Don't Backup Blind! Test to Ensure Your Exchange Backups Are Available

We talk a lot about some of the basic data protection and disaster recovery steps – planning, assigning critically to data, understanding your RPO and RTO – but something that gets overlooked on occasion is testing and verification. You can do all the planning you like, and even have a successful implementation and execution of your systems, but if you aren't testing and verifying your process, you never really have the peace of mind you need.

For many, email is a critical application, and for such scenarios, testing and verification is particularly important. Recently, we took a look at testing, verification, tips and best practices when protecting Microsoft Exchange, the most popular email environment. But let’s take a bit of a deeper look into how we approach testing and verification here at Dell Data Protection, and what you should be looking at regarding verification and testing when evaluating any backup and recovery solution.

Automate

Quite frankly, the reason you test and verify your exchange data and backups is because you don’t want to add on extra work to any recovery you may need to do. But there isn’t enough time in the day to test and verify every backup in advance. When evaluating products, make sure your testing and verification functionality has at least some level of automation.

Ideally, your backup and recovery software will automatically be aware of the Exchange application from the get go, and that includes related files systems. And it does no good to verify only some backups, so you need to be confident that every backup is verified, automatically.

And don’t forget notification – verification is pretty useless unless the system can tell you if there is a problem. Look for robust notification of the (hopefully very rare) instance of corrupted or lost data.

Check data integrity

Our approach to data verification of Microsoft Exchange (through AppAssure Backup and Recovery) entails performing checksums directly on the given Exchange database. In detail, every Exchange database page has a field that contains a checksum of that page that is calculated every time the page is modified. AppAssure automatically calculates the checksum of the backed up EDB pages and then compares the values to the ones stored in the EDB pages to ensure the integrity of the backed up page.

We believe in this approach because it not only provides a very granular review of backed up data, but it also helps administrator adhere to Microsoft Exchange best practices.

But wait… there’s more

But checksum verification is not always enough. It ensures the integrity of Exchange data, but it alone cannot guarantee that a backup is recoverable. It only ensures that the Exchange server will boot up. We recommend taking the extra step of carrying out a Mountability check for data corruption to see if there’s missing data like incomplete volume groups or EDB, log or file paths that aren't located in the location specified by metadata (see image below).

 

Best practices

For testing and validation, you really need to apply best practices. In the end, exchange server backup data that is incomplete or unavailable is, in effect, useless and constitutes no backup at all. Test and verify your backups. It’s as simple as that.

For more best practices in working with Microsoft Exchange, see our paper Protecting Microsoft Exchange: Tips and Best Practices.

 

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