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Five ways to improve your Exchange Server 2010 backups

Exchange Server backup is an everyday task that is easily optimized. Follow these five best practices to enhance Exchange 2010 backups and fast-track restorations.

Some Exchange administrators don’t employ best practices when backing up Exchange Server, resulting in a less-than-optimal...

backup experience. These tips reduce the impact of the Exchange 2010 backups and minimize the time required to perform restorations.

1. Offload your Exchange backup consistency check
Volume Shadow Copy Service (VSS) backups are the only type of online backup that Exchange 2010 supports. Because of how VSS snapshots work, the backed-up data may not be consistent. Therefore, certain backup applications perform consistency checks as part of the backup process.

Consistency checks vary from one backup product to the next. Some applications run a consistency check directly on the mailbox server. This increases the load on the server and causes the backup to take longer than it should.  

If possible, offload the consistency check from your mailbox server to your backup server. Not all backup products offer this option, but if you can offload the consistency check, you greatly improve your backup’s efficiency.

2. Modify your Exchange mailbox server maintenance schedule
If you perform daily backups, you know that they usually run late at night to lessen the impact on users. Since Exchange Server 2010 also runs resource-intensive maintenance tasks each night, backup operations and maintenance tasks end up competing for server resources.

The most obvious way to avoid this is to schedule the maintenance tasks and backups so that they don’t overlap. The other option is to increase the window for maintenance tasks.

Maintenance tasks often do not complete within the allotted time frame and pick up where they left off the next night. If you increase the window to allow the maintenance tasks to complete within a single night, you’ll find that the maintenance eventually requires less time. Also, keeping your databases small helps decrease the amount of time necessary for proper maintenance.

3. Perform DAG backups with caution
I recently wrote an article saying that Exchange 2010 backups may not be necessary in organizations with large database availability groups (DAGs). Additionally, some companies choose not to back up their DAGs because the whole process is quite complicated.

Remember, you can only backup a DAG member if it contains active databases. If even one passive database resides on the DAG member, it cannot be backed up. Therefore, if you plan to back up your DAG members, be certain to arrange your active and passive database copies so that backups are possible.

4. Confirm Exchange 2010 backups
No doubt you’re aware that testing your backups is important. However, you may not test backups as often as you should.

Aside from actually testing your backups, you can find out if Exchange is successfully backed up by checking your backup software logs. You can also get backup-status information directly from Exchange.

Enter the Get-MailboxDatabase <database name> -Status | Select LastFullBackup command to check the last time a mailbox database was backed up. Compare this information with your backup software logs to make certain that both Exchange and your backup software acknowledge the latest backup.

5. Keep your Exchange databases manageable
Many Exchange administrators try to simplify things by placing all of their users’ mailboxes in a single database. However, when it comes to backup best practices, you should have several small databases instead of one large database. If a failure occurs and you need to restore a database, small databases can be restored quicker than large ones.

Brien Posey is an eight-time Microsoft MVP with two decades of IT experience. Before becoming a freelance technical writer, Brien worked as a CIO for a national chain of hospitals and healthcare facilities. He has also served as a network administrator for some of the nation’s largest insurance companies and for the Department of Defense at Fort Knox.

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