Product Review: Macrium Reflect v5 Server Plus for Exchange

Product: Macrium Reflect Server Plus for Exchange

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Introduction

Macrium Reflect is a backup and disk imaging software for Microsoft Windows developed by Paramount Software UK Ltd. It creates disk images and file backup archives using Microsoft Volume Shadow Copy service. It can back up an entire workstation (Windows XP and above) or server (2003 or above) to a single compressed image file, backup files and folders to a single compressed archive file, or even recover partitions and entire disk images. Macrium Reflect Server Plus also supports applications such as Microsoft SQL Server and Exchange Server.

In this review, we will focus our attention on Macrium Reflect v5.3.7220 Server Plus for backing up and restoring an Exchange environment.

Requirements

At the time of writing this review, Macrium Reflect v5 Server Plus supports:

  • Microsoft SQL Server 2005, 2008, 2012 and 2014;
  • Microsoft Exchange Server 2003, 2007, 2010 and 2013.

But let us focus on Exchange. To backup an Exchange database, Reflect needs to be installed on the local server as remote backups are not possible. This means that if there are multiple Exchange servers in your environment that you want to backup, you will need to install Reflect in all of them.

The Microsoft Exchange Information Store service needs to be running in order for successful database backups to function. Databases that are not mounted will still be shown in the backup wizard and may be selected for backup. However, VSS will not include any unmounted databases in the snapshot and the Exchange backup will fail as a consequence.

In terms of restoring data, Microsoft Exchange Server MAPI Client and Collaboration Data Objects must be installed on the server. These are present by default on Exchange 2003 but not in later versions.

As usual, the user running Reflect must have full access permissions for the mailbox where data is being restored to, and restoring data backed up on a particular version of Exchange cannot be restored to a newer or older version of Exchange.

Installation

Installing Reflect is very straightforward. All we need to do is download the software and run it to launch the installation wizard. In the first screen, we select either the trial or the full version and where to install it:

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Figure 1

Next we click in Download which will start downloading the entire software package:

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Figure 2

When the download completes, the installation itself will start automatically if we selected the Run installer directly after downloading option. Click Next to extract the installation files:

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Figure 3

And Next again to start the installation itself:

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Figure 4

Accept the license agreement and click Next:

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Figure 5

If necessary, enter your license key and click Next twice:

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Figure 6

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Figure 7

Customize the setup if required and then click Next:

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Figure 8

Finally click Install to start the installation process:

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Figure 9

Once completed, click Finish:

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Figure 10

You now should have the Reflect’s icon on your Desktop:

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Figure 11

Double-click it to launch Reflect’s console:

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Figure 12

The console’s layout is well organized, with different tasks such as backup and restore with their own tabs. In each screen, it is easy to find exactly what we need and how to do it.

Let us explore the console by performing a backup and restore.

Backing Up Exchange

On the main Server Plus interface, click on Backup Microsoft Exchange to launch the Microsoft Exchange Backup wizard:

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Figure 13

A list of the local databases (or Storage Groups) will be shown. To select a database, we simply select the check box to its left. Note that while with Exchange 2010/2013 we can back up individual databases, with Exchange 2007 we must select a storage group(s), which will include its databases.

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Figure 14

If you are backing up a server that is part of a Database Availability Group, Server Plus will only back up active databases and ignore passive copies.

By clicking in View selected component files we can see the list of files that will be part of the backup, with files grouped according to their type and when they were last modified along with their size:

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Figure 15

Next we enter the destination Folder for the backup. Although Server Plus only backs up local databases, the backups themselves can be stored in a mapped network drive for example (but not on optical media), thus providing us with a central repository for all backups.

Clicking in Alternative locations allows us to specify additional locations for the backup in case the primary target location is not available:

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Figure 16

Click Next to proceed to the summary page of the backup wizard, which will list all databases selected for backup together with the settings of the backup such as notifications, target locations, and so on:

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Figure 17

If we click on Calculate, the summary page will also display the number of files to be backed up and their total size:

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Figure 18

Clicking on Advanced Options allows us to modify the default settings for the backup, such as the compression level, password, and much more:

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Figure 19

A useful pane is the Disk Space Management which allows us to configure how many backups or how many days of backups to keep:

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Figure 20

We can also configure success or failure backup email notifications:

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Figure 21

Many other options are available as we will see in the next section.

Finally, click Finish. We will be prompted if we want to save the backup settings to a definition file, which is useful to manually rerun it whenever we want or even to schedule it to run automatically:

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Figure 22

Click OK to start the backup:

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Figure 23

Once the backup finishes, a notification window will appear:

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Figure 24

The Exchange Backup Summary window details all the steps taken during the backup, useful for troubleshooting or for simply verifying that everything went ok:

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Figure 25

If the option to send a notification was selected, an email will be received once the backup completes:

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Figure 26

The email will contain, if selected, log files regarding the backup job with the information present in the Exchange Backup Summary:

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Figure 27

We can also check the Log section of the console, which contains similar information to the above for all backups that have been run so far:

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Figure 28

If we check the properties of the database we just backed up, we can verify that a successful backup has indeed completed:

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Figure 29

Exchange Backup Options

As I mentioned previously, many other options are also available. Since when we ran our backup we selected the option to save its definitions into an XML file, we can explore these by selecting the Backup Definition File tab:

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Figure 30

We can select XML View to view all the options for this particular definition file:

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Figure 31

We can also schedule it to run automatically by clicking the Scheduling button:

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Figure 32

In the schedule wizard we can specify if we want a Full, Incremental or Differential backup:

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Figure 33

How often to run the backup:

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Figure 34

And finally when to exactly run it:

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Figure 35

The last window of the wizard will display all the options we selected:

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Figure 36

If we now select the Schedule Backups pane, we will see our newly created schedule task:

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Figure 37

To modify other aspects of Exchange backups, we click on the Edit Defaults button from the Server Plus toolbar:

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Figure 38

Which will give us access to all settings:

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Figure 39

If we navigate to Advanced and then click on Advanced Microsoft Exchange Options, we are presented with a few more options regarding Exchange backups:

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Figure 40

These are:

  • Prune transaction logs on successful backup removes all transaction logs for storage groups/databases that were included in the backup process (not using this option will allow transaction logs to be removed by other mechanisms such as 3rd-party applications);
  • Exclude log files prior to checkpoint generation from the backup will only include transaction log files that fall after the current checkpoint generation for the storage group/database being backed up. This will reduce the number of transaction logs included in a backup, while not using this option will back up all transaction logs for the storage groups/databases.
  • Verify database files before the backup process forces Reflect to verify the database, checkpoint and transaction log files for page integrity.

Restoring Individual Items

A great feature of Reflect is that it allows us to restore individual emails from a backup. This is extremely useful for those scenarios where we just need to restore a few emails a user deleted, but we do not want to have to restore an entire database in order to access them.

Although we will now be restoring an email, Reflect can also restore appointments, contacts, journal entries, notes and tasks.

For this example, I will permanently delete the Reports email from my Sent Items folder and then try to recover it:

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Figure 41

To perform this type of restore, we need to select the Restore tab, go to Microsoft Exchange Restore and then click on Restore Exchange Mailboxes:

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Figure 42

The first page of the restore wizard will let us choose the database and the Exchange backup to restore from. In this case I have only backed up one database so far, and only once, so I only get one option:

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Figure 43

Click Next and Server Plus will mount the backup so that we can explore it:

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Figure 44

Once the backup has mounted, the wizard will show a tree view of all the mailboxes within the chosen database. We can navigate through the tree view, and select entire mailboxes or folders to restore, or we can click on a folder to display and select individual emails. In this case, we are interested in the Reports email:

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Figure 45

For folders with many items, we can filter the items displayed by sender, recipient, subject, date sent, or whether they have attachments:

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Figure 46

If we are restoring emails, which is the case, we have the option to double click an email and view basic information (this option is not yet available for calendar items, contacts, notes or tasks):

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Figure 47

We can even save any attachments the email might have:

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Figure 48

Another useful feature is the ability to simply export email items without having to recover them to the original mailbox. With this feature, we can right click on email items, select Export… and export them as text or EML files:

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Figure 49

Next, select the format to export the files as, its location and click Export:

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Figure 50

However, there’s a catch with this feature. The lack of MIME headers in sent emails would create an incorrectly formed EML file, so EML files can only be generated for received emails. If we try to export a sent email to EML, we will get the following error:

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Figure 51

And if we check the log file, we see it fails because the email has no headers:

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Figure 52

Exporting received emails to TXT or EML format works just fine, as it does exporting sent emails to TXT.

Assuming we simply want to recover the email to its original mailbox, we select it and click Finish. The email will then be restored to its original location with any sub-folders created if necessary:

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Figure 53

Simple as that!

Restoring Exchange Databases

Macrium Reflect Server Plus allows us to restore selected databases back to our Exchange server with the following options:

  • Restore to its original database;
  • Restore to a different location (and database name if desired);
  • And restore the last backup or a particular point in time backup.

When restoring a database, it might be worth first verifying the integrity of the backup set to ensure it did not get corrupted, for example, and that it can indeed be restored. To do so, we select the Microsoft Exchange Restore tab under the main Restore tab and then click on Verify an Exchange Backup:

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Figure 54

The Verify a Microsoft Exchange Backup windows appears:

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Figure 55

Simply select the backup you intend to restore and click on Verify;

Once the verification process finishes, and if all is ok with the backup set, you will see a summary and a Successfully Verified message:

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Figure 56

Before performing a traditional restore, Server Plus also has the ability to mount an Exchange backup, giving us file access to the backup set. To do so, click on Mount and Exchange Backup:

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Figure 57

The Mount an Exchange Backup window appears:

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Figure 58

Select the backup set you want to mount and click Select;

Chose a drive letter to where you wish to mount the backup to and click Mount:

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Figure 59

Once the mount process finishes, click OK:

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Figure 60

You will now have access to all the files included in the backup set:

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Figure 61

When you are finished, simply go to Windows Explorer, right-click the drive where you mounted the backup to, select Macrium Reflect and then Unmount Macrium Image:

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Figure 62

Restoring to its original location

Let us imagine that, for some reason, we completely lost database DB01 and the only way to recover it is from a backup. To do so, in the Microsoft Exchange Restore tab, we select the database we want to recover. By default the most recent backup will be selected for restore:

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Figure 63

To select a different backup date, click on Restore from backup xx/xx/xxxx which will open a new window with all the backups available to be restored:

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Figure 64

By clicking on View files in Exchange Backup file we can see exactly all the files that are part of this particular backup:

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Figure 65

Click Close and then click on the Restore button on the lower right hand corner of the console:

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Figure 66

The Restore Plan will show the backup file selected for restore together with all databases to be restored:

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Figure 67

Click the Restore button to start restoring the database(s) back to its original location. In this case, we can see that database DB01 is dismounted and then overwritten by the backed up database, meaning that any emails sent or delivered after backup was taken will be lost:

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Figure 68

Once completed, click OK:

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Figure 69

Restoring to a Different Location

In this scenario, let us recover DB01 once more, but this time to a different location and with a different name. To do this, start by selecting the database to restore as we did in the previous scenario:

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Figure 70

Click on the Restore To link, which will present us with the following dialog:

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Figure 71

Here, select Restore to alternate location and click Next;

Now specify a name and location for the new database where we will be recovering our original database to (do not create a Recovery Database beforehand!). When specifying the Path, you will need to include a full path such as D:\DBs\DB01-Recovery.edb:

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Figure 72

Click Next to proceed. A summary of the restore operation will be shown as before:

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Figure 73

Click Finish to accept and then click the Restore button on the lower right hand corner of the console:

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Figure 74

An identical Restore Plan will be displayed as before with the backup file selected for restore together with all databases to be restored:

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Figure 75

Click Restore to start the restore process:

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Figure 76

Using the Exchange Management Shell, we can see that Reflect created the new database. Surprisingly, it is not a Recovery Database:

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Figure 77

Although it does seem like a “normal” database, if you run a Get-Mailbox against it, it will return no results. However, running a traditional restore as we would against a recovery database will indeed extract data from the recovered database:

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Figure 78

If we now check the mailbox we recovered the data to, we can see that all the items from the Sent Items folder have been recovered:

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Figure 79

Final Thoughts

Macrium Reflect v5 Server Plus is without a doubt a great product. It even has a VBScript generator that uses Windows Script Host WSH to enable administrators to handle complex backup scenarios (shame it is not PowerShell though).

However, the fact that it can only backup local databases is likely to not appeal to large organizations with multiple, sometimes dozens, of servers.

Nonetheless, an efficient and easy to use product!

MSExchange.org Rating 4.4/5

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Learn more about Macrium Reflect Server Plus for Exchange or download a free trial

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