Exchange 2016 backup best practices: Follow them and sleep easy

Exchange Server 2016 is a robust mail system from Microsoft. Unfortunately, no system is immune to failure and someday your excellent Exchange Server setup will fail for various reasons —hardware problems or software failure due to malware, unexpected shutdown, human error or faulty update. Fortunately, a good backup will save your skin. It’s every Exchange admin’s No. 1 job to keep Exchange running on a 24/7 basis and recovering from a failure would and can be a nightmare if the right precaution is not taken. And being cheap in your backup solution can be disastrous to your business. So, don’t go cheap in your solution as it will surely kickback to you one day and your Exchange admins will surely say that they told you so.

First, let’s take a look at the native backup software that Microsoft provides. Windows Server Backup — I must say that it’s a great backup software and if configured well, it can take an application-level backup of an Exchange Server. If you take a file-level backup of your Exchange Server, you might have issues during backup with the possibility to corrupt your databases. Windows Server Backup can take an application backup and it’s compatible with Exchange Server 2016.

Windows Server Backup: Works well … except

Windows Server Backup works like a charm, but the application is missing one crucial thing to being the best. One of them is tape drive support and the other is the ability to granularly restore an item from a mailbox rather than restore the whole mail store. This would cause a bit of trouble for the Exchange admins when they are requested to restore one particular email from backup. This will result in restoring the whole mailbox database and performing restore using the Recovery Database method, which would be a lot of administrative effort and make restoring one item a big pain.

This is where other applications work better than Windows Server Backup. Other applications support granular backups, meaning that when restoring from your Exchange Server you can restore a particular folder or item directly into a specific mailbox in your Exchange Setup. Another thing to take into consideration is how you set up your Exchange Mailbox database as this would affect backup and restore. How this would affect your backup? Imagine having 100 mailboxes with 5GB of size each. Your mailbox database will be at a minimum of 500GB. Apart from backing up a 500GB file can have issues if something happens and you need to restore with Windows Server Backup, you need to restore the whole EDB file while having enough resources to cater to the restore.

Mind you, one thing to check when choosing your backup software is not only that it supports Exchange Server but that it supports your version of Exchange, which in this case we are talking about Exchange Server 2016.

Exchange 2016 backup: When and where are both important

Backing up your Exchange Server is very important and should be considered crucial, but where you are backing it up to is even more important. Backing up your Exchange Server on another server in the same room or building is useless if the room is physically damaged — both the live and backup server are ruined. The same aspect can be taken into consideration if your network is attacked or infected by malware or ransomware. Don’t ever put all your eggs in one basket. You should always have an offsite backup or cloud storage.

Talking about restore, one must also look into the legal obligation of the mails. Usually, if you are using tapes, these are stored in a secure location with a schedule that will result in a full recovery. Such schedule will involve daily tapes for each day from Tuesday to Sunday, a set of four tapes for the weekly backups every Monday, and rotated — 12 tapes for each month of the year and a yearly tape that is never reused.

Security is another thing to take into consideration. If your media or cloud storage is compromised, the cyberattackers will easily have access to your data. The only way to prevent this from happening is by using strong encryption for your backups, which will ensure that if the backup data is stolen, it would make it an impossible task for whoever has the file to decrypt and read your data. Although it will take a bit more time to back up compared with backing up without encryption, it’s a way to sleep well with the fact that the data is not readable if stolen.

Don’t forget monitoring

exchange 2016 backup

Monitoring your Exchange 2016 backups is a must. One must always ensure that the backups have been done daily by the use of notifications, which send a log of the time the job has been executed and a checklist to be filled daily. The best time to execute backups for most companies is after hours or during the night because the backup process on your Exchange Server will result in degradation of service for your users. With this noted, it would also be suggested to have a restore procedure in place. You can take a backup of your Exchange Server or files, but how are you sure that the backup is really good and you are certain that the data you are restoring is healthy? Many companies adopt a restore procedure every month to ensure the integrity of the backups. One can also verify that a backup has been executed on the Exchange Server by running the following PowerShell command.

Get-MailboxDatabase -Server <Server Name> -Status | FL Name, SnapshotLastFullBackup, LastFullBackup

One could also consider some kind of offsite journaling for your emails. One can set up a journaling backup where a copy of each incoming or outgoing email is stored and can be recovered at any time from an offsite or cloud location.

A backup should be taken seriously and as a top priority with an encryption shield in front of it. How and where and using the right medium should be considered and the monitoring of the backup should be on top of your list with checklist and restore tests. If things go wrong, you can try third-party applications like Stellar Repair for Exchange that will be your savior in sticky situation. And apart from restoring your Exchange Server data to PST and other formats from a corrupted database, it can also export directly to a live Exchange Server database or Office 365 tenant.

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