How to Become a Certified Backup Engineer

What exactly is a Backup Engineer? As the computer engineering field grows and splits further into increasingly specialized branches, employers are now seeking talented personnel that has specific skills in the field of data loss protection. In particular, organizations are in need of experts that know how to design, implement, and maintain systems that protect their critical data. Personnel will further need to deal with the fact that the data may be spread throughout the entire IT infrastructure and stored on various systems. Today’s IT infrastructure is now more complex than ever, with information being stored on PCs, servers, virtual machines, databases, cloud servers and other services. At the same time, there are now more threats than ever, including cyber-attacks and ransomware. Data loss may also originate in uncommon areas, such as from faulty interplay of various IT systems. A Backup Engineer is an expert who can help navigate the business through these complexities, analyze the risks involved, and then design, build, and maintain appropriate backup solutions that are within the budget of the organization. When disaster strikes, Backup Engineers have already systems in place that allow the business to restore and continue its operations with a minimal (if any) downtime.

At BackupChain we offer a Backup Engineering Certification Program that is unique in the industry. Unlike other companies, we have designed a program that is as much product-neutral as possible. The course includes a variety of disciplines, giving the “Certified Backup Engineer” a well-rounded perspective for the future that isn’t tied to a particular product or technology. Our program incorporates countless hands-on activities but also provides the theoretical background covering server storage components, hardware considerations, backup software solutions, virtualization platforms and virtual machines (Hyper-V, VMware, Oracle VirtualBox), networking systems, Windows Server operating systems, as well as software testing and quality assurance principles.

Upon successful completion of the Certified Backup Engineer program, the candidates will be able to analyze their employer’s or customer’s server infrastructure and design and implement cost-effective backup and recovery systems that protect the organization in various data loss scenarios. The theoretical and practical insights offered by our program will allow the engineer to select the appropriate technology, including software and hardware solutions, to implement multi-level backup schemes and systems that protect against a multitude of risks while simultaneously respecting the organization’s budgeting constraints.

In the summer of 2018, the first University of Maryland Baltimore County students received their certification after 12 weekly sessions. The program was then extended and refined to address a wider audience, such as experienced IT administrators and other IT professionals.
The course is designed and maintained by IT professionals who have worked over two decades in the backup industry and relies on self-directed learning with brief online sessions. Local face-to-face training sessions may be accommodated in the Baltimore-Washington, DC metro area and are available upon request. The certification process concludes with the completion and presentation of a project that the learners choose themselves. Please contact us for more information.

We welcome you to use this opportunity to become one of the few Certified Backup Engineers in the market and set yourself apart in this competitive job market. Employers appreciate the relative product-neutrality of our program and its in-depth, hands-on orientation. The program is a future-proof investment as concepts are applicable to a multitude of solutions, systems, products, and environments.

A sample program outline is attached below.

Storage Systems

How to set up each type of storage, typical usage scenarios, and pros and cons of each:

·           Local Disks

·           External Disks

·           NAS

·           SAN

·           iSCSI

·           Windows Storage Spaces

·           Software RAID

·           Hardware RAID

·           Cloud storage



·         Local disks vs remote

·         Physical disk vs virtual disk

·         Virtual disk and their formats VHD, VMDK, VHDX, VDI

Where they are being used, their pros and limitations

·         Disk partition layout schemes MBR, GPT

History of each, how they work, differences

·         What is a sector and what are common sector sizes

·         Why are sectors used

·         Disk read write latency, how and why, local vs. remote, SSD vs mechanical

·         Disk caching, where it occurs and why, what effects it has

·         What’s a partition / volume

·         Basic disks vs. dynamic disks in Windows

·         How do SSD hard drives fail?

·         How do mechanical drives fail?

·         What is the annualized workload limit of a hard drive and why should you know it?

File Systems
·         FAT vs. NTFS

·         Cluster vs. sector

·         MFT

·         Boot volume

·         What is a volume?

·         Transactions and why they are being used

·         What can cause file system corruption and what can you do to

·          Become aware of it

·          Detect /identify it

·          Fix it

·          Prevent it

The Windows Boot Process
·         UEFI vs legacy BIOS boot

·         EFI boot partition, boot loader

·         “Active” partitions

·         Drivers at startup

·         Windows to Go


Windows Related Topics

General Windows Topics

·         CPU and CPU cores

·         Explain Windows process/thread priorities

·         What is multi-tasking? What is multithreading? How does it roughly work in Windows?

·         What’s a CPU core? How can multiple CPU cores improving performance? How could having multiple CPU cores make a process slower rather than faster?

·         What is an application and how does it differ from a Windows service?

·         What is (roughly) a user session in Windows?

·         How does generally a Windows Server differ from a Windows 10 PC, what are typical scenarios for using each?

·         User accounts and user sessions in Windows: how to protect against ransomware, theft, vandalism


Volume Shadow Copy Service (VSS)

·         What is VSS responsible for?

·         Why is it provided by Microsoft?

·         What is a VSS shadow?

·         What can you use shadows for?

·         How is a VSS shadow kept alive?

·         What is a VSS writer?

·         What does VSS-aware mean?


Network Related Topics

·         DNS, and how it works

·         Folder and File sharing

·         UNC paths

·         Mapped drives

·         UNC paths vs. mapped drives

·         What is an IP (v4 v6) address?

·         TCP and its issues

·         What is a network share?

·         What do you need to connect to a network share?

·         How do you connect to a network share using the command: “net use” from the command prompt?

·         How does local file access differ from accessing files over the local network (LAN)?

·         What is a VPN?

·         When you access a network share over VPN, which is thousands of kilometers away, what is the main difference you will experience compared to accessing a local server’s network share?

·         Advanced Firewall Configurations

·         Speed throttling, why it may be needed

·         What’s an FTP server?

·         What do you generally need in order to connect to an FTP server?

·         When an application connects to another server, roughly what steps are different when connecting to  as compared to connecting to


General Backup Considerations

·         What is a log and why do we need one

·         What is error handling?

·         How can errors be avoided in software?

·         What’s a task

·         What’s a task schedule and what are typical ways to configure it?

·         What’s a task scheduler

·         Ethernet intricacies and the effect of traffic spikes

·         What is task chaining?

·         What are software utilities/tools, scripts, and how does it compare to a software solution?

·         What is compression?

·         What is deduplication?

·         What is encryption? Which kinds of file encryption algorithms are now popular and why?

·         Why should we (typically) compress first and then encrypt?

·         What is a filter? (When selecting files)

·         What’s an exclusion filter, what’s an inclusion filter?

·         What is digital vandalism?

·         What is bit rot?

·         What is accidental deletion?

·         What is ransomware?

·         What is a RAM defect?

·         What effect can a RAM defect have on files on the computer?

·         What is a RAID controller?What is a mirror RAID and why use it?

What is a striped RAID and why use it?

Why would anyone want to combine these schemes?

What is a hardware RAID and what is a software RAID?

Is RAID a backup?

·         What is disk imaging?

·         What is disk cloning?

·         How is file-level backup different from sector-level backups? Why and when do these differences matter?

Virtual Machines
What is a VM?
What is a snapshot aka checkpoint?
What happens when you revert to a checkpoint?
What happens when you delete a checkpoint?
How are VMs useful?
What are Hyper-V, VMware Workstation, VirtualBox?
What is the responsibility of the Hyper-V VSS Writer?

Where and how exactly are VMs stored?

What are pass-through disks and their pros and cons?

Backup & Restore
What’s hot/live/online backup
What’s cold/offline backup?
What is crash consistency
What is application consistency
Explain file backup vs sector-level disk backup
What is a backup target?
What are examples of typical backup targets?
Why are alerts being used? Pros and cons.
What are remote backups? Pros and cons.
What are cloud backups? Pros and cons.
What are typical concerns for cloud and remote backups?
Compare local backups to LAN backups
Compare local backups to remote and cloud backups
What is a bad sector on a disk? How can it be detected and treated?
What are typical disk defects?
What is backup verification and how is it useful?
What is a traditional incremental backup scheme?
How does the “differential” scheme differ?
Which one can offer faster restores and why?
Which one is more economic with space usage?
Compare tape backup vs. backing up to hard drives and network shares
What is a mirror backup?
What is file version backup?
What general steps occur when a backup solution backs up a recent version of SQL Server or Exchange Server, which are both VSS aware services?
What is a NAS device?
How does a NAS device differ from a regular PC or Windows Server?
What are the pros and cons of having a centralized backup server?
What are the pros and cons of backup media rotation?
How can you keep track of file changes over time?
Why do many companies keep multiple copies of their data in different places?
Why do many companies not do it?
Why would anyone oppose cloud backup?
Compare backups:
Deduplicated (incremental vs differential)
Plain (unprocessed)
What are the pros and cons of each of those types?
User accounts and user sessions in Windows: how to protect your backups against ransomware, theft, vandalism
How to determine the amount of data that needs to be backed up?
How to determine how much backup space is needed?
How to “go back in time” with backup software and restore data from the past? Which technologies and backup schemes can be used and how?
How long should data be backed up / archived?
How do you make that decision?
Which data on a server needs to be backed up and what areas don’t need backup? Why?


Physical to Virtual Conversion, Virtual to Virtual Conversion, Virtual to Physical Conversions

What are these conversions and when and why are they useful:
Virtual to physical (V2P). Convert a VM to a physical computer
Physical to virtual (P2V)
Virtual to virtual (V2V)


Data Loss and Backup/Recovery Scenarios

Below are some typical causes of data loss. How would you design one or more backup schemes to cover for these risks?

·         Fire

·         Storms

·         Earthquakes and other mechanical forces

·         Floods

·         Software faults and errors, including the operating system. Data corruption.

·         Accidental deletion by users.

·         Hard drive faults: head crash, deterioration, etc. The expected lifetime of hard drives is usually under two years.

·         Virus, ransomware, and malware damage.

·         Static discharge. For example on days with low humidity below 40% and carpets installed in the office. Vacuum cleaners and other devices may be statically charged as well.

·         Humidity levels and condensation. Ideal levels should be kept between 40% and 60%. High humidity levels can cause condensation. Dry levels can damage electronic parts.

·         Electric shock caused by lightning strike to exterior structures in the vicinity of the building or power lines.

·         Electric surge caused by lightning or defect electric appliances connected in the same office or household.

·         Water damage. Fire sprinklers, flooding, or other leaks.

·         Temperature. Do not expose computers to temperatures below 15 degrees Celsius (60 degrees Fahrenheit) or above 27 degrees Celsius (80 degrees Fahrenheit) because electronic parts may overheat.

·         Low temperatures or wide temperature swings may lead to condensation.

·         Mechanic shock. For example, a notebook may be dropped or a desktop may be struck accidentally while the hard drives are spinning.

·         Magnetic fields. Magnetic fields caused by older TV sets or wiring can damage the sensitive plates inside hard drives or electronic components on motherboards.

·         Incomplete data transport. For example data is copied to a new computer and users may not
notice that the transfer was not complete.

·         Power loss, causing data, VM, or file system corruption



Design Backup Scenarios for Specific Infrastructure

Hyper-V host backup

Hyper-V VM backup

VMware VM backup

VirtualBox VM backup

Active Directory Server, physical vs. inside a VM

SQL Server, physical or VM

Exchange Server, physical or VM

Windows file servers

Non-Windows file server, such as Linux-based NAS. What typical challenges are to be expected?

Windows PCs

Application and application data backups

Protecting against short-term risks (total loss, partial losses, discuss recovery strategies)
Protecting against long-term data loss (accidental deletions, etc.)

Final Certification Project
We don’t believe in tests, especially not multiple choice or oral tests. Instead we welcome all learners to solve a real problem with a real solution, ideally as a hands-on project.
Present a detailed, proposed implementation solution to a preferably real-life scenario.
Present and introduce above concepts to a non-technical audience with hands-on experiments and walk-throughs.
Discuss which risks are being addressed, how the solution could be part of a greater business continuity plan, and estimate the costs involved.

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