately, your IT uses a cloud backup system to keep the server’s files safe offsite.  They restore the files, and in just a few hours, your server’s online again.  Two or three hours without your server’s bad at any time, and it’s even worse when things are busy, but at least your files are back, safe and sound in hours, not days!  With everything restored, you try to log into your Act! CRM database again, only to get a different error.  Your IT has a look and assures your everything looks fine, but no one can get into the database!

Zoinks, Scoob.

The scenario illustrated above happens too often.  Image and file backups of servers are fantastic, and their ability to restore a server to working order so quickly after a failure has saved countless businesses.  But the presumption that simply restoring an image backup or restoring the files to the server means that all of the programs will pick up where they left off is a faulty one.  Act! uses Microsoft SQL Server as its database engine, and the files composing Act! are in constant use by your system.  Copying or moving Act!’s files can actually corrupt the database, causing it to lose data, because they are always in use!  And trying to restore a database from a collection of files simply copied from the cloud will likely result in a database that doesn’t function properly.

So should we stop using image or file backups of servers with the Act! CRM on it?  Of course not!

Act! has a built-in feature for properly backing up and restoring its databases.  The Act! Knowledgebase, which contains articles addressing many problems that can arise with Act!, provides instructions on how to back up and restore your database in this article.  This backup process produces a ZIP file with each backup, and these ZIP files are what your cloud backups should be copying.  Then, when disaster strikes, you can restore the backup using Act’s Restore function.

Notably, the article linked in the previous paragraph merely talks about manually creating and restoring a backup.  What we really want is what your cloud backups offer: periodic, automatic, and monitored.  For this, we need to use the Act! Scheduler.  This article gives instructions and best-practices for doing just that.  At Compu-Tutor, we have some best practices of our own which the article doesn’t have:

  1. Make sure the drive to which you save your backups has plenty of room.  Backup sizes depend on the size of the database, but are usually less than 2 GB in size.  Even so, if disk space is low, the backup may fail.
  2. Keep only one week of Act backups.  You don’t want dozens of backup files clogging your server.  If you want to keep backups older than a week, you should talk to whomever administrates your cloud backups because they can be configured to keep older files.
  3. Set your backup schedule to run once a day every business day.  The time of day should be at least 1 hour before your cloud backup occurs.
  4. Configure the backup task to send e-mail alerts.  You want to know that your backups are occurring.  You don’t want to go through the scenario illustrated above and discover your backups haven’t been working for weeks!

Our world is complicated, with lots of interdependent technology working together to make our businesses strong.  But when one of those pieces of technology isn’t properly used or understood, it can affect everything that interacts with it.  Act! is no different.  Make sure Act!’s being backed up properly so you can have confidence in your CRM, even when the worst happens.