Derik Hammer

Backup testing with PowerShell – Part 1: The test

October 21, 2014 by

Karla is a production database administrator and she has a lot in common with you. Being responsible for database backups and recovery, she has implemented a well-structured automated backup system. Maybe she’s using Ola Hallengren’s Maintenance Solution, custom T-SQL stored procedures, or a set of PowerShell scripts. She has heard the saying, “a DBA only needs one thing, either a backup or a resume, but never both,” and is confident that she won’t be dusting off the resume any time soon.

Karla is employed by a medium size company which is now growing concerned with overseers and regulation compliance, such as with the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002. As the company prepares to prove their compliance with the regulations which now apply to it, management establishes procedures for performing internal practice audits.

Suddenly, Karla is less certain of her backups when presented with this inquiry, “how can you prove that your backups are recoverable?” Karla begins to wonder if her backups were enough and realizes that the best way to prove that the backups are not corrupted and can be restored successfully, is to restore them and run integrity checks.

The plan

The ideal solution to any problem that a DBA faces is one which requires minimal interaction by the DBA. So, Karla built a list of goals.

  • Backup tests and integrity checks are 100% automatic.
  • Every production user database must have at least one full backup tested each quarter.
  • Evidence of test and results must be logged as part of the automated system.
  • Test results must be available without DBA interaction.
    • Queries must be pre-written and available to be run by unprivileged users such as via SQL Server Reporting Services.

Given the above goals Karla has recorded her technical requirements and choices.

  • A database instance list will be maintained and organized as registered servers on a SQL Server Central Management Server.
  • The restore tests and integrity checks will be written in PowerShell 3.0 so that its powerful asynchronous abilities can be leveraged.
  • SQL Server Management Objects (SMO) and PowerShell module SQLPS (available in SQL Server 2014 Feature Pack) will be used to interact with SQL Server.
  • Queries to produce evidence of tests and results will be written in T-SQL.
  • The process will be initiated by a SQL Server Agent Job and repeat on a schedule to maximize usage of the test server’s resources and to maximize the number of backups being tested in a given quarter.

    The Process Flow Diagram

tl;dr – Complete PowerShell script

Central Management Server


As previously mentioned, Karla is using SQL Server’s Central Management Server (CMS) to organize her database server list and this will be the source of truth for her backup testing process. She has her servers registered to server groups, one group per environment, by following MSDN’s instructions when using SSMS.

Registered Servers - The Production folder

The Production folder, seen above, will be the list of servers to be selected from for testing. First she will need to import the SQLPS module. This will load all of the assemblies necessary for using the SQL Server Management Objects and a number of useful Cmdlets, some of which she will be using later.

NOTE: The DisableNameChecking switch is used because some of the commands in the SQLPS module do not comply with PowerShell’s list of approved verbs, such as Backup and Restore.

Data retrieval

Next we’ll build the functions which will derive a server list from the CMS server group.

The Get-ServerList function will accept the CMS server name, the root server group name (Production in our case), and an optional switch for making the function recursive. The goal with this function is to retrieve the Microsoft.SqlServer.Management.RegisteredServers.RegisteredServersStore object and then return a list of RegisteredServers.

Selecting backup files to test

Once the server list is retrieved, a randomly selected sub-set of the servers is needed, followed by a randomly selected sub-set of the databases from those servers.


For this Karla will pipe the server list into the Get-Random PowerShell Cmdlet using the –Count option to designate the number of objects to select.

For this example, randomly selecting one server from the list would be ok, since there are only two servers registered. This, however, wouldn’t scale so Karla is going to derive the count based on a percentage of the servers. Here, the Math.Ceiling static method is being used to guarantee that zero is not selected.

The same concept will apply to retrieving the list of databases. The SMO.Server and Database objects will be used to retrieve a list of databases for each server. This loop will also be where the restores and integrity checks are initiated, discussed further in the next few sections.

Get backup paths

Next Karla will need to find the most recent full backup that was taken for the list of databases chosen above. For this she will need to use T-SQL to query msdb.dbo.backupset and msdb.dbo.backupmediafamily to extract the physical file paths.

NOTE: Local or UNC paths are acceptable for this process. Understand that restore commands are sent to the SQL Server and then the restore itself is run on the SQL Server. This means that local paths must be local to the SQL Server not to the PowerShell script.

To execute this script Karla will use the SQLPS module, imported earlier on. The Invoke-SqlCmd cmdlet will be used to execute the T-SQL. The cmdlet accepts a query variable and a set of parameters, in this case, the database name.

Asynchronous jobs

Up to this point everything has been about collecting the data required to issue a restore command. The Restore-Database function will be called asynchronously for each of our backup files that we wish to restore. This is a custom function which will be covered in depth in the following section.

In PowerShell 3.0 the Start-Job cmdlet was introduced. This cmdlet creates and starts a job which executes on an asynchronous thread. It returns an object representing the job which is important for keeping track of its progress and retrieving output from the thread.

As can be seen, the Restore-Database function will accept the server name, the name for the database to be restored, the backup file path, the name of a database to log test results in, the originating server name, an optional switch to drop the existing database before restoring, and finally our switch to conduct integrity checks (CheckTables) after the restore.

In order to execute our thread we pass in a script block object to the Start-Job cmdlet calling our function. Next we pass in another script block object to initialize the session. In this case, the Restore-Database function definition is supplied in a scriptblock variable format. Finally, the argument list parameter accepts an array of objects to be used as variables in the original script block.

Later in the script the array of $jobs will be used to wait on the threads to complete and return their output like this.

The Wait-Job cmdlet pauses the current session and waits for all of the threads in the $jobs array to complete before moving on. Then the jobs are looped through and Receive-Job is called for each of them to retrieve the output, whether of the type information, warning, or error. Finally, Remove-Job to kill the background job.

Restore with SMO

At the heart of the Restore-Database function are the SQL Server Management Objects. The Server object and the Database objects have already been touched on when the backup files were selected for restore. In the Restore-Database function, SMO is taken a bit further.

Restore-Database function break-down

Parameter definitions

By using the CmdletBinding attribute and defining a set of parameters Karla is able to produce a function that is invoked as if it were a built-in cmdlet. The Parameter and ValidateNotNullorEmpty attributes are great for pre-validating the inputs before the function even begins.

Custom validation

To move inside the function, Karla has coded some additional parameter validation. First, the file path extension is verified. Next, the Test-Path cmdlet is used to verify that the path is syntactically correct.

The Server class is instantiated partially for its use later in the function and partially as a means of validating the inputted server name. When the object is instantiated a connection is not attempted. So, she checks the major version of the server. This will establish a connection and retrieve the version number. If the return object is $null then the connection could not be established and an exception is thrown.

Instantiate the Restore object

The Restore object represents the settings which would normally be scripted in the T-SQL RESTORE DATABASE command. The basic settings are applied directly to the object, as seen above, immediately after the New-Object cmdlet.

Where things become a bit more complicated is when files need to be moved from the location stored in the backup file’s file list. This will almost always be the case for Karla because she is restoring production backups to a test server. It is not likely that every database server in the enterprise will have identical file paths for all databases which means that the restore command has to be told where to restore these files. Traditionally, the T-SQL MOVE option in the RESTORE DATABASE statement would be used but a list of all of the files is required to produce the MOVE paths.

In order to retrieve a list of the files dynamically she will execute her first restore operation, a restore of the backup’s file list. The backup file path is used to instantiate a BackupDeviceItem and is added to the restore object. Then a variable will be populated with the ReadFileList method output.

Generate RelocateFile objects

There are three different file types that are targeted for relocation. Each of the files that are worked with will be identified by selecting the FileId attribute of the $dbFileList object. For the primary file it will be FileId 1, for the log file it will be FileId 2, and all other data files will have FileIds greater than 2.

For each file, a number of operations will take place. First, a RelocateFile object is instantiated and then the logical and physical file names are set. For the primary and log file, Karla will populate string variables derived from either the $server.DefaultFile and $server.DefaultLog paths, or the $server.MasterDBPath and $server.MasterDBLogPath. Finally, the RelocateFile object is added to the Restore object that has been maintained thus far.

Prepare server for restore

Given the defined process flow, each time this script executes there should only be system databases on the server. In case of a problem, though, the script will be self-healing. The dropDbDBeforeRestore switch is used to check for the existence of the database and, if exists, kill all connections to it and drop the database. With a T-SQL restore, this is normally accomplished by setting the SINGLE_USER mode but the SMO objects do not support this. SINGLE_USER mode could be set with T-SQL by using the Invoke-SqlCmd cmdlet, used early in the script, but the connection context would have to be maintained between it and the restore operation. The method seen above utilizes SMO and guarantees that the server is prepared for restore operations.

Restore and check integrity

NOTE: This is a simplified version of the restore command and integrity checks. In the second part of this series, there will be modifications to this section to support logging the results. For a preview of the differences refer to the complete script at the beginning of the article.

Up to this point everything that was executed was in preparation for the restore operation and integrity checks. Here is where it all happens. The $smoRestore object contains all of the configurations and is ready to execute with the SqlRestore method. Normally a Try-Catch block would not be required to handle exceptions thrown from SMO. In this case, one is used because of the CheckTables method which handles the integrity checking. If there is corruption detected in the restored database, the normal error is less than useful.

By using the Try-Catch and looping through the inner exceptions the corruption details that are desired can now be seen, such as the specific object_ids, object names, and column_ids.

Clean up

The final steps in the script will be to drop the database that was just restored so that disk space is available for further executions.

Scheduling script execution

With the Central Management Server setup, servers registered, and script complete, all that must be done is schedule its execution. In Karla’s technical requirements, recorded at the beginning of the article, she has decided to use the SQL Server Agent for job scheduling. She will be using the PowerShell job step type because, in SQL Server 2012 and above, it uses the natively installed PowerShell components for execution.

Server setup

To prepare for this configuration, Karla will need to set her test server’s execution policy to RemoteSigned with the Set-ExecutionPolicy cmdlet. This only has to occur once on the test server so the manual method is demonstrated here, however, setting execution policy with group policy is recommended because it saves DBA time.

With the above script, Karla is able to execute script files. The file should be loaded on the server locally, possibly in a Scripts folder located on the operating system drive. The command must be run “As Administrator” and the –Force switch is used to bypass the confirmation question.

Creating the job

Creating a SQL Agent job to run a PowerShell script is extremely similar to how you would create a job to execute T-SQL or even SSIS packages. The only difference is in the options selected for the job step.

  1. Open SSMS and verify that the SQL Agent is started.
  2. Drill into the SQL Server Agent in the object explorer and right-click on Jobs selecting New Job

    Creating New job in Object Explorer

  3. Give your job a name and make sure that the Enabled checkbox is checked. It is preferable to change the category to Database Maintenance as well but this is not required.

    The New job dialog

  4. Jump down to the Schedules page, listed on the left.

  5. Click New
  6. Name your schedule, set frequency as desired. In Karla’s case, she will set the schedule to run daily, every hour, all day, with no end. This will keep the job running nearly 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to maximize the amount of tests possible in a given quarter.

    The New job schedule dialog

  7. Click OK.

  8. Navigate to the Steps page, listed on the left. Click New
  9. Once in the New Job Step window, name your step and open up the Type drop-down box.

    New Job Step - The Type drop-down box

    NOTE: In versions of SQL Server equal to or greater than 2012, the PowerShell type will use the installed PowerShell executable and its execution policy, which was set in the last section. When running SQL Server 2008 or 2008 R2, the PowerShell type will run in a mini-shell called SQLPS.exe and use the execution policy RemoteSigned. The SQLPS.exe was created before the SQLPS PowerShell module was available and it was the best way of accessing the necessary assemblies. Unfortunately, it was compiled with limited cmdlets from PowerShell 2.0 and has not been updated. When using SQL Server 2008/R2 it is recommended to use the Operating Sytem (CmdExec) type instead because you can explicitly call the proper PowerShell.exe.

  10. Select PowerShell.
  11. Using the Run As drop-down, select SQL Server Agent Service Account.

    NOTE: This account is the one which will need file system access to the backup files. Karla’s SQL Server Agent account has the required read access to the backup shares. If yours doesn’t, then you will need to create a proxy which will then appear in this drop-down box.

  12. Paste the PowerShell command for calling your script into the Command textbox.

    REMINDER: The location passed into the Set-Location cmdlet is relative to the SQL Server. In this case, the Test-Backups.ps1 script must be located in the C:\Scripts folder and the SQL Server Agent account must have read and execute access to it.

  13. For ease of troubleshooting, navigate to the Advanced page and check the checkbox labeled Include step output in history.
  14. Click OK
  15. Click OK again on the New Job page.

Test it!

The SQL Server Agent job is created all that is left is to start it. Right-click on the job in the object explorer and click Start Job at Step

Clicking Start Job at Step

Start Jobs dialog

Wrap up

That was exciting! A lot has been covered.

  • A system plan and process flow was established.
  • A registered server list was added to the Central Management Server.
  • Backup files were retrieved and restored.
  • Databases were checked for data integrity.
  • The process was scheduled for automated execution via a SQL Server Agent job.

In part 2 of this series, Reporting Results, different methods of querying the data will be explored. In addition, tweaks to the existing script will be made for result logging and a SQL Server Reporting Services Report will be setup.

Next article in this series:

SPOOLER ALERT: The descriptive section of this article didn’t include the logging mechanisms but the complete script referenced in the beginning did. Maybe there are hints of where part 2 will be heading in there.

Derik Hammer
Backup and restore, PowerShell, Testing

About Derik Hammer

Derik is a data professional focusing on Microsoft SQL Server. His passion focuses around high-availability, disaster recovery, continuous integration, and automated maintenance. His experience has spanned database administration, consulting, and entrepreneurial ventures. Derik thanks our #sqlfamily for plugging the gaps in his knowledge over the years and actively continues the cycle of learning by sharing his knowledge with all and volunteering as a PASS User Group leader. View all posts by Derik Hammer