The Right Way to Perform a Backup in Exchange Server 2007

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Performing a backup in Exchange is a frequently misunderstood topic. The procedure is a bit different from a regular backup, and you can very easily run into some major problems if you don't know what to do and what not to do.

So today, I would like to show you the right way to perform a backup in Exchange Server 2007 and make sure you know how backups work.

The Wrong Way to Backup Exchange 2007

Before I show you how to correctly setup a backup in Exchange, I would like to tell you what not to do. Ever.

You might already know how to do a regular on-line file level backup. And you probably run this type of backup all the time for your file servers and personal computers, which works fine.

But if you perform this type of backup on your Exchange server, the Exchange databases will not be fully recoverable. If you do an on-line backup of an Exchange database without shutting it down, you will have a lot of problems with your backup.

The reason for this is that while the backup is copying the database which, by the way may take a minute or an hour, the database is still active and there are changes being made to it - within the minute or longer. So the backup that you are getting of that database is not an accurate backup and in turn it is a very difficult backup to work with in case of a disaster recovery procedure.

Typically, after you perform a restore from this type of a backup, the database won't mount and you will need to run a repair tool on it. This may cause you to lose quite a bit of data and there is a chance that you might never be able to recover that database at all.

So remember, whatever you do, do not perform a file level backup on Exchange Server.

An "image" backup of Exchange Server is another type of backup that you should stay away from.

The "image" backup takes snapshots of a server and then does the backup. Well, since this type of backup doesn't copy the entire server in a flash, there is an opportunity for the Exchange database to actually change during the backup process. So you might encounter the same problems as with the on-line file level backup, where the database refuses to mount, loses data, or becomes completely unrecoverable.

The Right Way to Backup Exchange Server 2007

Now that you know what not to do, let's go over the types of backups you should be doing on your Exchange Server.

Option # 1 - use a backup that is an off-line-level backup. Take the database off-line, do the backup and put it back on-line.

Option # 2 - the best type of backup for an Exchange Server is an "exchange-aware" backup. This type of backup will capture all the Exchange data properly and it will flush the Exchange logs, which are very important for your server recovery.

NTBackup is a type of "exchange-aware" backup. It is one of the most popular Exchange backup system for small to medium size businesses and it's available from Microsoft. In fact, you probably already have it on your Exchange Server and don't even know it.

One thing to keep in mind is that using an "exchange-aware" backup is not enough to create a proper Exchange copy. You have to make sure to configure these backups in "exchange-aware" fashion, which I will explain in more detail below.

What to Backup on Exchange Server?

Not everything on your Exchange Server needs to be backed up. However, there are a few things that must be backed-up to be able to run a successful recovery:

  • Mail databases - as mentioned above, in an "exchange-aware" fashion
  • System State files and folders
  • Files and folders under Program Files\Microsoft\Exchange Server\ with the exception of the Storage Group Folders in Mailbox directory as they are going to be backed up in an "exchange-aware" fashion also

Now that we know what to backup and which type of backup to choose, let's go over the steps of a backup procedure.

Performing the NTBackup on Exchange Server 2007

We got the most important Exchange backup basics covered and now we're ready for the steps on how to configure your NTBackup. I know this is what you have been waiting for, so let's get started.

  1. To start, login to your Exchange Server, click on the Start Menu, select Run, type in ntbackup and hit Enter:Backup 1
  2. In the Backup Utility window for NTBackup, click on the Backup tab:Backup 2
  3. You will see all your hard drives listed in this window; you will also see a System State listed, as well as the Microsoft Exchange Server option.Expand the Microsoft Exchange Server all the way down until you are able to see your Storage Groups. In my example below, there are two Storage Groups listed: First Storage Group and Second Storage GroupBackup 3
  4. Go ahead and check the boxes next to all of your Storage Groups:Backup 4
  5. Next, expand your Local Disk where your Exchange Server was installed and then the Program Files Folder:Backup 5
  6. Locate the Microsoft folder and expand it. You should now be able to find the "Exchange Server" folder. Go ahead and check the box next to it:Backup 6
  7. Now remember, we need to exclude the Storage Group folders from that directory. So expand the Exchange Server folder and then the Mailbox folder:Backup 7
  8. Uncheck the checkboxes next to all of your Storage Group folders. In my example I am unselecting the box next to First Storage Group and Second Storage Group.Backup 8
  9. Alright, we're almost done here. The last thing we need to remember is to check the box next to our System State, so let's do this now:Backup 9
  10. Now it's time for you to select the backup destination. You can select a network drive, a secondary local disk or a media tape:Backup 10
  11. After you have selected your backup destination, click on the Start Backup button:Backup 11
  12. At this point you have two sets of options:

    • Option Set #1 - Choose between appending the backup to the media or replacing the data. I'm going to replace the data.
    • Option Set #2 - Start the backup right away, or create a schedule. In my example, I'm going to start it right away.

    When you have made your selections, click on the Start Backup button to start the actual backup process:

    Backup 12

  13. Once the backup is completed you will see the screen below. At this time you have successfully preformed an Exchange Server backup - the Right Way! Backup 13

Check out my previous articles on Exchange Server 2007:

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Gosia Grabowska

Gosia Grabowska is an experienced Network Support Specialist and an expert in Windows Server support. She graduated from DePaul University, Chicago with a Bachelor degree in Network Technologies with highest honors. Gosia has over 8 years of technical and support experience and has worked as Systems Administrator for a high profile law firm, where she managed the Backup and Disaster Recovery plan. Gosia has been a part of the Train Signal team since 2006 as the Product Manager and has written many articles on a variety of topics, including Exchange Server 2007, Windows Vista, Small Business Server, and more. (MCTS Active Directory, MCTS Vista, Network+, Linux+, Project+, PMP)