Troubleshooting that darn backup error

Backup and restore operations even though they are supposed to be a no-brainer, it can leave you wanting to tear your hair out. Considering the different elements that influence the outcome of a successful backup operation like backup media, consistency of the backup, network issues (if backing up to a UNC path), consistency of the database being backed up etc.

I shall attempt to outline a set of troubleshooting steps specifically for non-native backup/restore related errors for SQL Server databases.

Any BACKUP command that completes successfully or with errors has associated messages logged in the SQL Server Errorlog.

A successful backup from the SQL Server Errorlog:

Database backed up. Database: adventureworks, creation date(time): 2010/05/28(03:00:18), pages dumped: 17291, first LSN: 67:7733:56, last LSN: 67:7761:1, number of dump devices: 1, device information: (FILE=1, TYPE=DISK: {‘F:\adventureworks.bak’}).

You will see that the backup completion message has the database name, the number of pages that were contained in the backup, the date the backup was created and the number of devices and their type (in this case files). So you can reconstruct the sequence of backups even if your backup information history is missing from the MSDB system tables and you just have your SQL Server Errorlogs to play with. If you want to get real fancy about this, then you could spin up a nifty little Powershell or VBScript to parse through the SQL Errorlogs and provide the backup sequence to you as well.

Now, let’s look at a failed backup message from the SQL Errorlog.

Error: 18204, Severity: 16, State: 1.
BackupDiskFile::CreateMedia: Backup device ‘R:\adventureworks.bak’ failed to create.
Operating system error 3(The system cannot find the path specified.).
Error: 3041, Severity: 16, State: 1.
BACKUP failed to complete the command BACKUP DATABASE adventureworks.

You will notice above that the Operating System error code associated with the backup failure is reported in the error message. More often than not, the error message is self explanatory. If the error code doesn’t throw back an error text along with it, you can get the windows error code associated with the error code using net helpmsg <error number> from a command prompt window.

In the above case, there wasn’t any R: drive on my server. Now that I have finished stating the most obvious of troubleshooting methodologies for SQL native backups which was done to set the context for the next part of this post. The troubleshooting methodology for non-native backups.

Non-native SQL backups of databases use one of the following methods:

1. Use of APIs exposed through SQLVDI.dll to perform a VDI based backup
2. Use of VSS framework to perform a snapshot backup of the SQL Server database

Note: In this post, I shall not be addressing any storage level backup solutions that have options or features to handles SQL database backups.

This post is aimed at discussing the tackling of VSS/VDI related errors that you face while performing a database backup.

If a VDI backup fails, then you can try the following sequence of troubleshooting steps:

1. Attempt a backup to the same location using native SQL backup from a query window or SQLCMD. This might not always be possible as some of the backup tools do not allow any other backup application to connect to the backup share apart from the backup tool’s agents.
2. The next thing that you can do is to ensure that your SQLVDI.DLL is updated to the latest build. For this you can use the SQL Server Backup Simulator available on Code Gallery using the “Validate VDI Installation” option in the tool. This check in the tool will perform basic checks like current DLL version and additional checks based on root causes of common scenarios that CSS has seen in the past for VDI backup failures. Additional information on the usage of the tool is available here.
3. Perform a backup of the database using the tool for which the backup is failing (to the same destination if possible). The parameter tweaks at this point are not available in the current version like striped backups, changes to MAXTRANSFERSIZE/BUFFER COUNT etc. but if the backup from this tool is successful, then you know for a fact that the SQLVDI APIs are working as expected. Then it is either an additional piece of logic in the backup software that is failing or there is an external factors like network/backup media or there is a resource crunch on the SQL instance on which the database resides.

Common errors that you might see during a VDI backup operation failure:

Error message 1
BackupVirtualDeviceFile::ClearError: failure on backup device ‘VDI_ DeviceID ‘. Operating system error 995(The I/O operation has
been aborted because of either a thread exit or an application request.).

Error message 2
Error: 18210, Severity: 16, State: 1.
BackupMedium::ReportIoError: write failure on backup device ‘VDI_ DeviceID ‘. Operating system error 995(The I/O operation has been aborted because of either a thread exit or an application request.)

Error message 3
Error: 18210, Severity: 16, State: 1. 
BackupVirtualDeviceFile::RequestDurableMedia: Flush failure on backup device ‘VDI_ DeviceID. Operating system error 995(The I/O operation has been aborted because of either a thread exit or an application request.)

The above errors are mostly due to outdated versions of SQLVDI.DLL on SQL Server 2000 or SQL Server 2005 instances. The “Validate VDI Installation” option in the Backup Simulator should be able to identify any known issues with DLL version mismatch for you.

If you have an application that uses Volume Shadow Service to backup your SQL database and that backup fails, then you your troubleshooting steps would be a bit different. The tell-tale sign of a VSS Snapshot backup is in the I/O Frozen message being written into the SQL Errorlogs for the databases being backed up. In such a failure scenario, take a backup of the database using Windows Server Backup Admin (Windows Server 2008 and above) or NTBackup utility to perform a backup of the database files involved. If this backup is successful, it means that a snapshot backup is successfully completing for the database. Now depending on your backup application’s implementation logic, this might be a resource crunch or a backup storage media incompatibility or even a resource crunch.

Common errors associated with VSS backups:

Issue# 1
Error: 3041, Severity: 16, State: 1.
Backup      BACKUP failed to complete the command BACKUP DATABASE <database name>. Check the backup application log for detailed messages.
SubprocessMgr::EnqueueSubprocess: Limit on ‘Max worker threads’ reached.
This error message is raised when your backup application uses VSS to backup a large number of databases simultaneously. More information around this can be found in this post Volume Shadow barfs with 0x80040e14 code

Issue #2
While performing a Bare Metal backup you might run into issues if your SQL Server binaries are located on a different drive other than the C: drive. More information on the same is mentioned here: Location of SQL Binaries can flip out Bare Metal backups

Issue #3

Event Type:    Error
Event Source:    VSS
Event Category:    None
Event ID:    6005
Sqllib error: Database %1 is stored on multiple volumes, only some of which are being shadowed.

The above error occurs when you backup only one of the volumes that contains SQL database data/log files which are spread over multiple volumes. This is explained in detailed in this post: Why is VSS complaining about SQL Data files

More information on how VSS/VDI work is present in the blog post by Sudarshan: INFORMATIONAL- SHEDDING LIGHT on VSS & VDI Backups in SQL Server

Previous posts related to Volume Shadow Backups
IO Frozen messages while taking NT Backup for SQL databases

Previous posts related to VDI backups
SQL VDI backup fails with 0×80770007


Generating SELECT INTO scripts for all user tables

Often on data recovery cases, we need to extract all the user table data into a new database. There are multiple options to perform this task:

1. Export/Import Wizard

2. Custom SSIS Task

3. Copy Database Wizard

4. BCP operations

5. SELECT INTO T-SQL commands

I find that the last option is the easiest. I use the following script to get all the T-SQL SELECT…INTO commands for all user tables in the old database:

 select 'select * into <new db>.''.[''] from <old db>.''.['']' from sys.objects a inner join sys.schemas b on a.schema_id = b.schema_id where a.type = 'U' 

Note: You will have to replace the new database and old database names with the appropriate names. The above script only works for versions of SQL Server 2005 and above.

Why you shouldn’t NUKE your transaction log file?

I have seen multiple scenarios where DBAs will delete the T-LOG file of a SQL Server database because it is eating up disk space.


The transaction log of a SQL Server maintains information about all logged activity that occurs in a database. During a database startup, a recovery phase is initiated which performs the Analysis, Redo and Undo phases to bring the database into a consistent state. The complete process is dependant on the availability of the database transaction log. Without this, you are being exposed to the loss of transaction consistency. Sounds like a fancy term doesn’t it? Well all it means is that you can now have data in your database tables which shouldn’t be there.

Let me elaborate on this with an example. I created a small test database which has a simple table containing two columns (record, amount). I inserted 1000 rows in the table. The T-SQL commands used are:

create database dbLogTest
use dbLogTest
create table tblTest (record int, amount bigint)
set nocount on
declare @cntr int
set @cntr = 1
while (@cntr <= 1000)
insert into tblTest values (@cntr, @cntr * 100)
set @cntr = @cntr + 1

A SELECT of the first 9 records in the table looks like this:


Now I start a transaction in the database to update the first 10 records with an increment of 100. I do NOT commit the transaction and something happens to my SQL Server transaction log file. (Maybe someone deleted the file when SQL was offline!!) After I restart the SQL Server service and try to use the database, I get the following error in the SQL Server ERRORLOG:

2010-05-04 18:20:25.740 spid19s      Starting up database ‘dbLogTest’.
2010-05-04 18:20:26.300 spid19s      Error: 17207, Severity: 16, State: 1.
2010-05-04 18:20:26.300 spid19s      FileMgr::StartLogFiles: Operating system error 2(The system cannot find the file specified.) occurred while creating or opening file ‘D:\Database Files\dbLogTest_log.LDF’. Diagnose and correct the operating system error, and retry the operation.
2010-05-04 18:20:26.700 spid19s      File activation failure. The physical file name "D:\Database Files\dbLogTest_log.LDF" may be incorrect.
2010-05-04 18:20:26.700 spid19s      The log cannot be rebuilt because the database was not cleanly shut down.

Since the transaction log file is not available, I cannot start the database. Now I will put the database in EMERGENCY mode and run a CHECKDB on the database. The CHECKDB output states that the database has no consistency errors. So the data file is intact and there are no errors.

CHECKDB found 0 allocation errors and 0 consistency errors in database ‘dbLogTest’.
DBCC execution completed. If DBCC printed error messages, contact your system administrator.

You would now expect that the data in the data file is consistent and can be exported out and merged with your database backup (if one exists). Before we pass the verdict of “Everything is OK”, let’s have a look at the first 9 records in the tblTest table which we modified before killing the SQL Server service.


And now you have all values incremented by 100 even though you didn’t commit the transaction. This is because a CHECKPOINT on the database would have flushed all the dirty buffers to the database file. SQL Server follows WAL (Write Ahead Logging) for the Transaction Log. The database transaction log would have had the information that the database has an open transaction which was not committed and had modified data. If the transaction log file was present, the database recovery process would have rolled back the above changes and you would have data which is supposed to be present in the database. The transaction log is the heart of the transactional consistency of a SQL Server database. If your database was not cleanly shutdown, you will not be able to rebuild the transaction log with the ATTACH_REBUILD_LOG clause for CREATE DATABASE. The only option would be Export the data into another database with the same schema.

Whenever CSS is left with no other option other than to rebuild the transaction log to get the database online, we do explain in detail the ramifications of how rebuilding the transaction log can affect your transactional consistency. We never recommend rebuilding the transaction log. So, the best option is always to restore a last known database backup and reconcile the remaining portion of the data (since the last backup till date) manually. It is a manual operation but something that cannot be compromised on when you are handling databases in a financial institution or critical systems where a mishap like the one described above could prove disastrous.

A CREATE DATABASE with ATTACH_REBUILD_LOG for the database fails with the following error:

File activation failure. The physical file name "D:\Database Files\dbLogTest_log.LDF" may be incorrect.
The log cannot be rebuilt because the database was not cleanly shut down.
Msg 1813, Level 16, State 2, Line 1
Could not open new database ‘dbLogTest’. CREATE DATABASE is aborted.

This post was an attempt in explaining how a transaction log file loss can affect you adversely. So, the takeaways here are:

1. Ensure that you have a tried and tested disaster recovery plan in place to recover from hardware/software failures that may occur in your environment

2. Never ever DELETE your transaction log file

Rebuilding the transaction log of a SQL Server database is one of the TOP 2 worst things that you can do as a DBA. The second one is running CHECKDB with REPAIR_ALLOW_DATA_LOSS. I have already documented about Repair Allow Data Loss in a previous post of mine.

Read more about these in Paul Randal’s posts on MSDN:

Ta da! Emergency mode repair

When should you rebuild the transaction log?

A snippet from the above post:

Product Support will recommend rebuilding the transaction log only if something has corrupted it and you have no backups (plus gently reminding you to get a backup strategy). Before they do so they’ll make sure you’re aware of the possibly consequences of doing it and advise you to run DBCC CHECKDB to determine whether the database is in a structurally and transitionally consistent state. If not, you’ll most likely need to run REPAIR_ALLOW_DATA_LOSS and then begin the process of working out what data was lost (and start dealing with irate customer?)

There is a no excuse for not having a backup strategy and there is definitely no excuse for running the above NOT recommended steps when you have other options.

I have found various MVPs stressing the same point. Here is one such example from Gail [Blog].