STSADM Backup Feedback from MCM

I loved the recent Microsoft Certified Master Training I attended in Redmond last month. I learned so much and met and became friends with experts in the field. Some of the things we learned and discused don’t seem so readily findable on the wide internet. I want to surface one that is published but not easy to find.
SharePoint Backup is a often discussed topic and it would appear that it’s not well understood. Before MCM, I’d read Joel Oleson’s Backup Benchmarks various Technet articles like Tips for improving backup and recovery performance and come to certain conclusions on my own about some of the options. Of all the options, I had come to rely on SQL Server backups and VM Snapshots because they were familiar and easy to schedule. However, I hadn’t really been exposed to how much a problem the stsadm backup commands could be.
I won’t speak for my classmates or go into what was covered in class, but what I will say is it was a bit of an eye opener. In order to expose some issues, I did some digging today and found one Technet source that sums up some of the issues. I’ll quote from the Choose backup and recovery tools chapter of the Planning and Architecture Guide downloadable book:
The Stsadm command-line tool has the following limitations:
As part of a farm backup, backs up, but cannot be used to restore the configuration database or Central Administration content database. For more information, see Recovering the configuration database and Central Administration content database.
Site collection backups affect performance, and they can cause access errors. They should only be used when the site collection is locked. Site collection backups can be slow when working with collections larger than 15 GB. We recommend that you use database backups if you are working with site collections larger than 15 GB.
If you want to individually back up a site collection that is larger than 15 GB, we recommend that you move it to its own database, and then use a database backup.
Note three important pieces about site collection backups:
  1. Can cause errors
  2. Lock the site collection
  3. 15GB site collection soft limit
For the above reasons, I would caution against using the stsadm site collection backup in a production environment unless you can allow for the right amount of downtime. Similarly, the full farm option may be unusable because of the time it would take to back up an entire farm that has much content and lack of scheduling.
One thing I did not find any supporting evidence for on Technet is the idea that a full farm backup is an offline operation. Maybe I drew that conclusion incorrectly from misunderstood context, but I thought that to be the case. At any rate, I recommend testing and researching this option in thoroughly before executing it while users are in the system.

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