I recently received a frantic call from a client that believed they have been hacked and had to quickly recover data. They said that data belonging to two or more of their customers had been lost.

Our customer functions essentially as an application service provider (ASP). Their customers’ data is in an Oracle database that our client manages. Our client organizes this database such that each of its customers’ applications is served by a separate schema and they all share one database.

We have advised this client on numerous occasions to separate each of their customers’ data into separate databases, or at least separate tablespaces. This is a good idea for several reasons, one of which is recoverability. Unfortunately, they resisted our suggestions and today are probably regretting that decision.

Oracle Recovery Manager (RMAN) offers a few different options for recovery. You can recover an entire database, an individual tablespace or an individual data file. But you cannot recover an individual schema (table owner) and its objects unless they are in their own tablespace.

In the case of our client, it seems that the tables were lost at some time on a Sunday night, just prior to the nightly logical backup (export). The last good logical backup was from Saturday night.

The database is in ARCHIVELOG mode, meaning that RMAN could restore the database to any point in time, including right up to the point of the data loss. However, since the schemas (each of which serves a different customer) all share the same set of tablespaces, this type of recovery would wipe out any data since that point in time—even for the schemas (customers) that were not impacted by the loss.

Because our client’s customers that were not impacted had activity since the data loss event, we had one less tool in our recovery arsenal. If our clients’ customer data had been separated into separate tablespaces or databases, we could have recovered data for their customers that suffered loss without impacting the others at all.

We are now in the process of recovering the lost data from the Saturday logical backups. When that is complete, we will be doing a full RMAN restore to another location, where we will attempt to recover any lost data since the logical backup was taken. This will be a very arduous and time-consuming process.

The moral of the story is to consider recoverability when architecting your Oracle database. If you have users or applications that stand alone and may need to be recovered without impacting others, separate them at least by tablespace; and, if possible, use a separate database. The more you separate, the greater your recoverability options are.

It’s worth noting that the pluggable database option in Oracle 12c might assist in recoverability even further, if the reason for not separating your schemas into separate databases was ease of maintenance or resource concerns. With 12c you can create a pluggable database for each of your logically separate applications or users, while keeping the administration centralized and the overhead minimized. Check it out.

If you have had similar difficulties with restoring data due to the database architecture, please share your experiences. To talk over your database architecture considerations, contact Buda Consulting.