Recovery Storage Group/VSS/Brick Layer backup

What are the advantages to having a Recovery Storage Group or even Volume Shadod Copy (VSS) images if I have a perfectly good working Brick layer Backup working (Veritas NetBackup).
I am doing reasearch to see if I am simply wasting my time and efforts with the RSG and VSS in this case.
Anyone have any opinions/experiences?
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SembeeConnect With a Mentor Commented:
Brick Level Backups are the waste of time in most cases.

Slow and useless for disaster recovery. Most Exchange people will tell you not to bother.

Here are a couple of links that cover it in some depth... the first is from a leading backup software developer.

Do a full store backup and use the settings with Exchange with regards to deleted item recovery etc to stop having to do backups.
In the event that you do need to do a restore then use the RSG and then EXMERGE out.

I have been administrating Exchange servers for some time now and how many non-disaster restores do you think I have done?


And that was caused by a dodgy BETA product that somehow wiped a load of contacts in such a way that Exchange lost them as well.

Exchange MVP.
jabolfanAuthor Commented:
I am an enviroment where we are restoring individual messages 30-40 times per site. In one case we had to do a restore of several mailboxes over a 4 year span for various reasons. Although I can understand why doing a brick layer is painful (MAPI) we have found that it has save us many long hours of having to do an IS restore then run the esutil/edbutil then (in the past) mount that IS then restore the messages needed. In the past this process had taken us 24 hours or more depending on how long it took to run the esutil/edbutil.
Don't get me wrong I hate brick layer as it is slow and painful to configure; But once working it is only the slow part that bothers me. I look at the brick layer as a complement.
How do you handle individual message restores without a brick layer soloution? Or do you just do the IS restore and mount then exmerge out?
If so also a time frame for the restore would be helpful.
We presently do backup the IS and also the Brick so we have both open to us. The other question is that if I enable VSS can I just restore the VSS copy of the priv.edb and mount that in the Recovery Storage Group without having to deal with the esutil? Or do I still need to deal with the esutil?
Sorry about the long reply, just want to let you know my enviroment
Exchange_AdminConnect With a Mentor Commented:
I agree with Sembee about brick level backups.
I have heard of very few people that this works well for but then I never hear from anyone unless there is a problem. :)

If you have your deleted item retention configured to an acceptable value, then this should drastically reduce the times you need to restore messages. You will just need to teach your users how to recover the messages or teach your help desk people. For example if you have deleted item retention configured for 30 days, then the user has 30 days to recover a message that he deleted. In my opinion, it is rarely important if they do not realize it within those 30 days. But it will happen every so often.

Now on to something else you stated that worries me:
"we have found that it has save us many long hours of having to do an IS restore then run the esutil/edbutil then (in the past) mount that IS then restore the messages needed. In the past this process had taken us 24 hours or more depending on how long it took to run the esutil/edbutil."

This sounds like you really need to work on your disaster recovery plan. Something is not right. If you do it correctly then you should not have to run any utilities. You should just be able to restore your backup and mount the databases. Anytime you have to run utilities on a database, you take a chance on losing data. The worst case experience I saw was that a customer lost their entire 13 GB store. Nada, nothing at all after running ESEUTIL /P.

As for VSS, I will have to defer to someone else on that subject.
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jabolfanAuthor Commented:
Thanks for the additional information.
Our retention period is set for 60 days and still we are tasked with recovering email beyond that time frame.
I do have to say that the brick is working well for us (except for speed) so that would be the main issue here.
Configuring brick is a pain in the rear, but once done works like a charm. I would never suggest using it in a DR situation as it would take forever to restore the mailboxes. In a DR situation I would still defer to restoring the IS and mount the store on a recovery server.
It has been a while since we have had to do a DR with Exchange so my experience with it is limited. The only issue we had was back in the Exchange 5.5 days (we are at 2003) so the store may be better at this time.
I am still curious about the VSS and if that is a good soloution for instanteneous recovery when used with the Recovery Storage Group.
"It has been a while since we have had to do a DR with Exchange "

DR is something that really needs to have a detailed plan. This plan needs to be practiced and reviewed every so often so that you are familiar with the steps. Admins fail to take this into account until they have to do a restore under STRESSFUL situations. If you have a functional plan then it will be alot less stressful. This applies to your entire network and not just Exchange.
It does not help that everyone is yelling at you because the email is down and you are having problems doing the restore.
jabolfanAuthor Commented:
To address the DR issue, I agree with you that DR is something that needs to be detailed, practiced and in a perfect world done/verified at least once a month, my world does not allow for that luxury. I am happy to have a DR drill once a year, and even then it not a full blown BMR drill.
My enviroment, as I am sure many in this field, is forever changing so time is precious. My fortune is that a DR was only required once and that the only recovery since then has been for mailboxes and files.
The question still remains about VSS and the recovery process. I am currently building a test NW and may be able to provide some insight to the process and inner workings.
If anyone has an insight into VSS and Exchange your experience would be appreciated.
richard_hensleyConnect With a Mentor Commented:
In order to properly plan a DR strategy you must first review your SLA for Exchange. The question as to whether you use any of the aforementioned approaches to mailbox and/or mail database recovery should be resolved prior to implementing any method.

As for what is RSG and VSS here is a brief synopsis:

The Recovery Storage Group allows you to mount a backup copy of a mailbox database on the same server as the original database—even while the original database is running. You can also mount a copy of a database on any other server in the same Administrative Group.

There are several scenarios where being able to run a second copy of a database is very useful:

To recover an important item or email that has been deleted from the database.
To test the integrity of a backup and the reliability of your backup system.
To implement a “messaging dial tone” recovery strategy after a database disaster.
Exchange can automatically generate a new mailbox database if the current database files are removed. This means that you can restore mail service immediately after a disaster before restoring previous data. By generating a “blank” database immediately after a disaster, users can send and receive mail, even though they will not have access to their previous data.
Bringing up a blank database thus allows you to restore mail service very quickly, and then to turn your attention to recovering previously existing mail data. This strategy is known as the “messaging dial tone” recovery strategy.
Prior to the existence of the Recovery Storage Group, recovery of the original database had to be done on an alternate server. By using the Recovery Storage Group instead of an alternate server, recovery setup is greatly simplified, and end to end recovery time can often be reduced by several hours or days. A lesson later in this module will go into greater detail on how to implement a messaging dial tone recovery.
The only supported method of extracting mailbox data from the Recovery Storage Group is with the Exchange 2003 version of EXMerge. You cannot use Outlook or another mail client to log on to a mailbox in a Recovery Storage Group because mailboxes in the Recovery Storage Group cannot be connected to Active Directory user accounts  

As for VSS:
The Volume Shadow Copy Service can produce consistent shadow copies by coordinating with business applications, file-system services, backup applications, fast-recovery solutions, and storage hardware.

VSS is simply a way to freeze the database, take a snapshot and then break the sync between the two and restart the database.

The value to do either is based on your need. Brick-Level backups are time consuming and not the most reliable way to recover any database.

As an fyi, Microsoft's internal IT group uses VSS to align with their small window for recovery stated in their SLA.

I have loads of information on both the RSGs as well as VSS. Please contact me via email if you would like more info.
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