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Microsoft Claims: No Need to Backup Exchange 2013!

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I have worked in backup and recovery for the better part of the last 15 years. During this same period, I have also been an Exchange administrator beginning with 5.5 through to the current Exchange 2010 environment I help manage. Over the past week, I have been in an Exchange 2013 Core Essentials class in preparation to migrate from 2010 to 2013. Imagine my surprise when on the first day of class, the instructor announced that Microsoft no longer feels that it is necessary to backup Exchange.

Now, keep in mind that they do put some conditions on this claim. To begin with, the environment should be a multi-DAG (Database Availability Group) configuration, with at least two local DAG databases and a third one located in another site. Also, retention and regulations must be taken into consideration. For example, some corporations and government agencies must keep emails for 10 to 20 years. It is unlikely that anyone wants to even pay for tier two storage to store that much email. There also needs to be a way to protect against a corrupt database, which can be accomplished with a lagged DAG database. Figure 1 provides an example of this design.

Figure 1
Exchange Database Resiliency Design
Exchange Database
As any administrator knows, the most common request is restoring individual emails. Typically, the user does not necessarily remember when the email came in or when it was deleted. There are even times they may have very little details about it, but know they are missing an email. This is when the mounting and searching of emails begin. Microsoft has addressed this problem with an enhanced Recoverable Items Folder (formerly known as the Dumpster). This is an improvement over Exchange 2010 in that if a user accidentally deletes an entire folder, they can recover the entire folder rather than locating each item individually.

Besides disaster recovery or accidental deletion, backups may be used to track what an employee may have done in the past for either legal or personnel issues. While in the past many companies utilized third party applications such as Enterprise Vault or SourceOne for archiving and e-Discovery, Microsoft has built in this functionality into the Enterprise version of Exchange 2013. These features include services such as mailbox journaling, archiving or message retention, and message compliance. Therefore, it is recommended to also implement these features if backups are not performed.

To summarize, in order to no longer backup Exchange in 2013 a company needs multiple DAGs, in multiple sites, utilize a lagged database, limit how long people can recover emails (this is a plus), and still have sufficient disk space and resources to  support it. In other words the companies who would be most likely to have this configuration are larger enterprises, who probably have compliance rules or regulations that will keep them from using it. The other downside is that in order to support this configuration, circular logging must be enabled. This means the log files will be deleted.

So, I am curious. How many fellow administrators actually trust the statement “no need to backup Exchange 2013?” Email has become one of the most critical business applications today. Not being able to recover emails, particularly the email server, can be a resume generating action. Personally, I believe there are too many variables and possible scenarios to not backup Exchange. Therefore, I will continue to back up my Exchange servers with a third party product. What are you going to do? I welcome any feedback.
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11 Comments
LVL 32

Author Comment

by:Rodney Barnhardt
I have made the recommended changes to the article.
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Administrative Comment

by:Eric AKA Netminder
Rodney,

Congratulations; your article has been published, and has been awarded EE-Approved status.

ericpete
Page Editor
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LVL 5

Expert Comment

by:Robert_Turner
I was also told this on an Exchange 2010 course, well the exact words were "Microsoft are serious about backup-less Exchange", not quite the full on message that you got.

I certainly agree there has to be 3 copies with that third offsite, even if it is not a normal office that you run out of.

In theory this is possible, I certainly can't think of situation where this was feasible for me to implement at the time, but the word caveats, really does apply here, it's a case by case basis.  Would I sleep happier at night knowing there is something separate outside of the DAG, unconnected to anything, very much so.
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LVL 25

Expert Comment

by:Mohammed Khawaja
I have seen articles and spoken with PFEs where in many scenarios, backups are not needed.  However, in scenarios such as this, 4 or higher DAG groups as are used with 2 or more Data Centres.  Microsoft internally uses standalone servers with local storage and have implemented 16 DAGs to ensure they meet all compliancy requirements.

If you are a small organization with one or two Data Centers with only 2 DAGs then I would suggest to implement a backup system.
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LVL 32

Author Comment

by:Rodney Barnhardt
Mohammed,

I have the exact configuration shown in the diagram above, but I will not give up doing backups. Especially, since the protect against the possibility of a database corruption over a weekend they recommend also having a DAG that is lagged 2-3 days. That is a lot of licensing, especially since it would need to be enterprise licensing in order to utilize all of the recommended features to no longer need backups.
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LVL 31

Expert Comment

by:pgm554
>government agencies must keep emails for 10 to 20 years.

Tell that to the IRS.
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LVL 32

Author Comment

by:Rodney Barnhardt
pgm554,
They do put a lot of caveats on that statement. As I mentioned, due to regulations or compliance there may be many organizations who cannot used it.
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LVL 1

Expert Comment

by:Adam D
I don't see the difference.  You have two databases locally, two databases offsite with one on a 24h lag.  Why go to the expense and trouble of all that setup and licensing (except for the always available aspect) when you can just backup with a third party tool.  And of course not even taking into consideration the circular logging and retention needs problems.

It makes the whole scenario way to complicated to maintain, in my opinion.  :)

KISS method works best.
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LVL 32

Author Comment

by:Rodney Barnhardt
Adrobnis,

It is primarily for the "always available" scenario. Many company today find email essential to conducting every day business. We get a lot of our orders via email and therefore consistent up time is part of our BCDR plan. The one thing all of that cannot do that a third party application can do is GLR. It is much easier to use a third party tool for that type of restore. Especially, since you need the third party application to backup the other servers in the environment. Plus, unlike some third party applications, we use Avamar, which has no additional per agent cost. A
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LVL 2

Expert Comment

by:Jon Doe
Rodney, why do you need multiple DAGs ? I was looking at your diagram and did not understand Active DAG and Passive DAG. Do you mean Active and Passive databases ?
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LVL 32

Author Comment

by:Rodney Barnhardt
Actually, you are correct. Ironically, I never caught that and it has been over a year since it was posted. Thank you for bringing attention to that fact.
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