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Brad's TechTips - Exchange Server & Outlook

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Exchange Server 2003: Recovery Storage Groups - How To Recover Messages or Entire Mailboxes
 
(I originally wrote this tip as an article for TechTarget SearchExchange , where it still appears.)
 
Scenario 1 - It's Friday at 4:30 PM and you receive the phone call that you dread: A user whose initials are C.E.O. needs to recover a single email that he/she deleted two months ago, and it's already been purged by your deleted items recovery policy.  (See my article "Now You See It, Now You Don't , And Now You Do Again – Recovering Deleted Items In Outlook and Exchange Server.")

Scenario 2 - It's Monday morning, and you discover that your Exchange Server crashed over the weekend, corrupting a number of mailboxes or spontaneously deleting a large block of messages for certain users.

What can you do?
Certainly panic may be the first response. But once you've gathered your thoughts, you recall that you have a solid backup strategy in place and that you've been backing up Exchange Server regularly. (You do, don't you?) You also know that you should be able to restore this data. However, statistics show that many administrators have not actually tested the recovery procedures, so at this point panic once again sets in. Fortunately, Microsoft Exchange Server 2003 includes a very nice feature to recover data: Recovery Storage Groups. (You'll need to have at least Service Pack 1 installed to access this feature.) Recovery Storage Groups let you recover your data in the background while your Information Store continues to service your end-users.


Every administrator has his/her favorite backup software package. Common ones include NTBackup, Symantec (formerly Veritas) Backup Exec, EMC (formerly Dantz) Retrospect or CA ArcServe Backup. For the purposes of this article, I will use Symantec Backup Exec 11d to provide examples and screen shots.

1. Create the Recovery Storage Group
To begin the process of using an Exchange Recovery Group, open the Exchange System Manager (ESM) and drill-down through your administrative group until you see the server object that contains the information store to which you want to restore data. Right-click on the server object and select "New > Recovery Storage Group." ( See Figure 1 .) Make certain that you do this within the same Administrative Group that contains the original data. You cannot restore data using this technique between different administrative groups.

2. Add a database to recover
Right-click on the newly-created storage group and select "Add Database To Recover." ( See Figure 2 .) The screen that follows will present you with a list of the mailbox stores on that server. Select the store that contains the mailboxes that you need to restore and click OK. ( See Figure 3 .) Note that the mailbox store is dismounted by default . ( See Figure 4 .) You can view the store's properties by right-clicking on it and selecting Properties. Note also that the recovery group database will be in its own folder in the file system, and that the "This database can be overwritten by a restore" option is enabled by default. ( See Figure 5 .)

3. Restore data to the recovery group
Using your backup software, run the restore process on the information store or the individual mailboxes that contain the data that you want to recover. Symantec Backup Exec will let you recover the entire information store as a single unit or recover individual mailboxes. Recovering individual mailboxes does not require that you had conducted brick-level backups; it is just a built-in process of recovering data using this software. ( See Figure 6 .) Also, Backup Exec 11d is smart enough to recognize the presence of the recovery storage group, and will not attempt to restore the data to the "live" information store.

4. Restore data from the recovery group to the "live" information store
There are two very straight-forward ways to move the data from the recovery group's mailbox store to the "live" information store. You can use either the Exchange System Manager or ExMerge, as described below. Exchange System Manager is easier to use than ExMerge, as no additional permissions need to be set in order to use it and you don't need to deal with PST files, but it contains much less functionality than ExMerge, which lets you filter the desired data to recover. But whichever solution you choose, you'll need to first make sure that the user account whose data you are trying to restore exists in Active Directory. If it does not, then recreate it before proceeding.
 
       Use Exchange System Manager
  1. From within the ESM, mount the recovery group that you just created and populated with your mailboxes. Do this by right-clicking on the mailbox store and selecting "Mount Store." (See Figure 7.) Right-click the store again and select Refresh to display the list of mailboxes in the right pane.
     
  2. Right-click the mailbox that you want to restore and select "Exchange Tasks."(See Figure 8.) That will start the Exchange Task Wizard. (See Figure 9.)
     
  3. Proceed through the Exchange Task Wizard, which presents some very basic options. The one of most interest will prompt you to either merge the recovered mailbox with the live one, ignoring duplicate messages; or to simply copy all data into the live mailbox, potentially creating duplicates. (See Figure 10.)
     
  4. Complete the wizard and verify that all your data is now properly in its mailbox.
     Use ExMerge
  1. It is assumed that you are already familiar with ExMerge and configuring permissions so that you can run it properly. Also, it is important to use the version of ExMerge that is included with the service pack appropriate to your version and service pack level of Exchange Server. Failing to do so may cause the process to fail.
  2. Run ExMerge as you usually would, but note that during the process, you will come to a screen that lists your Recovery Storage Group mailbox store in addition to your usual mailbox stores. (See Figure 11.) Select the Recovery Storage Group's store, and then proceed as usual to recover data to one or more PST files. Once you have the data in a PST, you can then import it using Microsoft Outlook into the live mailbox.
After you've completed the recovery of your data, you can dismount the mailbox store in the recovery group and leave it there for safe-keeping, or you can delete both it and the Recovery Storage Group using the Exchange System Manager. (In order to save disk space, you might also want to manually delete the recovery files from the Recovery Storage Group folder in the file system after this process.)

Using the Recovery Storage Group to restore data is a very quick and straight-forward technique. Test it out to become comfortable with it BEFORE you need to use it for real!