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How to back up and restore Exchange data with recovery storage groups

Learn how to back up Exchange data to recovery storage groups and restore data from an RSG to a live information store using ExMerge or Exchange System Manager.

All administrators should have a viable Exchange data recovery procedure in place in the event of a server crash or accidentally deleted email messages. The reality is that many haven't tested the success of their recovery methods. This tip explains how to set up recovery storage groups in Exchange Server 2003 and use them to back up and restore email messages and mailboxes before it's too late.

There are two scenarios that an Exchange server administrator dreads:

  • At 4:30 p.m. on Friday, you receive a phone call from your company's CEO who needs to recover a single email that was deleted two months ago. The message has already been purged by your deleted items recovery policy.

  • On Monday morning, you discover that your Exchange server crashed over the weekend, corrupting a number of mailboxes or spontaneously deleting a large block of messages for some users.

Don't panic. As long as you have a solid backup strategy in place, and you've been backing up the Exchange Server regularly, there's no need to worry about either of these scenarios. You should be able to restore this data; however, statistics show that many administrators haven't actually tested recovery procedures.

Recovery storage groups let you recover data in the background, while your information store continues to service end users. Note: You must have at least Exchange Server 2003 Service Pack 1 (SPI) installed to access the recovery storage group feature.

Every administrator has a favorite backup software package. Common ones include NTBACKUP, Symantec Backup Exec, EMC Retrospect or CA ArcServe Backup. This article refers to Symantec Backup Exec 11d.

Setting up an Exchange recovery storage group

To use the recovery storage group feature:

  1. Open the Exchange System Manager (ESM) and drill down through your administrative group until you see the server object that contains the information store to which you want to restore data.

  2. Right click on the server object and select New > Recovery Storage Group, as shown in Figure 1. Be sure that you do this within the same administrative group that contains the original data. You can't use this method to restore data between different administrative groups.

New recovery storage group
Figure 1. Click on the server object to create a new recovery storage group. (Click on image for enlarged view.)

  1. To add a database to recover, right click on the new Exchange storage group that you created and select Add New Database to Recover, as shown in Figure 2. The next screen displays a list of mailbox stores on the server.

Add database to recovery
Figure 2. Add the database that you want to recover. (Click on image for enlarged view.)

  1. Select the store that contains the mailboxes you need to restore and click OK (Figure 3).
Select database
Figure 3. Select the database that you want to recover. ( Click on image for enlarged view.)

Note: The mailbox store is dismounted by default, as shown in Figure 4.

Mailbox store
Figure 4. The mailbox store is dismounted by default in the Recovery Storage Group folder. (Click on image for enlarged view.)

  1. To view the store's properties, right click on it and select Properties. The recovery group database will be in its own folder in the file system. The option titled "This database can be overwritten by a restore" is enabled by default (Figure 5).

Mailbox store properties
Figure 5. Mailbox store properties. ( Click on image for enlarged view.)

  1. Using your backup software, run the restore process on the information store or individual mailboxes containing the data that you want to recover. Symantec Backup Exec will let you recover all information stores as a single unit or individual mailboxes. Recovering individual mailboxes doesn't require that you have conducted brick-level backups; it's a built-in process to recover data using this software, as shown in Figure 6. Backup Exec 11d is intuitive enough to recognize the presence of the recovery storage group, and will not attempt to restore data to the live information store.

Restore job properties
Figure 6. Restore job properties. ( Click on image for enlarged view.)

Restoring data to the live information store

You can use either the Exchange System Manager or ExMerge to move data from the recovery storage group's mailbox store to the "live" information store. Exchange System Manager is easier to use than ExMerge, because it doesn't require any additional permissions to use it, nor do you have to deal with .PST files.

However, Exchange System Manager contains less functionality than ExMerge, which lets you filter the desired data you want to recover. No matter what application you use, you first must ensure that the user account whose data you are trying to restore exists in Active Directory. If not, you must recreate it before proceeding.

Exchange System Manager (ESM)

From within the ESM, mount the Exchange recovery storage group that you just created and populated with your mailboxes. To do so:

  1. Right click on the mailbox store and select Mount Store, as shown in Figure 7.

Mount Store
Figure 7. Select Mount Store to mount the recovery group that you created. ( Click on image for enlarged view.)

  1. Right click on the store again and select Refresh to display a list of mailboxes in the right pane.

  2. Right click on the mailbox that you want to restore and select Exchange Tasks (Figure 8). This will initialize Exchange Task Wizard, as shown in Figure 9.

Exchange Tasks
Figure 8. Select the mailbox that you want to restore. ( Click on image for enlarged view.)

Recover mailbox data
Figure 9. The Exchange Task Wizard will recover mailbox data. (Click on image for enlarged view.)

  1. Proceed through the Exchange Task Wizard. Available options will prompt you to merge the recovered mailbox with a live one and ignore duplicate messages, or copy all data into the live mailbox, potentially creating duplicates (Figure 10).

Merge Data
Figure 10. Choose between Merge Data or Copy Data in the Exchange Task Wizard. ( Click on image for enlarged view.)

  1. Complete the wizard and verify that all data is properly in its mailbox.


You should be fairly familiar with ExMerge and configuring permissions. It's important to use the version of ExMerge that was included with the service pack appropriate to your version and level of Exchange Server. Failing to do so may cause a process failure.

Run ExMerge as usual, but note that during the process you will come to a screen that lists your Exchange recovery storage group mailbox store, as well as usual mailbox stores, as shown in Figure 11.

Microsoft Exchange Mailbox Merge Wizard
Figure 11. ExMerge shows recovery storage group mailbox stores and regular mailbox stores. (Click on image for enlarged view.)

More Exchange data recovery resources:
Tip: Improve Exchange Server mailbox availability with recovery storage groups

Tip: Ease the pain of Exchange recovery with SLAs and RSGs

Best Practices Checklist: Exchange Server disaster recovery planning

Exchange Server Backup and Recovery Learning Guide

To run ExMerge:

  1. Select the recovery storage group's store and proceed to recover data to one or more .PST files. Once you have the data in a .PST file, you can import it into the live mailbox using Microsoft Outlook.

  2. After you've recovered the data, you can dismount the mailbox store in the recovery group and leave it there for safe-keeping, or delete both your data and the recovery storage group using the Exchange System Manager (ESM). Note: To save disk space, you might also want to manually delete the recovery files from the recovery storage group folder in the file system after this process.

About the author: Bradley Dinerman, vice president of IT at MIS Alliance, is a Microsoft MVP, possesses an MCSE and MCP+I, and is a Certified SonicWall Security Administrator (CSSA). Brad is also the founder and president of the National Information Security Group (NAISG) and the former chair of the Boston Area Exchange Server User Group. He is a frequent contributor to various online TechTips sites and gives user group/conference presentations on topics ranging from spam and security solutions to Internet development techniques. You can visit Brad's personal Web page at

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