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Microsoft Exchange Server mailbox recovery using database portability

Consistently backing up your Exchange servers won't save you in the event of a catastrophic server failure. When this happens, you have to know how to restore your Exchange Server backup to a replacement server. Learn how to move an Exchange mailbox database from one server to recovery storage group or an alternate server using database portability.

Even if you back up your servers, that alone won't save you if your Exchange server is destroyed. In such a case, you must know how to restore a backup to a replacement server. There are several different approaches to recovering Exchange Server from such a disaster, including moving an Exchange mailbox database from one server to another. In this tip, Microsoft Exchange Server expert Brien Posey explores how database portability can help to recover a destroyed Exchange Server mailbox database.


If you have a full system state backup, I recommend that you first perform a bare metal restore to the replacement server. Keep in mind, though, that this approach doesn't always work. The backup software you use makes a difference. In many cases, it also makes a difference which version of Windows you use and how similar the new server hardware is to your old server hardware. Because so many variables come into play with a bare metal restore, this article focuses specifically on database portability, rather than more traditional data recovery methods.

Because there's no one single consistent method to perform a bare metal restore, consider database portability. The procedure can be drastically different, however, depending on which backup software you use and which versions of Windows and Exchange Server you use.

Understanding database portability is important since a bare metal restore won't always be an option. If you don't have a full system state backup of the failed server, you won't be able to perform a bare metal restore (although other types of traditional restorations are possible).

If you find yourself in a situation where you don't have replacement hardware on hand, a bare metal restore isn't an option. For example, an Exchange administrator once experienced a critical hardware failure over a holiday weekend. Because it was a holiday, it wasn't possible to obtain replacement hardware. Instead, the administrator decided to temporarily move his mailbox database to a new storage group on another Exchange server. Although this solution isn't optimal, it does work in emergencies.

Moving the Exchange Server database from the failed server to an alternate one is a perfect example of database portability. I'm fairly certain that database portability in this sense is only possible in Exchange Server 2003 and Exchange 2007. Both versions do place some significant restrictions on moving databases, however.

Exchange Server 2003 recovery storage groups

Exchange Server 2003 offers three different ways to move a database from one server to another. The most familiar method involves using a recovery storage group, which is a special type of storage group that can be used to extract information from a database.

More on Exchange backup and recovery:
Understanding Exchange 2007 backup and disaster recovery

How to backup and restore Exchange data with recovery storage groups

Microsoft Exchange Server backup method pros and cons

Suppose that your Exchange server fails but you have a backup of the failed server and there's another Exchange server in your organization. In this situation, you could create a recovery storage group and then restore the database from the failed server into the recovery storage group.

The recovery storage group is flexible in that you can restore an older version of a database that's currently running on the server without affecting the production database. You can also restore a database from any other mailbox server within the administrative group. In either situation, users can't directly access mailboxes located within the storage group database. Instead, you must extract the desired data from the database and move it into a production database.

Although recovery storage groups have their place, they may not be the best option to recover data when there is a catastrophic server failure. Recovery storage groups were designed to handle more granular recovery operations. For example, if you need to recover the data from a single mailbox, you could restore that database to a recovery storage group and then use ExMerge to extract the data.

About the author: Brien M. Posey, MCSE, is a five-time recipient of Microsoft's Most Valuable Professional award for his work with Exchange Server, Windows Server, Internet Information Services (IIS), and File Systems and Storage. Brien has served as CIO for a nationwide chain of hospitals and was once responsible for the Department of Information Management at Fort Knox. As a freelance technical writer, Brien has written for Microsoft, TechTarget, CNET, ZDNet, MSD2D, Relevant Technologies and other technology companies. You can visit Brien's personal website at www.brienposey.com.

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This was last published in October 2008

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