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How to create a backup exchange server for quick disaster recovery

Posted on 2013-01-26
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Last Modified: 2013-04-09
Hello,

We have a SBS 2011 installation with exchange that has about 20 users on it. The server works great but I am worried about disaster recovery in the event of hardware failure and more importantly what to do if someone were to break in to the office and steal all our servers.

Currently we use backup exec 2012 to back up to external drives. These drives are swapped daily and the drives that aren't online are taken offsite. The problem with this is that if something were to happen I would need to procure new equipment (preferably the same since not having the same hardware causes all kinds of restore headaches) which could take days even weeks. To get around this I want to get another server running VMware ESXi and use backup exec's convert to VM function which would create a clone of the physical hardware into a virtual machine.

This solves the problem of a hardware failure in my opinion (please correct me if I'm wrong) as we could be back up and running within an hour or so but doesn't do anything to help us if someone breaks in or if the building gets flooded/sets on fire.

So I am looking at possibly leasing a server from a provider such as softlayer running windows server 2008 enterprise and installing exchange on it. But I don't know of a good way to make this work. Exchange doesn't seem to have any kind of automatic replication built in and doing a nightly backup over WAN (even incremental) could be a problem with the amount of files we work with on a daily basis since our office connection is limited to about 2mbits up.

Does anyone have some suggestions for creating a solution that would allow a remote exchange installation (including active directory and everything else required to allow users to log on to their computers) which could be brought back online within a matter of hours if the primary server was stolen or physically damaged?

Thank you in advance for any help in this matter.
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Question by:Pawel_Kowalski
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23 Comments
 

Expert Comment

by:OBESEJESUS
ID: 38822724
Look into a bdr appliance like something from axcient or Datto.
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Expert Comment

by:WORKS2011
ID: 38823559
I use Storagecraft, click here for more info. You could get a BDR but you really don't need one. You can backup images offsite if the server fails you can bring the image up in the cloud while you rebuild the server. Also has a granular exchange option. Priced well too, I use this solution on many clients it's great.
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Expert Comment

by:Shreedhar Ette
ID: 38823619
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Expert Comment

by:Rob Williams
ID: 38825298
An Exchange failover server for small businesses is not practical/affordable.  Have you considered a service like www.Exchangedefender.com  which offers several features (see below), but would allow immediate access to e-mail if your server went offline.

-Filters all e-mail for viruses and spam
-Forwards e-mail immediately to your server, if not available holds e-mail for delivery up to 7 days (current e-mail is also archived)
-Offers archiving for ALL e-mail sent and received for past 1 year (longer for additional fees)
-All archive e-mail (even current) is available through Outlook 2010 Web Access
-Also offers encryption and large attachment sending

All for a few dollars/month/user
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Author Comment

by:Pawel_Kowalski
ID: 38825397
So does a service such as exchange defender run aside my exchange organization or does it take it over? I would still like to keep my exchange organization local due to the large mailbox sizes we have and the number of users we have. Not to mention the greater control over the server.

Another option I am considering is using a program such as backup exec that can take a backup and convert it to a virtual machine. We can take this VM clone to a ESXi installation offsite on a weekly basis and if something were to happen simply bring that server online which should't take more than an hour or so. I am researching if backup exec fully supports this but assuming it does can any one see any faults with this method that I am overlooking?

Thanks.
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by:Rob Williams
ID: 38825470
ExchangeDefender is a third party service to which you direct your mail just as a filter. It instantly and seamlessly forwards the mail to your Exchange server and receive an manage mail in exactly the same way you have always done. However if it detects your server is offline it holds it until back online.  There are many services like this. bNo-IP.com has a service that will just provide the BackUp MX service, without all the other options, and for much less.  MXToolBox has Zimbra which is similar to ExchangeDefender and there are many others.  I only recommend ExchangeDefender as I and many other members on Experts-Exchange have used it for years. They have excellent support and redundant systems in 3 cities should a problem occur at one site.

Software that will do a “hardware independent restore”  is an excellent choice as well.   WORKS2011 mention StorageCraft which would be my first choice as well, but Acronis (with Universal restore option) Symantec/Backup Exec also have options that allow restore to different hardware or a VM.  Make sure whatever option you choose is explicitly supported with SBS.  Some are not.  Of course if you run SBS as a VM you can easily move it or even restore to another machine just using the built-in SBS backup utility.
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Author Comment

by:Pawel_Kowalski
ID: 38825499
Thanks for that. Not to go too far off topic but you mentioned the built in SBS2011 backup will let you recover to different hardware. Do you have any more information on this? From what I read before the system image can only be restored on similar hardware. Do I not use the system image method of backup?
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Expert Comment

by:Rob Williams
ID: 38825515
You need to read what I said carefully, there was a catch    :-)
"if you run SBS as a VM......."

If SBS is a VM the backup can be restored to any other Virtual server.  If SBS is running on physical hardware you cannot restore to a different physical server unelss the HAL and RAID controller are very similar.  It is why we run almost all our servers as VM's, they are very portable.
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Author Comment

by:Pawel_Kowalski
ID: 38825523
Sorry, reading on a phone :), that makes sense. Let me do some testing with backup exec which I already have (the sbs version) and then see if another hosted solution is a better option. My customer wants a restore within an hour or so but I might allow them to be more flexible with that since I already have a backup mx server that holds mail if the primary exchange server is down, so they won't lose any emails.

I will update this thread in a few days but anymore suggestions are appreciated.
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Expert Comment

by:Rob Williams
ID: 38825534
1 hour is a tough restore.  2 to 6 is usualy quite do-able, by the time you realize you need to restore, get the hardware setup, locate the right backup, gain access, and then start the restore process.  That is were the ExchangeDefender service is nice.  It is not a replacement for a backup or disaster recovery plan, but it does allow immediate access to all e-mail at anytime via OWA.  It even covers you in a situation like a 4 hour power outage, where a restore is not even an option.  If they can find a way to get internet, they can access ExchangeDefender.  I understand Zimbra is very similar.
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Author Comment

by:Pawel_Kowalski
ID: 38954916
What I decided to do is get a second computer that will run ESXi offsite. Each week I will restore data to this computer as a virtual machine. I assume if anything goes down I can simply plug in the server and restore exchange to the last backup from the night before and be back up and running in no time. Anyone see any issue with this?
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Are you constantly being asked to update your organization's email signatures? Do they take up too much of your time? Wouldn't you love to be able to manage all signatures from one central location, easily design them and deploy them quickly to users. Well, you can!

 
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Expert Comment

by:Rob Williams
ID: 38954964
You will need another Server license, AD will be behind, data files will be behind, redirected My Documents will be behind, SharePoint will be out of date if used.........  You will basically still have to do a full restore.
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Author Comment

by:Pawel_Kowalski
ID: 38955440
I have another license, we don't do redirected folders, and sharepoint is used but rarely updated. The data files can be restored fairly quickly if they are only a week behind from what I understand.

What problems will I ran into with AD if no new users or computers have been added and no modifications have been made in the week? Also, is there no way to do a live AD restore using backup exec 2012 or even the simple system state restore utility included in the SBS backup program?
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Expert Comment

by:Rob Williams
ID: 38955509
You can restore AD with a system sate backup.

It is just this is a very common question and there really is no "simple" answer.

The 3 common solutions are
1) A good restorable backup, and be prepared to wait.  I am doubtful you can go get your second server, set it up, restore AD, restore Exchange, update data files, in less time
2) Use a product like Storagecraft that backs up, will allow you to restore to different hardware, and also in a disaster you can directly mount the image without restoring
3) A cluster with 2 virtual servers configured with failover.  There is one fellow here, Philip Elder who is a bit of a 'master' at doing this, but it is very expensive.
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Author Comment

by:Pawel_Kowalski
ID: 38955533
Will there be any issues with simply letting AD be a week behind? Even if changes have been made would that cause problems?

I looked into clustering but we are on a limited budget and the servers have to be in 2 different physical locations in case of robbery, fire, or some other disaster. As you said this seem like it was going to be very expensive not only to setup but also to keep a fast connection between the 2 sites.
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Expert Comment

by:Rob Williams
ID: 38955568
>>"Will there be any issues with simply letting AD be a week behind? Even if changes have been made would that cause problems"
The main problem is if there have been any changes, user or computer accounts added, deleted, or changed.  Keep in mind Exchange is also tied to AD.
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Author Comment

by:Pawel_Kowalski
ID: 38955708
If I restore exchange to the latest backup from the night before and AD is a week old what kind of issues will that cause? I know since server 2008 exchange and AD have been tightly integrated.

Thanks for your patience, I appreciate the help and advice.
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Expert Comment

by:Rob Williams
ID: 38955789
That is fine, but I assume the server has additional data.

You plan will work, but I would be concerned there is little time saving over a restore, and probably a greater expense from a maintenance point of view.  I can see having a similar server on hand, in case of hardware failure or loss in a disaster, but I see little advantage in having it preloaded.
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Author Comment

by:Pawel_Kowalski
ID: 38957892
Doesn't this also help by allowing us to test our backups on a weekly basis?
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Expert Comment

by:Rob Williams
ID: 38957968
Absolutely.  That is a good reason to have a backup server, or we usually use a virtual environment, and do test restores on a monthly basis.  

The issue is having a preloaded domain controller that is a day or a month old, does not give you a significant advantage in a disaster recovery situation.
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Author Comment

by:Pawel_Kowalski
ID: 38969955
Ok, thanks. My testing will be done this weekend. And I'll follow up. we need to migrate to a larger server and this is the method I will be trying. So AD won't be more than a day or so old, will that cause issues if I restore exchange on a one day old AD server?
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Accepted Solution

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Rob Williams earned 500 total points
ID: 38971051
Should be OK
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Author Closing Comment

by:Pawel_Kowalski
ID: 39062801
Worked great, thanks.
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