Moving mailboxes in Exchange 5.5 could be a real chore. Not so in Exchange 2003 because of the Move Mailbox Wizard. If you are still using Exchange Server 2000, you won't be completely left out. Toward the end of this article, I will show you a technique that works for Exchange 2000 as well.
If you have gone through the trouble of creating a mailbox on a specific server, you might wonder why you would want to move the mailbox, especially in a single server environment. Most of the reasons why you might need to move mailboxes revolve around maintenance and performance.
For example, imagine that you are running a single Exchange server environment. Although a single Exchange server can theoretically host thousands of mailboxes, other services or server level applications running on the server can severely limit the server's actual capacity. If your server starts using an excessive number of system resources, you will probably find yourself needing to purchase a second server.
You could just perform a full Exchange migration to the new server. However, you will usually achieve better performance if you allow the existing server to continue to host as many mailboxes as it comfortably can and then move the remaining mailboxes to the new server. That way, no individual server carries the full Exchange burden.
Likewise, many larger organizations use different Exchange servers to host mailboxes for specific departments or branch offices. A few years ago, if a user moved to a different department then it was customary to delete the user's existing mailbox and then recreate it on the appropriate server. That approach just isn't practical in Exchange 2000 or Exchange 2003 since in these versions of Exchange there is no such thing (technically speaking) as a mailbox. Instead, user objects are mail enabled at the Active Directory level. It's much easier to just move the user to a different Exchange Server than to remove the mail attribute and then recreate it.
Another reason why you may want to move mailboxes is for server maintenance. Imagine that you have two aging Exchange servers in your organization. You plan to upgrade all of the hardware on both servers, but you know that doing so will have the server down for about a week.
Rather than denying users access to their mailboxes for a week, you could move all mailboxes from one server to the other so that one of the servers holds all of the mailboxes. You could then upgrade the empty server. When the upgrade is done, you could move all of the mailboxes to the newly upgraded server while you upgrade the other server. When the entire process is done, you can move the mailboxes to their original locations.
How to move mailboxes
The Move Mailbox Wizard makes moving mailboxes easy. To move a mailbox, open the Exchange System Manager and navigate to Administrative Groups | your administrative group | Servers | your server | First Storage Group | Mailbox Store | Mailboxes.
When you select the Mailboxes container, the details pane will display all of the mailboxes within the current message store. Now go through the list and select the mailboxes that you want to move. If you hold down the Ctrl key on your keyboard while making the selection, you can select multiple mailboxes. When you are done selecting mailboxes, right click on the selected mailboxes and select the Exchange Tasks command from the resulting shortcut menu.
After a brief delay, Windows will open the Exchange Task Wizard. Click Next to bypass the wizard's Welcome screen and you will see a list of the various tasks that you can perform. Make sure that Move Mailbox is selected and then click Next. The wizard will now display a list of servers and storage groups containing message stores to which you could potentially move the mailboxes into. Select a server and a mailbox store and click Next.
At this point, the wizard will ask you what it should do if corrupted messages are found. You can either create a failure report or you can skip the corrupted item and then generate a failure report. The choice is up to you, but you need to know that the skip corrupted item option will cause corrupted mailboxes to be deleted.
After making your selection, click Next and you will be prompted for a date and time when the move should begin. You are also prompted for a time to terminate the move if the process lasts an excessive amount of time. The reason why Microsoft gives you this option is that unless you have implemented message quotas, it is possible for an individual mailbox to be several GB in size. If you have hundreds of mailboxes like this, it may end up taking Exchange a week to complete the move. If you are just trying to temporarily move a mailbox so that you can take a server down for a couple of days' worth of maintenance, then the amount of time that it takes to move the mailboxes may not be worth it. The cancel task option gives you a chance to bail out of the move if it takes too long.
Click Next and the move will begin. When the move is complete, click Finish to close the wizard.
What About Exchange 2000?
In Exchange 2000 Server, the Move Mailbox Wizard does not exist. Instead, you will have to move mailboxes using Active Directory Users and Computers. To do so, begin by opening the Active Directory Users and Computers console. After doing so, right click on the user whose mailbox you want to use. Now, choose the Exchange Tasks | Move mailbox commands from the resulting shortcut menu. Keep in mind that these menu options will only exist if the Exchange System Manager is installed on the server. To complete the process, just follow the prompts to select a new mailbox destination.
Brien M. Posey, MCSE, is a Microsoft Most Valuable Professional for his work with Windows 2000 Server and IIS. Brien has served as the CIO for a nationwide chain of hospitals and was once in charge of IT security for Fort Knox. As a freelance technical writer he has written for Microsoft, CNET, ZDNet, TechTarget, MSD2D, Relevant Technologies and other technology companies. You can visit Brien's personal Web site at http://www.brienposey.com.
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