Restoring Exchange Server 2003 to alternate Hardware



In order to have a good chance of restoring your Exchange Server 2003 on alternate Hardware, you will have to have a functional backup of at least the database files of your old Exchange Server box. Other files are good to have but are not essential for a restore to alternate hardware.


The backup of the database files (*.edb and *.stm) should be from an online backup. If they are from an offline backup the restore may be harder and Microsoft itself does not support offline backups. This means it could work but you should not trust on this “should policy” and have a good and tested online backup of your information store.


If you have all transaction log files of Exchange Server 2003 from the last full backup until today or the date of the server crash and besides do not have circular logging on your stores configured you will have a good chance of restoring all your collaboration data until the date of the server crash.


Restoring the Operating System


If you have a server crash and cannot order the hardware compatible to what it was before, your very first step of the restore process is the restoration of the operating system itself.


Hopefully you will have the information you need to do this. The information is:



  1. Name of your Computer (DNS and WINS if necessary)
  2. IP-Address Configuration of your old server
  3. Logical Disk Information
  4. Level of service pack and hot fixes of your old exchange server box
  5. Source of the software products (Exchange and Windows)


After having setup the new machine properly with the hardware configuration software of the supplier you will have to install Windows Server 2003 configuring it as closely as possible to your old configuration. If possible it should look like your old server box.


If the hardware is the same as your old system this is easier, you will just have to install Windows Server 2003 the way you want it and then restore system state.


If now your future Exchange Server 2003 box is running Windows Server 2003 properly and you do not have any critical errors or warnings in your servers’ event log, you now will have to install the appropriate service packs and hot fixes. After having done this you can now add the server itself to your Active Directory Environment.


At this step you will have a clear installation of Windows Server 2003 for your future Exchange Server 2003 box.


Restoring Exchange Server 2003


And now we come to the most interesting step of your restore process: making Exchange Server 2003 run using the databases from your crashed Exchange Server 2003 box.


If we already have a running Active Directory environment we do not have to re-add the schema entries of Exchange. This means we just have to tell our Active Directory that it has to accept our new machine as Exchange Server box and have to install Exchange Server 2003 on our new server. This can be done by using the “/disasterrecovery” switch of your Exchange Server 2003 setup, as you can see in the screenshot below.



Figure 1: Disasterrecovery Switch of Exchange Server 2003 Setup


After setup has completed, your Exchange Server files are installed on your new server box but you do not have any databases yet and be careful that Exchange Server services do not start.


The next step is, restoring your Exchange databases from backup to the new server. Now we have to restart the machine and if we are lucky, it will start. This is because there might be some dependencies upon the service packs and patches need to be installed. So the next step is installing the appropriate ones on your server.


After a final reboot everything should now be up to date and your Exchange Server should be able to start properly and behave like your old one. One thing that could now be missing is that you will have to restore some differential backups; this means that you will have to replay the transaction log files. This is quite easy and is done automatically by your backup software. If you still have to replay some transaction protocols from your old server box that have not yet been included in any backup so far you can do this manually using the ESEUTIL command line tool with the “/cc” switch.


The final step now is reviewing the event logs and solving the errors or warnings you will find there. At this step the Microsoft Knowledgebase or should be your friend.




If you are unsuccessful with the restore of your server so far and it is not possible to make your new Exchange Server installation run with your old databases you could try to make things work with the command line based tools ESEUTIL and ISINTEG.


ESEUTIL is an ESE engine based recovery tool and has a lot of options to restore a corrupt database. There are a lot of switches and ways that can be used starting at testing the drive integrity and ending by doing a recovery on the database that means deleting all corrupt database pages with the result that data may be lost.


ISINTEG then is a tool that really understands the database structure of Exchange databases. With this tool you can perform some tests and restorations of each Exchange database to make them run properly with Exchange Server.


For more details on ESEUTIL and ISINTEG you should check out:


3rd Party Software


If you are unsuccessful using the Tools for Exchange database corruption to make things work the only way to solve your problem is by using clean new databases and migrate the items to the new databases using 3rd Party Software.


You can create clean databases with a simple step. Just make sure that all Exchange Server services are stopped, and then delete all files in:


C:\Program Files\Exchsrvr\mdbdata


Then restart all Exchange Server services and try to mount the databases. This will show you an error stating that the database files are missing and asking you if Exchange Server should create new ones. Once you have done this you can start your process of a manual migration of entries from the corrupt Exchange Server databases to this new one. The very last step is now to reconfigure all mail routing configurations and that’s it.




In 99% of all cases you will simply be successful using this drill-down to make your Exchange Server 2003 databases and other configuration work on your new hardware. And as you can see, it is not as hard as it seems to be. Just make sure you are doing the right steps in the right order and check whether your backup runs properly. But the best would be if you never had  to do a restore of your server on alternate hardware, because you should never experience this due to the right SLAs (service level agreements) with your hardware supplier.


If you do need assistance or have further questions please do not hesitate to contact me.

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