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Overview of maintenance, backup, and disaster recovery for Exchange Server

This article was previously published under Q272234
Retired KB Content Disclaimer
This article was written about products for which Microsoft no longer offers support. Therefore, this article is offered "as is" and will no longer be updated.
This article provides a general overview of best practices for maintenance, backup strategy, and disaster recovery for Exchange server.

Hardware Management and Maintenance

Planning for your Exchange Server system involves several issues. Among these issues are server selection, disk configuration, and disk management and maintenance.

Planning and Configuring Servers

Because Exchange databases must be capable of fast access to large amounts of information, server performance and reliability must be your primary concerns when you select hardware for your databases. High-quality components minimize the likelihood of data loss. Hardware that is too slow to support the load on your server slows down your entire system.

Note that you should be skeptical of manufacturers' performance benchmarks. Original equipment manufacturers typically use RAID 0 when they test. You should use RAID 5 or RAID 1 for database partitions to ensure the greatest reliability.

Use RAID controllers that have write caching with ECC memory protection and battery backup.

Optimizing Database Access

For servers that support large information stores--stores that are 50 to 100 gigabytes (GB) in size--it is especially important to follow these guidelines.
  • Place transaction log files and database files on separate disks.
  • Use a dedicated high-performance spindle for the transaction logs.
  • Use a dedicated partition for the databases. As servers get bigger, the database partition starts to experience much more input/output (I/O) activity. This is especially true for RAID 5 partitions because of the added overhead. As a result, it is a good idea to put only database files on the database partition.
  • Put the message transfer agent (MTA) database and tracking logs on the system disk (if you don't have a spare spindle), not on the database partition.
  • Use the NTFS file system instead of a file allocation table (FAT) system for all Exchange Server database partitions, including partitions that contain the information store databases and transaction log files.
The following sample disk configuration is recommended for typical large servers:
  • Mirror set 1: System disk; includes binaries, the swap file, and the MTA database
  • Mirror set 2: Transaction files only, RAID 5 partition, Exchange information store, and directory databases only

Managing Disk Capacity

When you are planning your Exchange Server system, one important issue is determining how much disk space you need to allow for the information stores. Unless you take a conscientious approach to capacity management, the size of your information store databases can quickly get out of control.

Set a maximum information store size, and then manage the information store within those limits. You can get a good idea of how big your databases will grow by setting mailbox quotas and then tracking the growth of the information store over time. Allow enough free space to support the messaging needs of the users on the server, but set mailbox storage limits so that users do not consume excessive amounts of disk resources.

Also, plan for how you would handle an oversize information store if that situation arises, including contingency plans for reclaiming disk space or adding extra disks to support your server's load. Allow enough space on the system to let you run the Eseutil and Isinteg utilities if you need to. As a general rule, plan to have approximately 25 to 30 percent extra disk space for these utilities.

Defragmenting the Database

One of the most important functions that the information store performs during regular online maintenance is reclaiming unused database space by defragmenting the database.

This feature has been fine-tuned since Exchange 5.0. Exchange 5.5 Service Pack 1 includes a reporting tool that provides, in the event log, an estimate of how much free space is available in the information store after online defragmentation. This makes it much easier to estimate how much disk space is needed.

The event log shows when online defragmentation starts, stops, resumes, and finishes. When you back up the information store or perform an offline defragmentation, check the event log to make sure you are not overlapping with an online defragmentation. (However, note that if online defragmentation is interrupted, the information store resumes the process as soon as possible.)

Online defragmentation does everything that you need it to do except shrink the size of the database files on the disk. If you make major changes to the Exchange Server computer (for example, if you move or delete a large number of mailboxes or remove a large number of newsgroups), consider performing an offline defragmentation by running the Eseutil utility with the /d option.

Generally, however, avoid offline defragmentation because it is an expensive procedure. When offline defragmentation runs, it creates a new database file and then copies all the data in the old file to the new file, which can take a long time. On average, it takes about one hour to defragment 5 to 10 GB of disk space. Also, you need enough free space for the offline defragmentation process to hold the new file. As a general rule, you should have 100 percent more free space than the amount you are defragmenting.

Backup Strategy

Design a backup strategy that consists of simple procedures that have as few steps as possible so that you can easily perform those same steps whenever you need to restore data on a server.

The recommended backup strategy for Exchange Server is to perform full online backups every day. Performing a full backup only once a week and then performing only differential backups the rest of the time has definite drawbacks. For example, if your Exchange Server computer stops responding (crashes) sometime before your scheduled full backup, and you cannot restore your latest differential backup because of a problem with the backup tape, you must use the full backup from the previous week, and you will almost certainly lose data.

Optimizing Backup and Restore Performance

The real limiting factor when it comes to building large servers is, how fast can you back up data, and more important, how fast can you restore it? To get the best performance from the backup and restore process, use high-performance backup software along with the fastest backup hardware you can get.

The following list identifies a few of the many vendors who provide high-performance backup software that works with Exchange Server:
  • Cheyenne ARCserve
  • Legato NetWorker
  • Seagate BackupExec
Your backup hardware should consist of the following components:
  • Tape backup equipment that supports streaming and striping.
  • Fast-Wide SCSI bus communication. You should have seven or eight disks in an array if you are using more than one Digital Linear Tape (DLT) drive in parallel.
If you outfit your system with quality components, what kind of performance can you expect? If the system is properly configured, you should be able to reach the following speeds:
  • Backup to a single DLT 35/70 tape drive: Approximately 30 GB per hour (or 8.5 MB per second) with hardware compression.
  • Backup to a RAID 5 array of four DLT 35/70 tape drives: Approximately 40 GB per hour.
  • Restore to RAID 5 disk partition: Approximately 20 to 25 GB per hour with write-back caching. If write-back caching is disabled, restoring takes twice as long.

Maintenance Routine

Implement a maintenance routine that enhances the likelihood of successful data recovery in the event of an emergency.

As part of this routine, store your backup tapes in a safe place. Clean the tape drives regularly, as recommended by the tape drive manufacturer, and discard old backup tapes according to the manufacturer's recommended cycles. Regularly test your backup procedures and verify the quality of your backups to make sure that you are backing up the system accurately.

Practice your backup and restore procedures regularly:
  • Use a full backup from your normal backup set to restore the database files to a test server, and then make sure that the log files replay the way you expect them to.
  • Restore any incremental or differential backups that are built from the full backup to make sure that they restore correctly.
  • Run some basic tests. For example, log on to a mailbox or access a public folder to make sure that the restored database is functioning properly.
It is useful to run the following test before you deploy Exchange Server in a production environment:
  1. Back up the Exchange Server databases to tape.
  2. Generate load on the system so that the log files record some activity. You can do this by running the Loadsim or Mailstorm utility.
  3. Simulate a crash.
  4. Restore the database files from your tape backup, and then make sure that the log files replay as you expect them to.
  5. Run some basic tests. For example, log on to a mailbox or access a public folder to make sure that the restored database is functioning properly.

Disaster Recovery

If a system crash causes loss of data that is in memory or if software or hardware failure causes corruption in the contents of a database, you may need to recover data. Typically, you can repair damage from a system crash by performing a "soft recovery" when you restart the server. Software or hardware failure can require a restore from backup.

Soft Recovery

A soft recovery is a process that runs automatically when you try to start the information store after a system failure. Soft recovery uses the log files and database files on the disk instead of using tape backup.

If your server crashes and the contents of memory are lost, the database file on disk is flagged as inconsistent. Before you can restart the Exchange Server computer, the database must be consistent. Exchange Server simulates a clean shutdown by replaying pages from the log files on disk into the information store databases. This process involves the following steps:
  1. The database engine checks to see if the Edb.log file exists.
  2. The database engine reads the Checkpoint file to determine which log file to start replaying.
  3. At the end of the operation, the database is effectively consistent again and the information store can start normally.

Restoring from Online Backup

If soft recovery does not work or if there is a more serious problem within the system, you need to restore from backup.

The process for restoring from an online backup is similar to soft recovery. Exchange Server makes sure that all of the files are put in the right place and brings the database up to a consistent state. The following steps describe the process:
  1. When you restore data from tape backup, the restore process returns to disk all of the files that were backed up.
  2. The system attendant starts the information store.
  3. The information store checks the RestoreInProgress key in the registry and determines that the database has been restored from an online backup.
  4. The RestoreInProgress key tells the information store where to start replaying the transaction logs. It does not check for the Edb.log.
  5. The information store writes pages in the .pat file into the database files, replays the log files that are specified by the RestoreInProgress key, and plays through any other logs that are on disk.
  6. If you need to restore a corrupted information store, a full recovery includes fixing the problem, restoring the database, and rolling forward all transaction log files
The most time-consuming aspect of doing a restore is not copying the database files back to the disk but replaying the log files. Depending on how often you perform full backups, it can take several hours to replay log files on large servers during a restore. This is because the database engine must run through every transaction that has occurred since the last backup.

Typically, replaying a transaction log file takes between 30 seconds and four minutes. The replay speed varies according to the type of transactions that must be replayed. For example, it takes the information store longer to replay log files that have a lot of small delete operations or attachments. You can test your log files to get a more accurate estimate of how long it takes to roll forward the transaction log files on your system.

Restoring Individual Items in a Mailbox

Sometimes users delete messages but later realize that they should not have deleted them. Because Exchange Server handles backup and restore procedures at the physical page layer, not at the mailbox level, you cannot easily restore individual messages in a mailbox from backup. Some third-party backup programs do allow you to do a "brick backup"; however, they do not use the Exchange Server backup and restore application programming interfaces (APIs) and typically do not perform as well as backups at the physical page layer do.

However, there is a way for users to recover messages that they have deleted from a mailbox without having to resort to backups. The Recover Deleted Items feature that comes with Exchange Server 5.5 lets a user retrieve messages from the Deleted Items folder in Outlook if you enable the feature on the server. Note that if you do enable the Recover Deleted Items feature, the server will require additional disk resources to store the deleted items.

In a future release, Exchange Server will be extended to allow applications to recover messages even after they have been permanently deleted from the system.

Managing and Maintaining Your Databases

You may already know that the information store in Exchange Server 5.5 is designed to run almost forever. For this reason, you rarely need to turn off your server to perform regular maintenance.

Except for performing backups, Exchange Server automatically takes care of all database maintenance while the server is online. Most of these activities occur as background processes during regular information store maintenance. The information store typically runs online maintenance at night and performs important tasks such as Deleted Item cache processing, general cleanup, and online defragmentation.

Key Messages

These are the key messages that you should take away from this white paper:
  • Do online (or copy) backups regularly, preferably every night.
  • Monitor your backups, track the status of the database engine and the information store, and do not ignore error messages!
  • Decide how big you will allow your information store to grow, and manage it at that level.
  • Trust Exchange Server 5.5 to take care of internal database management, including database defragmentation.
  • Test and practice your backup and restore procedures.

Article ID: 272234 - Last Review: 10/27/2006 16:52:01 - Revision: 3.2

  • Microsoft Exchange Server 4.0 Standard Edition
  • Microsoft Exchange Server 5.0 Standard Edition
  • Microsoft Exchange Server 5.5 Standard Edition
  • kbinfo KB272234