Microsoft Exchange and Outlook data recovery services

In today's world, access to both current and past email is essential. VARs can create data recovery services in Exchange and Outlook so they can approach customers with complex data recovery requirements.

In today's world, where access to both current and past email is often viewed as essential, it can be devastating

if Murphy's Law strikes and you find yourself having deleted the one email you really need to refer to. VARs can create data recovery services which will allow them to approach customers who have regular data recovery requirements.

Back in the days of Microsoft Exchange 5.5, a complete Exchange server recovery was fraught with difficulties. The NetBIOS name of the recovery server had to be identical to the production server, so recovery had to take place on an isolated network. This meant that a Backup Domain Controller (BDC) also had to be isolated and promoted to Primary Domain Controller (PDC) so that the security account of the server could be preserved. At the time, hardware was expensive and there were no virtualization solutions, so such recoveries were always difficult. This difficulty led to the marketing of brick-level backups as a fix for all our worries.

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A brick-level backup is one that takes an additional pass against the Exchange Information Store and turns the virtual mailbox within the store into a physical entity on disk, so a recovery can be done at a highly granular level. This method has major disadvantages: it is extremely slow, causes many false-positive warnings about message corruption and bloats the backup to several times the size of the store on disk. It is not surprising, then, that data protection companies are moving away from this model as quickly as their development cycles can carry them.

What are resellers doing about this problem today? There are now many vendors whose backup solutions no longer rely on taking compartmentalized backups of individual mailboxes, but will now reconstruct a mail item or entire mailbox from the single, store-level backup that has always been taken by Exchange administrators.

Resellers can put compartmentalized backups to their advantage by providing a service to companies that want the ability to recover messages for their customers. The first step in this process is to ensure that users can recover as much email as possible themselves, thus saving a call to the support desk. Set the "Deleted Items Retention" time on the Exchange Information Stores to a reasonable number of days so that users can use Outlook to click on their "Deleted Items" folder and then "Select Tools" and "Recover Deleted Items." The next step is to run the "dumpsteralwayson" registry edit on some or all workstations so that the "Recover Deleted Items" option appears as a menu item for all folders rather than simply the "Deleted Items" folder. Learn more about this registry change in the Microsoft documentation.

These steps increase the amount of storage required for the customer, but the advent of relatively inexpensive storage area networks (SANs) or good-quality SAS-based directly attached disks mean that using an increased "Deleted Items Retention" period, though still a significant cost, is feasible. The introduction of Exchange 2007 helps even more here by allowing even a customer running the Standard Edition SKU to have five unlimited stores -- a far cry from the old 16 GB limit in Exchange 2000 and Exchange 2003 prior to Service Pack 1.

But what if a customer is averse to retaining an ever-increasing volume of storage online? Resellers have another weapon in their data recovery services armory: server-less message recovery. Resellers are able to take a customer's backup tape and restore it to their own infrastructure to extract the missing message. No domain controller is required, and no complex recovery utilities need to be run against the store to make it available. Products such as Quest Recovery Manager or Lucid8 DigiScope can provide this capability. These products, installed on the reseller or customer network, might be charged using a variety of models: per store, mailbox, recovery event, etc.

If the customer wants to retain a level of control over their own data, has some data sensitivity issues or requires immediate recovery to meet tight service-level agreements (SLAs), then the software might be installed onto the customer network. When the customer does not have a requirement to recover email immediately -- for example, when the customer does not routinely restore individual mails but has an occasional discovery or audit -- the customer and reseller may find it beneficial to leverage the data recovery software on the reseller's premises. The software vendors have varying licensing models, so be careful what, where and how you implement. The reseller then provides the expertise around searching and restoring messages on request and would be proactive in testing that the backups are in a viable state to allow restores when required.

All customers have their own unique issues regarding email availability, storage and recoverability. Using a flexible tiered approach allows you as a reseller to provide the customer with the right balance of online storage, self-recovery and serviced data recovery options to keep your customer going.


This was first published in August 2007

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