An Admins’ Guide to Backing Up Exchange Server

Like any other essential business application, it is important to protect Exchange Server against data loss by performing regular backups. Ideally, you should back up Exchange Server using a reputable, third-party backup application. In the absence of such an application, however, you can use the Windows Server Backup tool that is included with the Windows Server operating system. Windows Server Backup is not installed by default, but you can install it onto Exchange Server by using the Server Manager’s Add Roles and Features Wizard to install the Windows Server Backup feature.

In most cases, backing up Exchange Server is a very straightforward process. Generally speaking, the backup administrator simply creates a backup job specifying the resources (i.e., Exchange) that are to be backed up, as well as the backup media to which the backup will be written. Even so, there is an entire laundry list of best practices that should be observed for Exchange Server backups.

First and foremost, make sure the backup application you are using supports backing up your particular version of Exchange Server. Because of the way that Exchange Server’s mailbox databases work, a simple file level backup will not work unless the databases are dismounted. To properly back up Exchange Server, the backup application must support the Volume Shadow Copy Services (VSS) and must also be Exchange Server-aware. Some backup applications require an Exchange Server plug-in before they can be used to back up Exchange.

Exchange Server Best Practice

emaildatabase.jpgAnother backup best practice for Exchange Server is to try to keep your mailbox databases at a small-to- moderate size. From a backup and recovery standpoint, it is better to have several small mailbox databases than one large one, because of the amount of time involved in restoring a large mailbox database. Never mind the fact that distributing mailboxes across multiple databases helps to limit the impact of a database-level failure.

Depending on the backup application you are using, performing an Exchange Server restoration often requires the use of a recovery database. A recovery database can be as large as the database that is being recovered. You must therefore ensure you leave adequate disk space to accommodate the recovery database, plus a little extra to account for any overhead involved in the recovery process.

Another important thing to know about Exchange Server backups, is that the backup process does more than just copying data to the backup media. The backup processes transaction logs and updates checkpoint files. Because of this, it is important to avoid using more than one backup application to back up Exchange Server. Otherwise, you could end up causing problems with the log-file replay process.

Verifying Your Backup

verfiy backup.jpgAlthough most backup applications do include a function that will allow you to verify that Exchange Server has been backed up successfully, it is also possible to use the Exchange Management Shell to see when Exchange was last backed up. The command for doing so is:

Get-MailboxDatabase -Server <your server name> -Status | FL Name, SnapshotLastFullBackup, LastFullBackup

One last thing to consider with regard to backing up Exchange Server is that many organizations leverage Exchange Database Availability Groups in order to ensure high availability for Exchange mailboxes. When database availability groups are in use, there is usually more than one copy of each mailbox database. You can back up any of the mailbox database copies, but it is best to back up the passive copy whenever possible, so as to avoid placing an additional I/O load on the primary database copy. It is important to be aware that some backup applications have their own unique nuances related to backing up Database Availability Groups, so make sure you are aware of any limitations inherent in the backup software you are using.

Additional Reading:


Brien Posey is a 13-time Microsoft MVP with over two decades of IT experience. Prior to going freelance, Posey was a CIO for a national chain of hospitals and healthcare facilities and has served as a network engineer for the United States Department of Defense at Fort Knox. Posey has also worked as a network administrator for some of the largest insurance companies in America.

You can follow Brien on Twitter at @BrienPosey

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