Product Review: Kernel for Exchange
Product Name: Kernel for Exchange Server
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There are times in every Exchange administrator’s career where there will be a disaster and having the right tools at hand is not only helpful – it can be career saving. Kernel for Exchange is one such tool and fulfils the primary purpose of extracting data directly from Exchange Mailbox Databases – including those that Exchange may struggle to mount.
In this review we’ll take a look at how to configure and set it up then put it through its paces with a number of different recovery options it offers.
Kernel for Exchange is primarily aimed at recovery of a corrupt Exchange Mailbox Database. It has a range of use cases, including:
- Single or multiple database corruption – attempting to recover data from an Exchange database that will not mount into a new database or server.
- Full site loss - bringing a database recovered from tape online and exporting data directly into Exchange Online or a new Exchange Server
- Recovery from backups – single item recovery from an EDB file directly into Exchange or to PST.
- E-Discovery – searching EDB files recovered from backups as part of a legal request and exporting to PST.
After walking through the install, we’ll look at how it performs when tackling the technical side of these task.
Installation and Configuration
Kernel for Exchange Server installs onto both Windows client and Windows servers. As a pre-requisite, you must install 32-bit Outlook, as this is used by the software. Both the MSI version and click to run of Office appear compatible.
Figure 1: The Kernel for Exchange setup wizard
The installer is straightforward and consists of the usual series of prompts for installation location, start menu folders and desktop icons after accepting the EULA.
After installation completes, you are prompted with the option to immediately launch Kernel for Exchange Server:
Figure 2: Launching Kernel for Exchange immediately after install
Upon first launch, an activation code must be entered. This is unique to the user of the software.
Figure 3: Licencing Kernel for Exchange
After entering a valid licence code, the Kernel for Exchange launches.
Opening Exchange Database files
First we’ll test the core functionality, opening Exchange Database files. Kernel claims support for versions of Exchange up to and including Exchange 2016, which is fairly impressive as at the time of writing, Exchange 2016 has not yet been released.
To simulate a typical type of recovery, we’re using a node from an Exchange 2016 Database Availability Group. The node hasn’t got Exchange on it but does have large mailboxes within the remaining database file – in fact to give it a really good test it’s got my mailbox with over 10 years of mail and tens of thousands of items.
To open a mailbox database, we’ll choose Select EDB. This opens the Select Source Exchange Database wizard. Select the location of the EDB (and STM for Exchange 2000/2003), then choose Next:
Figure 4: Selecting a Mailbox Database (EDB) file
We’re then prompted with two options; first Standard Scan which is suitable for simple dismounted databases and recovered databases; and Advanced Scan which is aimed at corrupted databases:
Figure 5: Selecting options for opening or recovery of the database
The wizard will then proceed to scan the database. After successfully opening the database, the EDB List panel will show a tree-view of mailboxes within the database. This can be expanded and shows the content of each mailbox, including both visible and non-visible mailbox data. A folder can be selected, and mailbox items will load:
Figure 6: Using the Outlook-style view to navigate the database
Restoring individual messages
A number of options are provided for restoring individual messages. You can either use the Outlook-style view shown above to navigate through the structure of the mailbox, sorting by Sender, Subject and other common columns, or use the search functionality.
When using the Outlook-style navigation, individual items can be selected, then a contextual menu can be used to choose to save the individual item:
Figure 7: Saving an individual item
Multiple items can also be selected, either by shift-clicking or control clicking.
Figure 8: Saving multiple items
To search the EDB for particular messages, for example as part of a legal discovery exercise, use the Search button on the toolbar:
Figure 9: Launching the search interface
This provides the ability to multi-select mailboxes and then provide detailed criteria for the messages to search for. In the example below we’ve searched for anything containing MSExchange in the subject, then we’ll choose to Save Items(s):
Figure 10: The search in source interface
Whichever method we choose to select individual messages will result in the Save Item(s) dialogue box. This will allow us to select from a number of formats, including MSG, EML, RFT, HTML and plain text file. We would expect most messaging admins to export as either MSG or EML. A target folder is also selected and the individual messages will be saved to this folder:
Figure 11: Selecting the destination folder and message format
After the export completes, statistics for the export are shown. As you can see in the example below it takes a few seconds per message to export.
Figure 12: Viewing statistics for an export
The exported messages can then be copied elsewhere and should open in clients such as Outlook, as shown below:
Figure 13: Viewing an exported message in Outlook
Exporting to PST
The second option available for offline recovery is the ability to export data directly to PST. The export to PST functionality shares a lot in common with the ability to export to Exchange and Office 365. There is a direct mapping between mailbox and PST files, and by default all content will be exported.
To begin we’ll choose the Save to PST option and then select the mailboxes we wish to export.
Figure 14: Launching the Save to PST option
Before we choose Next, we can choose the Custom Selected option to provide some high level filtering:
Figure 15: Selecting basic filtering options
The custom selected option allows us to filter the well-known folders and their subfolders. This may be useful if only a particular well known folder is required, or certain data should be excluded:
Figure 16: Filtering by well-known folder
After making mailbox selections and any custom selections we’ll choose Next, then choose a destination folder. The destination folder will be used to place exported PST files. These can be automatically split to ensure they are manageable for large mailboxes.
On this page there is also a number of options available to limit the exported data further. First there is the ability to specify one or more date ranges to include or exclude:
Figure 17: Selecting destination folder and additional filtering options
Secondly there is the option to include or exclude certain item types; for example if we were looking to include all appointment data, even if it is in a custom folder we are able to on this page:
Figure 18: Filtering by item type
After confirming the scope of data to export and location to export to, we’ll choose to begin the export. The Saving Progress window provides a real-time view as items are exported:
Figure 19: Viewing export progress
Upon completion, the PST files are exported to the correct folder. These can be opened by the Outlook client, or imported to Exchange or Office 365 using either the Exchange cmdlets or for Office 365, the PST Import Service:
Figure 20: Exported PST files
Exporting to Exchange Server or Exchange Online
Although the PST files exported by Kernel for Exchange could be imported manually, the software includes the ability to import directly into Exchange both saving time and skipping a complex step.
The most common scenario this is likely to be needed is when a database fails and a Dial Tone recovery is in progress. A dial-tone recovery is a less than ideal situation where you provide users with empty mailboxes, and Kernel for Exchange could be used to populate those mailboxes using a recovered EDB file.
Another situation could be if a database fails after the last successful backup is restored. Although users might be back online using the data from perhaps last night’s backup, Kernel for Exchange Server could be used to attempt to open the failed database file and then export just the data after the last backup to ensure any messages that could be recovered are recovered.
To make use of the feature requires the correct permissions to be configured. In the example below we’ve used the Add-MailboxPermission cmdlet to add permissions for a specific user. This can be performed using the Exchange Management Shell in Exchange 2010, 2013 and 2016 and in Exchange Online. In Exchange on-premises you could also add permissions at the database level:
Figure 21: Configuring permissions for import
After granting permissions to the account that we will use for the operation, we’ll open Kernel for Exchange, select an EDB, then choose Save to Live Exchange/Office 365:
Figure 22: Launching the Save to Live Exchange/Office 365 option
Next, we’ll select the mailboxes we wish to import into Exchange Server:
Figure 23: Selecting mailboxes to export data from to a Live Exchange server
On the next page of the wizard we’ll select Live Exchange for an Exchange Server, then enter credentials of the account that has full access permissions to the mailboxes we’ve selected:
Figure 24: Entering appropriate credentials for Exchange
In the case of Office 365, we’ll choose that option and enter the credentials of a global administrator account that also has full mailbox access to those mailboxes that we wish to recover.
In the case of a dial-tone recovery we’d expect mailboxes to match up. If instead we’re looking to import to an alternative mailbox, select the Mapping option and enter the email address of the alternative mailbox:
Figure 25: Configuring mailbox mappings from the source EDB to target mailboxes
The export from EDB and import into either Exchange or Office 365 will begin. As with the PST export, live progress is shown as items are exported.
During and after the process completes, we can log in to a target mailbox and see the items are successfully imported:
Figure 26: Viewing recovered data within a mailbox
The product contains appropriate functionality for the common use cases for this type of recovery software. We’ve got the option to export messages individually into standards-compliant formats, export to PST and ingest data directly into Exchange.
A good range of filtering functionality is included and the functionality is easy to find through an intuitive interface.
We used the included support to provide a guided tour of the product. The support team provide a remote session typically taking control of the workstation to assist. Support was helpful and available when we requested, and no questions about the product were unanswered.
We were happy with the product’s functionality and it is straightforward to use. The dependency on Outlook is less than ideal, as it is typical to manage the recovery of large databases on a server – which will not usually have the Office suite installed in advance; however, using Outlook should mean it is using the correct mechanism to reach the server.
The processing speed is adequate but could be improved.
The fact that the software already supports Exchange 2016, Outlook 2016, and has just been updated with new features, such as export to Public Folders or Archive Mailboxes, shows the software is under active development.
MSExchange.org Rating 4.6/5