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.
Exchange Database Resiliency Design
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.