Exchange 2016 Backup using Windows Server built-in features

So far we have been covering the initial aspects of a simple Exchange 2016 installation. At some point we also need to consider the configuration steps for backing up our application minimising whenever possible the RTO/RPO times to meet stringent SLAs. The purpose of this article is to cover these aspects with a very simple approach using the built-in Windows Server Backup Feature for Exchange 2016 Backup.

 

So here we are. First let’s start installing the Windows Server Backup Feature by using the Server Manager wizard on the same Exchange 2016 Server.

Let’s make sure to choose the correct server in case we are using a Server Pool.

From the Features menu let’s select the Windows Server Backup.

At this point we are to confirm with the install button.

Once the Windows Server Backup Feature is installed let’s open the pertinent snap-in just by issuing the

wbadmin.msc

command and create a new Backup schedule.

Ideally we can also create a “Run Once” schedule but during the article we’ll also start manually a backup occurrence to make sure it is working as expected.

The wizard to create the Backup job is starting. Let’s click on next to continue and decide the type of Exchange 2016 Backup we want to perform. This can go from Full Server, System State, individual volumes folders and files.

In my case I will be selecting a “Custom” configuration as I will exclude from the Backup a specific local Drive which will be used to store the actual Exchange 2016 Backup. Now for “testing purposes only” this is a local drive but for best practices this drive should appear as a DAS storage possibly offered through iSCSI and made redundant by making sure Data included is not error prone and disaster free. In my case this is Drive B:

┬áNow from the wizard let’s select the local drive we’ll use to store the Exchange 2016 Backup.

In the VSS settings we can also specify how the VSS frawork will be used. Since no other products are backing up this server I will choose the VSS Full Backup which allows for truncating any application transaction for an application consistent backup.

This is where we define our schedules hence our Point-in-Time restores. The more the better. Nut this and also more storage needed to store data in Shadow Storage Area.

Since I have a dedicated local drive for Exchange 2016 Backup I will use the first option.

At this point we can select the Disk which will store the Exchange 2016 Backup.

Let’s accept with a Yes to this message. After formatting the “Backup” Drive will disappear from the standard Windows File Explorer but will still be visible in Computer Management > Disk Management. This to prevent any accidental changes to this volume dedicated to Exchange 2016 Backup.

Let’s review all information and click on Finish to get to the Summary page.

And finally the Summary informs us a backup schedule has been successfully created.

At this point we have successfully created a scheduled Backup. But what if we are impatient (especially myself!) and wanted to test the backup options sooner?

Well the quickest would be to run the Backup Once wizard from the right panel and simply select the Scheduled Backup options as per screenshots below. this will run the first Exchange 2016 Backup with the same settings previously selected.

Let’s review the information and click on “Backup” button to begin the job.

The wbadmin utility is then contacting VSS to create a snapshot which will be saved into the vss shadow storage. Once completed the Exchange 2016 Backup will start.

And the wizard now shows the progress for the Backup of the different volumes.

So during the first execution of this Backup schedule let’s see what is happening under the bonnet! Since the Windows Server Backup Feature will leverage VSS and Exchange is an application “VSS aware” then we can follow same directions as per this article here. Just by issuing a

“VSSAdmin List ShadowStorage”

we can see the actual status of the dedicated Shadows Storage Areas (by default one per volume onto the same volume) and the actual usage.

The Exchange 2016 backup is now complete as per screenshot below.

Now that the Backup job completed we can also issue the following command to view our Point-in-Time Restore.

“VSSAdmin List Shadows”

Repeating the same command a few days later we can also see the other backups that can be used for our Point-in-Time Restores.

So before concluding this quick article let’s consider the following:

  • The VSS Backup used in this case is the System Provider (Default one) which allows only Differential Snapshots
  • Differential Snapshots are including only the differences with the original volume
  • The VSS Provider is responsible for maintaining the two copies (the original one and the other in the Shadow Storage Area)
  • If the original copy is not accessible the full restore of specific objects is not possible
  • You might want to consider VSS Hardware Providers instead in order to take a Full copy of the original data in Shadow Storage Area
  • Full Snapshot Copies are a lot bigger than the Differential ones and equal at least the size of the original volume
  • Full Snapshots are also transportable and can be used for off host backup. Differential ones are not
  • Hardware Providers work on the controller level managing the Disks and Volumes. Performances are significantly faster when compared to Software or System Provider

This concludes our quick journey on Exchange Server Backups. Next topic will cover Restore scenarios.

Michele Domanico

Passionate about Virtualization, Storage, Data Availability and Software Defined Data Center technologies. The aim of Domalab.com is sharing with the Community the knowledge and experience gained with customers, industry leaders and like minded peers. Always open to constructive feedback and new challenges.

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