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Protecting and Recovering E-Mail Using DPM 2007 and Exchange 2007

Protecting and Recovering E-Mail Using DPM 2007 and Exchange 2007

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The following was posted by Harsh Mittal, the Exchange protection feature lead with the DPM product team.  For more information around protecting Microsoft Exchange with Microsoft Data Protection Manager 2007, please check out:

How to protect Exchange Server with DPM 2007 - resources on www.microsoft.com/DPM

Revised technical whitepaper, covering these concepts and many others

As more and more data is stored in electronic formats, data backup and recovery is increasingly becoming a key business requirement. Apart from being an operational requirement, today companies also may need to maintain a backup of their data for other reasons such as to fulfill legal requirements. Data comes in various forms, such as operational data, accounting information, and emails among others.

In this blog post, we look at Exchange data recovery goals and why Microsoft System Center Data Protection Manager 2007 (DPM) is an effective solution to protect emails and mailboxes on Microsoft Exchange Server 2007 (Exchange).

Mailbox/mail item recoveries requests can be broadly classified as:

·         Short-term

·         Long-term

The data retention features in Microsoft Exchange Server 2007 do provide for short-term retention and recovery of data, thereby not always necessitating an external backup solution for short-term retention within the server.  This does not necessarily translate to not requiring a recovery scenario for failed servers, components or site-level calamities. 

Above and beyond short term recovery, an external backup solution is required for long-term retention and recovery. DPM is designed as a best-of-breed data retention and recovery solution for Exchange. DPM’s recovery point search, mailbox cataloging and consistency check features within DPM provides users with a great experience when it comes to recovering an Exchange mailbox. DPM does all this while staying complaint to the Exchange-support recovery processes to support data consistency and reliability.

Short term recovery

A typical recovery request usually results from accidental deletions of an email or a mailbox. The error is typically noticed within days or, at worst, weeks of the incident. Microsoft Exchange’s Deleted Item Retention and Mailbox Retention features allow you to recover deleted content without the involvement of backup infrastructure.

Using the Deleted Item Retention feature the end user can directly recover deleted items from Microsoft Outlook without the intervention of the Exchange administrator. The recovery of hard-deleted (Shift + Delete) emails is also supported.

The Deleted Mailbox Retention feature allows the administrator to recover deleted mailboxes.

The Exchange administrator, based on the organization’s requirements, can set the time limit for such retrieval. By default, Exchange 2007 enables deleted item retention for 14 days and deleted mailbox retention for 30 days. Both these features require the recovery to take place within the retention period.

Exchange’s recovery features come at storage cost, the longer the retention period, the more storage required on the server. Moving data to tape for reducing cost will increase the recovery time, as the database will have to be staged to disk before restoring mail/mailbox. The amount of required storage will vary based on number of users, and their messaging-related behavior. Any solution will be a tradeoff between recovery time and cost.

Long Term Recovery

While Exchange’s out-of-box data retention features are impressive and suffice for short-term recovery needs, they are not designed to protect data over longer periods. Understanding this need, Exchange has provided technologies that allow partners to build long-term backup and recovery solutions.

A typical request would require a set of emails or copy of the mailbox to be retrieved from a specific point in time, possibly dating back months or even years. One of the scenarios in which Exchange’s retention features are limited is when an entire PST file is deleted.

Mail archiving features (journaling) enable companies to keep a record of electronic communications (including emails) for a longer specified period (usually 3-7 years). These solutions have very specific requirements like

·         Quick searchability of archive based on the content and metadata

·         Ensuring that all the content has been captured

·         Audit trails for access of the data

·         Retention & Expiration

And so on

Microsoft Exchange’s Hosted Archive Services is one such offering. Microsoft Gold or Certified partners may also provide similar solutions. These offerings/solutions, however, can be expensive particularly if you do not have such specific requirements.

Recovering an Exchange Mailbox

Irrespective of the backup solution, the procedure to recover a mailbox outside the retention period is the same. The most effective solution to backup Exchange data would consist of the following steps:

1.     Take point-in-time snapshots of the Exchange database

2.     Store them on a tape or disk. Tape is the preferred media to store data over long periods of time.

The process to retrieve this data would be as follows:

1.     Recover the recovery point to disk from the tape on which it is stored

2.     Mount the required point-in-time snapshot of the Exchange database using the Exchange Troubleshooting Assistant (ExTRA)

3.     Retrieve the required set of emails or mailboxes using the Recovery Storage Group (RSG).

Using the RSG is the only Exchange-supported way to recover mailboxes from database backups. Exchange does not support solutions that reverse engineer mailbox database schema. Using any solution that reverse engineers the database schema can result in data corruption.

Note: Click here to learn more about Microsoft support policy for third-party products that modify or extract Exchange database contents

 

An effective backup and retrieval solution should

System Center Data Protection Manager (DPM) 2007

Allow search for point-in-time snapshot based on parameters like alias, display name, date range, etc.

Allows you to search for mailboxes based on various parameters, thus allow you to zero-in on the tape and snapshot that you are looking for.

Maintain a list of mailboxes that are part of the database at the time of taking the snapshot. As mailbox backups can go back many years, tracking a mailbox can be a difficult process. As many organizations have policies to move mailboxes for load balancing, finding a right point-in-time can be challenging.

Tracks the mailboxes that were the part of the database at the time of the backup. DPM also returns a list of adjacent snapshots so you can fall back on a closer snapshot in case the snapshot you need cannot be used for some reason.

Maintain location of the point-in-time snapshots of the database.

Provides a media-tracking feature that returns the exact tape label and barcode of the media on which the snapshot is stored.

Maintain version of Microsoft Exchange and information about all service packs on the server at the time when the snapshot was taken.

Tracks this information for you and presents it during mailbox recovery.

 

DPM follows the Exchange-supported process for backup and retrieval of an Exchange database to keep track of the information required to facilitate a smooth retrieval of data.

DPM performs Eseutil consistency checks on the data written to disk or tape to ensure that the backup is not corrupt and that it will be readable when required.

Summary

Backup and recovery of emails and mailboxes is an important requirement in today’s digital age. While Exchange provides effective tools to recover data lost by accidental deletions, long term backups are not provided for within Exchange. DPM is an effective solution to backup and restore Exchange data. DPM provides features like mailbox cataloging, recovery point search and consistency checks to provide a smooth and surprise-free backup and recovery experience.

Related Reading

How to recover items that have been hard deleted in Outlook

How to Recover a Deleted Mailbox in Exchange

How to Configure Deleted Item Retention for a User

How to Configure Deleted Mailbox Retention

How to Recover Data for Exchange-Based Servers using DPM 2007

 Harsh Mittal

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