Exchange backups on Windows Server 2008

NTBackup lives no more, replaced by VSS backups. Unfortunately, "Windows Server Backup" didn't work with Exchange Server 2007 until now. Exchange Server 2007 Service pack 2 contains a backup plug-in that makes it possible. Although pretty limited compared to full backup application like Microsoft Data Protection Manager or Symantec Backup Exec it does what you want it to do: create backups. Jaap explains...

In one of my earlier articles (Online Exchange Backups) I discussed the online backup options in Exchange Server 2007, streaming backups using the Backup API (Application Programming Interface) and snapshot backups using VSS.  This article was written for Exchange Server 2007 running on Windows Server 2003.

Windows Server 2008 is a different story since it has a new feature called “Windows Server Backup” and NTBackup is discontinued. Windows Server Backup creates Volume Shadow Service (VSS) backups, but it is not Exchange aware. So for backing up your Exchange Server 2007 mailbox databases running on Windows Server 2008 you are dependent on 3rd party products. No out-of-the-box solution like NTBackup in Windows Server 2003 is available in Windows Server 2008.

Now that Exchange Server 2007 Service Pack 2 is available, this has changed. Amongst other new features and functionality,  Microsoft has added a new backup plug-in that makes it possible to create snapshot backups using VSS from Windows Server Backup. I’ll show you how.

Windows Server Backup

Windows Server Backup is a feature in Windows Server 2008. You can install Windows Server Backup using the Server Manager, select Features and click “Add Features”.  Scroll down, select “Windows Server Backup Features” and click Install. If needed you can expand “Windows Server Backup Features” and select the “Command-line Tools” as well. When the setup has finished, the Windows Server Backup utility shows up in the Administrative Tools menu.

When you open Windows Server Backup nothing special appears. There’s no indication that you can backup Exchange Server 2007.

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Figure   1. Windows Server Backup. There’s no indication about the Exchange awareness

Windows Server Backup can backup only on Volume level. When you have a default installation you can backup the entire system disk, including the C:\Program Files\Microsoft\Exchange directory. Since Windows Server Backup is aware of Exchange Server 2007 Service Pack 2 the Exchange Databases will be backed up, the database will be checked for consistency and the log files will be purged.

There might be scenarios where the database and the log files are placed on a separate disk. In this example I’ve located the database in G:\MDB1 and the accompanying log files in G:\LOGS1. The Public Folder database is located in G:\MDB2 and the accompanying log files in G:\LOGS2. This way you can backup only the database and the log files.

In the Windows Server Backup, in the Actions Pane click “Backup Once…”. The Backup Once Wizard opens, click Next to continue. You can select a Full Server backup or a Custom backup. Select the Custom Backup if you only want to backup the Exchange database and the log files and click Next to continue.

In the Select Items window you can select the G:\ disk where the database and the log files are located. Remove the check at “Enable System Recovery” to unselect the System disk and click Next to continue.

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Figure   2. Remove the checkmark at “Enable System Recovery” to deselect the C:\ Drive

The backup itself can be placed on any disk, except the disk that’s being backed up and the System Disk. If you want to backup to disk you have to create an additional disk on the server. It’s also possible to backup to a Remote Share. In this example I’ll write the backup to another disk, click Next to continue.

Select the Backup destination (X: in this example) and click Next to continue.

It is possible to create a VSS Copy Backup or a VSS Full Backup. A VSS Copy Backup is a full backup of the database, but the header information will not be updated with backup information and the log files will not be deleted. You can select this option when you want to create a backup using Windows Server Backup, but you don’t want to interfere with other backup solutions running on this particular server. If you select VSS Full Backup a full backup will be created, the database header information will be updated with the backup information and the log files will be purged (if the consistency check succeeds). In both options the database will be checked for consistency.

Select “VSS Full Backup” to create a full backup of the Exchange database and click Next to continue.

Check the confirmation page and click “Backup” to start the actual backup process.

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Figure   3. Notice the status bar, this is the only indication you’re running an Exchange Server backup

The only way to see if the actual Exchange backup is performed is by looking at the console. You can see the Status bar: “Running consistency check for application Exchange”. You can close the Backup Once Wizard and the backup will continue to run.

If you check the Application log in the Event Viewer you’ll see entries about the backup from the Shadow copy service and the Exchange VSS writer about the backup. Please check my other article http://www.simple-talk.com/exchange/exchange-articles/online-exchange-backups/ with detailed information regarding the VSS backup process.

When you check the header information of the Exchange database you’ll find information about the backup as well:

Note. This output has been edited for readability

Windows Server Backup can only backup active Exchange Servers. This means that it is not aware of a Continuous Cluster Replication (CCR) environment and therefore you cannot backup the passive node of CCR Cluster. Microsoft Data Protection Manager (DPM) 2007 or other 3rd party products like Backup Exec can backup the passive node and therefore reduce the load of the active node of the cluster.

Backup schedules

It becomes more interesting to use Windows Server Backup when you can schedule backups and create a backup once a day for example without any hassle.

Open the Windows Server Backup application and in the Actions pane select “Backup schedule…”. Like the Backup Once wizard you can select a Full Server backup or a Custom Backup. If you select Custom Backup it is possible to select the disk containing the Exchange Server database and log files. When creating a backup schedule the system volume will be included by default, it is not possible to deselect this.

The next step is to specify the backup time, you can create a backup once a day or multiple times a day.

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Figure   4. a backup will be created at 9pm. It is also possible to create multiple backups

When selecting the destination disk it will be formatted by Windows Server Backup and all information on the disk will be lost. The drive doesn’t get a drive letter during format, but you can still see it through Disk Management in the Server Manager.

Note: Although you can select “Always create an incremental backup” in the Windows Server Backup application it is not possible to do this for Exchange. You can only create full backups, either in the Backup Once and in the Backup Schedule option.

Restore the Exchange Backup

When you want to restore the previous backup open the Windows Server Backup and click on “Recover…” in the Actions Pane. You can select what data you want to recover, in this example select “This Server 2007MBX01”. Click Next to continue.

If you have setup a backup schedule you can select a date and time of the backup you want to restore.

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Figure   5. Select the backup you want to restore

Click Next to continue.

In the Recovery Type window you can select the kind of information that needs to be restored. Since this is an Exchange database restore select “Applications” and click Next to continue.

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Figure   6. Select the application you want to restore information for. If you do not want to roll-forward log files tick the checkbox

Select “Recover to original location” to restore the database to its original location. Do not forget to tick the checkbox “This database can be overwritten by a restore” in the database properties in Exchange Management Console. If you fail to do so the restore of the database will fail.

In the Confirmation window check your selections and click “Recover” to start the restore process.

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Figure   7. you can check the progress of the restore process

Information stored in log files newer than the database (and thus not restored with the database) will be automatically rolled-forward. When possible the recovery process will automatically replay, or roll-forward all available log files from the restore point up to the latest possible point in time.

There’s an easy way to check this. Create a full backup of your mailbox database. When the backup is successfully finished send a couple of message to yourself. Make them easy to identify. Dismount the database and restore the database from the backup. The messages you just sent are not in this backup, but in the log files written after the creation of the backup. These log files will be automatically replayed. When you logon to the mailbox after the restore of the database you’ll find the messages again, even if they weren’t in the actual backup.

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Figure   8. The last 3 messages were not part of the backup but were rolled-forward from the log files

Conclusion

Exchange Server 2007 Service pack 2 will contain a backup plug-in that makes it possible to use Windows Server Backup in Windows Server 2008 to create Exchange Server backups. Although pretty limited compared to full backup application like Microsoft Data Protection Manager or Symantec Backup Exec it does what you want it to do: create backups. You can create backups manually or create a schedule for the backup application to run. It is a backup to disk solution, backup to tape is not available.

It can restore backups and it can roll forward log files after a restore, so the basic functionality is available. Nothing more, nothing less.

Note: Fellow MVP Michael B. Smith created a couple of scripts that are capable of creating backups of Exchange Server 2007 running on Windows Server 2008, without the need of Windows Server Backup. You can find his solution here:

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  • Byron

    Exchange 2007 SP2 VSS plug-in
    Hi there, would SP2 be a prerequisite to using the backup plug-in or would it still function properly if installed on its own? This is for the Exchange 2007 users who don’t have a backup solution for Exchange, but would like to make a backup prior to installing SP2.