Backing Up Exchange with Data Protection Manager
I like to consider Microsoft Data Protection Manager (DPM) as a natural evolution of the Shadow Copy Service, which was introduced with Windows Server 2003. Since Shadow Copies are really neat, why not extend the kind of service they provide and make it available centrally at the datacenter?
DPM 2006 was one of the first products to be brought under the umbrella of Microsoft System Center, a family of systems management products. DPM uses the Volume Shadow Copy Service (VSS) to create disk-based protection and recovery for file servers in an Active Directory domain. You can still store backups on tapes by using third party backup software that will be responsible for managing the tape library.
Figure 1 shows a sample implementation of this two-tiered approach to backup.
Figure 1: DPM backup architecture
DPM 2006 must be running on one of the following operating systems:
- Microsoft Windows Server 2003 with Service Pack 1 or later
- Microsoft Windows Storage Server 2003 with Service Pack 1 or later
The DPM server must have at least two disks (physical disks, not partitions): one disk that is dedicated to the system and DPM installation files, and one that is dedicated to the storage pool. The following table shows the rest of the hardware requirements for DPM. I strongly advise you to go with the recommended settings and not the minimum ones.
1 GHz or faster
512 MB RAM
1 GB RAM
Disk space for DPM installation
System drive: 100 MB
Program files drive: 1260 MB
Database files drive: 900 MB
Disk space for storage pool
1.5 times the size of the protected data
2 to 3 times the size of the protected data
Table 1: Hardware requirements for DPM Server
I would like to end this introduction by saying that, although I believe that DPM 2006 can be of extreme value when backing up Exchange Server, I would not recommend its installation solely for this purpose. If you have it already deployed for all the other reasons (and there are so many, but it’s not the subject of this article), go ahead and include Exchange on your DPM backup plan, if not wait until the next version of DPM.
Installing and Configuring DPM
A complete installation of DPM includes Windows Server 2003 with Service Pack 1, the DPM application, and the DPM prerequisite software. The prerequisite software includes:
- Internet Information Services (IIS) 6.0
- Microsoft® SQL Server 2000 (Standard or Enterprise Edition)
- Microsoft® SQL Server 2000 Service Pack 3a (SP3a) or later
- Microsoft® SQL Server 2000 hotfix 859
- Microsoft® SQL Server 2000 Reporting Services (Standard or Enterprise Edition)
- Microsoft® SQL Server 2000 Reporting Services Service Pack 1 (SP1) or later
During the installation process, setup will check all the prerequisites, as shown in Figure 2. After this step, if you meet the minimum requirements, setup will proceed and install all the components (Figure 3).
Figure 2: Prerequisites check
Figure 3: Installing software components
If the installation succeeds, you must then configure DPM, namely add disks to the storage pool and install file agents.
- In DPM Administrator Console, click Management on the navigation bar, and then click the Disks tab. On the Actions pane, click Add.
- The Add Disks to Storage Pool dialog box is displayed. The Available Disks pane lists the disks that you can add to the storage pool. Select one or more disks, click Add, and then click OK (Figure 4).
Figure 4: Adding disks to Storage Pool
- Next, it’s time to install the file agents. In DPM Administrator Console, click Management on the navigation bar, and then click the Agents tab. On the Actions pane, click Install. The Install Agents wizard starts and displays a list of available file servers.
- On the Select servers page, select one or more file servers from the Server name list, click Add, and then click Next (Figure 5).
Figure 5: Install Agents wizard
- On the Enter credentials page, type the user name and password for a domain account that is a member of the local administrators group for the selected server.
- The file servers must be restarted before you can start protecting data. This restart is necessary to ensure that the file agent is installed correctly. On the Choose restart method page, select the method you will use to restart the file servers after the file agent is installed.
- And that’s all it takes. On the Summary page, click Install Agents to proceed with installation. A status box is displayed to indicate whether the installation is successful.
Figure 6: Agents status
Backing up Exchange
Let me tell you the naked truth, this version of DPM doesn’t directly support Exchange, it just works with file shares, period. But DPM can still be used to help you protect Exchange data, or I wouldn’t be writing this article. Within the next paragraphs, I’ll show you how.
I’m a really big fan of the 2-step backup approach: first backup Exchange stores to disk using Windows Backup (NTBackup) and then use some third party software to transfer it to tape. So, in this scenario, I think DPM makes all the sense to be used, since it can manage the backup files created on disk.
So, basically the process will be:
- Schedule online Exchange backups with NTBackup
- Configure DPM so that the file share that holds the backup file is member of a DPM Protection Group
Here’s the detailed step-by-step guide:
- Start Windows Backup and configure it to perform a scheduled full backup of Exchange Server. Ideally the backup file should be stored in a file share in a different server. Due to performance reasons, if you decide to use a locally stored backup file, avoid using the same volume as the Exchange logs or database. For this test I just used a different disk on the Exchange Server.
When you schedule the backup, choose off-peak hours and make sure your online backups don’t conflict with your scheduled maintenance interval for any databases in the same storage group. If they overlap, backup will stop the online defragmentation part of the scheduled maintenance and the database may not be able to finish defragmenting.
Since DPM will be responsible for managing the different backups done at different days, you should choose the option “Replace the data on the media with this backup” when you step through the available options in the Windows Backup program (Figure 7).
Figure 7: Windows Backup
- The next step is to configure a DPM Protection Group, by using the provided wizard. In DPM Administrator Console, click Protection on the navigation bar and then Create, on the Actions pane. The New Protection Group wizard starts.
- After choosing a name for the new Protection Group, select the members that the group will hold. In my case, I just selected my Exchange server named COLLABORATION. When selecting members you may choose to view Volumes and folders or Shares. Either of them will work, as long as you select the location that holds your Exchange backup file, configured in step 1.
- On the Review Disk Allocations page, review the space allocations that DPM recommends for the protection group. Accept default space allocations unless you are certain that they do not meet your needs.
- On the Choose Replica Creation Method page, select Let Data Protection Manager replicate the files over the network and choose that you want DPM to start replica creation immediately.
- On the Select Protection Schedule page, click Specify Schedule and then configure a shadow copy to be taken approximately one hour after the Windows Backup is scheduled to complete its backup to the hard disk drive. This way DPM 2006 will have enough time to synchronize the new data before the shadow copy is taken.
Additionally, schedule a second shadow copy to be taken several hours after this first shadow copy. This second shadow copy is required because you must schedule a consistency check before the consistency check that is performed in step 7 (Figure 8).
Figure 8: Select Protection Schedule
- Select Advanced Options and select Schedule daily consistency check. Specify a start time that is at least 1 hour after the first shadow copy is created in step 6 and at least 4 hours before the second scheduled shadow copy occurs. Set the maximum duration as 4 hours (Figure 9).
Figure 9: Consistency Check
By this time, all the necessary steps were taken, so you should now have your Protection Group up and ready (Figure 10). To verify that the synchronization of the folder or of the share is completed, on the DPM Administrator console, click the Monitoring menu, and then view that all the jobs have completed successfully (Figure 11).
Figure 10: Exchange Protection Group
Figure 11: DPM Job status
Restoring an Exchange backup using DPM 2006
What’s the use of a backup if we can’t restore it? And believe me, I’ve had too many bad experiences to know how true this is.
Although one of the main advantages of using DPM is the possibility of the users restoring their own files, in this case we’ll use the DPM Administrator Console, because restoring an Exchange backup file should be done by Administrators. Just follow these guidelines:
- On the DPM administrator console, click the Recovery and then locate the shadow copy of the desired version of the Exchange Server backup file (Figure 12).
Figure 12: DPM Recovery pane
- Select the Recovery Options tab and select Create copy, under the Existing file version recovery behavior (Figure 13). Click Recover Now and the file will be restored to the original location, unless you have selected a different target.
Figure 13: Recovery Options
- Go to the location where you’ve configured the schedule backups to be stored and you’ll find the recovered file, named "<date> Copy of <original file name>” (Figure 14). Now it’s up to you, just do a regular restore of the Exchange data using the Windows Backup. I’ve included a KB Article with detailed instructions on how to do that.
Figure 14: Restored file of the Exchange backup
Data Protection Manager is a great product, it can save you and your users lots of time. Although it can’t be used to directly backup an Exchange server (for now), in this article I’ve shown you how to still use it integrated with your regular backup plan. If I had to choose one single reason for using DPM, that would be SPEED. Believe me, with the time you’ll need to recover your Exchange server, every second you spend searching for the correct version of the Exchange backup will look like an eternity.
How to back up and restore an Exchange computer by using the Windows Backup program
How to use Microsoft System Center Data Protection Manager 2006 to help protect an Exchange server
Deploying Data Protection Manager at Microsoft Corporation
Data Protection Manager 2006 Planning and Deployment Guide
Data Protection Manager 2006 Operations Guide