Optimizing Exchange and Active Directory Backup and Recovery

By Pat Hanavan, Symantec Corp.  |  Storage, active directory, Backup & Recovery

Microsoft Exchange has become the de facto application for business communication today. Exchange servers house everything from confidential records, to intellectual property, to key business contacts and more and are often the primary source of storing business critical information.

Needless to say, protecting this data is a business priority. Should a system crash, a database become corrupt, or another event occur that results in the loss of Exchange data, recovery must be rapid and reliable. What’s more, because Exchange uses Microsoft Active Directory as its enterprise directory, it is also critical that the directory’s data is also protected and quickly recoverable.

To optimize backup and recovery of Exchange and Active Directory environments, organizations can leverage a growing number of advanced tools that overcome the challenges of traditional approaches. These new tools give businesses a more simplified and streamlined process that reduces their backup windows, provides continuous protection and delivers efficient granular recovery of the critical business information.

Challenges of Traditional Approaches to Protecting Exchange
To maintain the availability of Exchange and protect its mission-critical data stores, organizations typically do an online backup of the Exchange database. Such a backup is mandatory since it provides the only means for retrieving all Exchange Server data. Fortunately, because many backup solutions leverage Microsoft’s Exchange backup API, most of today’s backup applications perform an Exchange database backup in much the same way.

If the organization needs the ability to quickly recover individual email messages or mailboxes—for example, to meet regulatory, or emergency needs—they traditionally must also perform separate brick-level mailbox backups. Done weekly at a minimum, this level of backup enables organizations to restore an entire mailbox, single email message, calendar item, note, or other Exchange item for those mailboxes which are backed up.

The trouble is, these mailbox backups are very costly in terms of time and storage space, much more so than those mandatory Exchange database backups. After all, the administrator must run two separate backups of the same data, which more than doubles the time commitment and introduces twice the opportunity for error. They also typically result in larger catalog sizes, quickly consuming tape and disk space and adding to an already significant administrative burden.

That’s not all. Most organizations will also need to do incremental backups of the Exchange database and incremental backups of individual mailboxes so they can meet strict recovery point objectives (RPOs) as well as recovery time objectives (RTOs).

With most IT organizations today looking to replace inefficient processes with more efficient and effective strategies to meet their Exchange backup and recovery requirements, yesterday’s approaches must give way to more advanced practices that yield more promising returns.

Challenges of Traditional Strategies for Recovering Active Directory
Active Directory may be the cornerstone of organization and management in Windows-based environments, but far too often Active Directory objects are accidentally modified or deleted, their attributes overwritten by faulty scripts, or a hardware failure corrupts the entire database. Not only does this result in reduced user productivity, it can also cause a negative ripple effect on other Active Directory-dependent applications, including Exchange.

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