Business Continuity

Backing up Exchange

Like any other database, Exchange needs a little TLC if you want to recover from any downtime.

There’s more to backing up Exchange than just running a server backup. For one thing, like any other database, Exchange’s databases can’t be safely copied without temporarily dismounting the Exchange Store. Installing Exchange on a Windows Server doesn’t add Exchange support to its built-in backup tools, and Exchange 2007 doesn’t have its own backup tool either – unless you’re using Exchange 2007 SP2’s new Volume Shadow Services plug-in (which backs up the entire store but doesn’t give you the granularity of specialised tools).

Finding the right Exchange backup tool can be hard. There are many different tools out there, with many different feature sets. However certain features are essential, and should be at the top of your shopping list. The first, and most important, is a tool that can back up and restore the entire Exchange mail store – including primary and secondary storage groups. Coming a close second is the ability to work with individual mailboxes, allowing selective recovery if an end user manages to completely wipe their mailbox. Then there are archive tools, which can archive individual messages, while still leaving them indexed and accessible, reducing the demand on disk space without causing compliance problems. If you’re considering Exchange backup and recovery as part of a disaster recovery plan, a continuous replication system can help keep primary and recovery mail servers in sync.

Store and backup

Acronis’ tools look and feel like a Windows Server wizard. That makes it easy to get started, and tasks are clearly defined – with plenty of onscreen help.
Acronis’ tools look and feel like a Windows Server wizard. That makes it easy to get started, and tasks are clearly defined – with plenty of onscreen help.

Acronis Backup and Recovery is one of the better known Windows Server backup tools, giving administrators a lot more flexibility than Microsoft’s built-in tools. It’s a powerful, agent-driven solution that can backup several servers from a single desktop, and while it doesn’t offer Exchange backup out of the box, you can use it to control the standalone Acronis Recovery for Microsoft Exchange from the same console – and if you’re not sure if it’s the right tool for you, you can get a fully functional, time-limited trial from the Acronis Web site.

You don’t need the full Acronis suite to use the Exchange tools, though the combination is extremely powerful (especially if you’re also using the Acronis SQL Server backup tool). Installing Recovery for Exchange is simple enough. The package comes in two parts, a management console and an Exchange agent, which can be installed on remote servers. Like the full Acronis management console, Recovery for Exchange can work with several servers. All you need is an account with administrative privileges.

There aren’t many pre-requisites for using the Acronis Exchange agent; though you will need to install the Exchange MAPI and CDO tools to give the agent direct access to the Exchange stores. These used to be bundled with Exchange, but Microsoft recently stopped bundling the installer. If your clients are using Exchange 2007 you can download the latest version from f31-079a-43a9-bff2-0a110307611e& displayLang=en. Making your first backup is a simple process. Use the management console to add Exchange servers (and deploy the management agent). Once you’ve added servers, connect to them from the console using an account with appropriate administrative privileges. Once you’re connected, you’ll get access to tools for backing up and recovering Exchange stores and mailboxes. Acronis’ task-based user interface simplifies the process of building and running backup action – and makes it easy to back up Exchange regularly. You can use full and incremental backups, or if mail is critically important to a client’s business, then Acronis also offers a continuous backup option, which can restore Exchange right up to the moment of failure – with little or no mail lost.

Acronis takes a lot of cues from the standard Windows backup tools, so the UI will be familiar, even if it’s the first time you’ve used it. If you’re doing a store-level backup pick the store you want to work with, and then choose the storage groups you want to backup. Once you’ve chosen what needs to be backed up, you’ll need to choose where it’s stored. While Acronis supports tape and FTP connections, a straight disk-to-disk backup (either to an eSATA drive or an internal drive) will give you the quickest backup – and the quickest restore. Backup files can then be transferred to tape, to storage arrays or an off-site service for additional security.

There are plenty of additional options to tune how Acronis handles your mail backup. You can choose the level of compression used in the backup (from none to ultimate, with the default set to ‘High’), as well as setting encryption (with the option of AES 256 for the most sensitive message stores). Backups can be prioritised so they don’t affect other applications or slow down user mail access. If you’re running Exchange backups at night, when servers are mostly idle, a high priority backup is probably best. There’s also the option of throttling the bandwidth used, to ensure backups don’t slow other applications down. There’s no need to check logs to see if everything has worked: Acronis will send you mail when backups complete (and when they fail). If you’re creating a standalone backup, you can also add comments that can help determine exactly which backup needs to be restored.

The restoration process is just as straight-forward. Select the backup you want to restore, and then choose when you want to restore it to. There’s the option to do what Acronis calls a dial-tone recovery, which gives users mailboxes as quickly as possible – and then restores mail in the background. Mailboxes can be recovered either straight into Exchange, or into a recovery storage group. These let you have two copies of the same database running, so you can restore content and help recover from data loss while still running.

Move to archive

Setting up archive rules with Red Gate’s ESA is quick and easy – pick the mailbox you want to control, choose a set of conditions that need to be met, and then leave the service to run. Messages meeting the rules will be archived, reducing the storage needed for Exchange databases.
Setting up archive rules with Red Gate’s ESA is quick and easy – pick the mailbox you want to control, choose a set of conditions that need to be met, and then leave the service to run. Messages meeting the rules will be archived, reducing the storage needed for Exchange databases.

Archive tools can reduce the pressure on an Exchange server, reducing the size of mailboxes while still giving users access to their mail. Red Gate Exchange Server Archiver is a relatively recent arrival, which installs quickly and simplifies the process of building and running an Exchange archive. A 30-day trial is available, and all you need is a license key to convert it into the full version.

Red Gate recommends installing its tool on a separate server from Exchange, which also has enough disk space to hold and manage the message archive. The install process starts by installing an Admin Console. Once this is in place you’ll need to create a user with domain admin rights (and basic Exchange admin rights). You’ll also need to make sure that the Windows indexing service is running and (as with the Acronis tools) that you’ve got the Exchange MAPI components installed. You’ll need a Web server to give end users access to their archived mail. Finally, once the service is in place you’ll need to deploy Red Gate’s Outlook plug-in, so users can work with archived mail inside their mail client.

Services don’t need to be deployed on the same machine as the admin console, which gives you the flexibility to make sure that intensive archive processes don’t affect other services. Once you’ve installed the three main tools, you can start to build archive rules. It’ll take a little while for Red Gate’s tool to catalogue a busy Exchange server, and it’s best to run the initial scan outside work hours as it can be quite disk intensive.

Red Gate’s Exchange Server Archiver is also able to work with multiple servers. You’ll need to install its archive agent on all the Exchange servers you want to manage, and also set up a central storage service to manage archived content.
Red Gate’s Exchange Server Archiver is also able to work with multiple servers. You’ll need to install its archive agent on all the Exchange servers you want to manage, and also set up a central storage service to manage archived content.

Once you’ve got a list of mail boxes, and their current sizes, you can start to define rules. These can be for a whole server, for a storage group, or for an individual mailbox. Adding new conditions to a rule is easy enough – pick the condition you want to add from a drop-down list, and fill in a value. Exchange Server Archiver won’t archive a mailbox unless rules have been set – so there’s no need to worry about users wondering where their mail has gone while you’re setting the system up. Red Gate’s rule conditions are straightforward: age, size, age and size, all messages, no messages. Once set, rules can be scheduled, archiving when it’s convenient for your clients. Once they're archived, users can retrieve messages using the Web-based archive access tool, or the Outlook plug-in. If a whole mailbox needs to be restored, you can use the recovery tools in the admin console, which will copy whole sections of the archive back to Exchange.

You don’t have to run an Exchange backup service yourself – there are cloud options that can do a lot of the work for you. Mimecast’s email archiving service is one of the best known (and it has a reseller programme) but Dell’s new managed service offerings (which are sold through the channel) include tools for Exchange back-up and archiving. The most useful of Dell’s tools isn’t really designed for regular backups. Instead it’s a failover and mailbox recovery service which can take over during downtime, and which will keep users on email, while you rebuild and recover their servers. There’s a lot to be said for that kind of peace of mind, so you can get on with your job without having to worry about calls from clients frantic about their email outage.

Step by Step

  1. You can use Acronis’ Exchange backup tools to work with several managed Exchange servers, working with individual storage groups (so you don’t back up the spam quarantine folder every night, for example).

  2. Once you’ve chosen what gets backed up, you can choose how it’s handled. You can set notifications, priorities, and compression types – among many other options.

  3. Tasks can be scheduled to run at different times, so you can set up regular backup schedules. This approach gives you the flexibility you need to mix on- and off-site backups.



Continuous imaging

Backup is only part of a disaster recovery strategy for your clients’ sites. If you’re implementing a full business continuity system you need something a little more complex – and a lot more powerful – than a backup and archiving system, especially when you’re working with live data sources like Exchange.

That’s where tools like Double-Take for Windows come in. Double-Take builds an image of a server (or a group of servers), and keeps its images updated every time so much as a single byte changes. It doesn’t matter where images are, as they can be anywhere there’s a network connection. Bandwidth needs are kept to a minimum with tools to schedule how much can be used when, and any data sent is compressed.

If there’s a problem with a client’s server, the Double-Take server will instantly fail over to the replica – with minimal downtime. The replica server can be used to re-image servers once hardware is repaired or replaced. There’s one big advantage with tools like this: you don’t need to invest in specialised application-specific backup software. You also don’t need to have the same hardware for replicas and recovery – Double-Take will handle managing recovery to a different platform.

Double-Take also provides a version suitable for SBS, which you can also use to migrate customer servers to new hardware.


Backing up Exchange on SBS
With the new SBS 2008 backup solution, the concepts of full and incremental are very different from what you are used to with previous versions of NTBackup and the same applies to Exchange – get the details here:

Backup Exchange using Windows Server Backup
Using the new VSS plug-in to back-up Exchange 2007 SP2: and

See also

Volume 2, Edition 2
Recovering from mail server disasters FEATURE FINDER code 2236a.

See also

Volume 1, Edition 1
Backing up – save the data, save the day FEATURE FINDER code 1111a


Acronis Backup and Recovery
licences start at £761

Acronis Recovery for Exchange
licences start at £761

Red Gate Exchange Server Archiver
£20/mailbox (£25 with support and upgrades)

Double-Take for Windows



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