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What is an Exchange brick-level backup?

What is an Exchange "brick-level" backup and what are "brick-level" Microsoft Exchange email files?

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"Brick-level" refers to a class of backup software.

Traditional Exchange backups focus on backing up the Exchange database in such a way that does not permit granular recovery of individual email items. Most companies use this class of backup software. If individual items need to be recovered (i.e., as part of a compliance or Human Resources driven investigation, or because messages have been lost and no longer exist in the 'dumpster'), then recovery options are limited to:

Exchange 5.5 and Exchange 2000

  • Building a recovery Exchange environment.
  • Creating a MAPI profile to enable an Microsoft Outlook client to log into the respective mailbox(es) or using ExMerge to log on.
  • Exporting relevant content to .PSTs.
  • Importing relevant content back into the production environment or passing it on to Legal or HR for action as appropriate.

Exchange 2003

  • Using a Recovery Storage Group (RSG) to recover the relevant database.
  • Using ExMerge to recover the desired mailbox contents and merge them into the relevant production mailbox.

Brick-level backups use a different backup process in which they perform a MAPI logon to each mailbox as part of the backup process; this gives them the ability to recover individual mail items directly from backup media. It also facilitates recovery of single mail messages or mailboxes without having to build a recovery environment and without having to resort to RSGs.

One caution: Brick-level solutions are substantially slower at backing up your servers than traditional backup solutions. They also cost more and require significantly more backup media than traditional backup media.

If item-level recoverability is a requirement for your company, you may want to consider a hybrid solution instead of brick-level, namely either Quest Recovery Manager for Exchange (disclaimer: I work for Quest), Ontrack PowerControls or Mimosa NearPoint. All permit item-level recoverability using traditional backup methods without the long backup windows, licensing costs and backup media costs associated with brick-level solutions. I have seen many companies move away from brick-level recovery in favor of these solutions because their brick-level software was exceeding their nightly backup windows. 

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This was first published in July 2005

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