Exchange Server mailbox-level MAPI backups

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Because of regulatory issues, administrators need a way to retrieve and search the contents of individual mailboxes on Exchange Server at a reasonable cost.

Unfortunately, Microsoft Exchange is a problem child for storage and backup. It wasn't designed with mailbox-level recovery in mind. As a result, the typical regular backups for data protection don't provide very good access to the contents of individual mailboxes.

The best choice for mailbox-level backups is to use MAPI (Messaging Programming Application Interface) to read and archive the data.

However, this is painfully slow when dealing with a lot of mailboxes. It also means that you will end up backing up messages twice -- once for data protection with the conventional tools, and once with MAPI for message access.

Fortunately, there are several things you can do to minimize the impact of MAPI backups on your organization:

  • Prune your users

    Only perform MAPI backups on users' mailboxes that must be preserved for regulatory reasons. Work with your corporate legal department or compliance officer to identify which individuals and mailboxes need this kind of archiving, and don't back up unnecessary mailboxes.

  • Prune your data

    A lot of Exchange data does not necessarily need to be backed up. This includes the 'sent' and 'deleted' folders.

  • Eliminate duplication

    If a memo, complete with a 200 MB PowerPoint attachment is sent to 100 people, you don't have to store 100 copies. Some backup programs will allow you to store one copy of such duplicated material and simply reference it in all the recipients' archives.

  • Stagger your backups

    Unlike data recovery backups, which need to be done at least daily, archival backups can be done much less frequently. This lets you divide the covered mailboxes into groups and only do an archival backup on one group at each backup session. This greatly reduces the time and bandwidth requirements of these backups.

About the author: Rick Cook has been writing about mass storage since the days when the term meant an 80K floppy disk. The computers he learned on used ferrite cores and magnetic drums. For the last 20 years he has been a freelance writer specializing in storage and other computer issues.


This is a very useful article -- potentially! But how exactly do I perform a MAPI backup?
—John C.


For a quick explanation, read David Sengupta's expert advice, Brick-level e-mail backups.

Third-party backup software generally has better support for MAPI backups than Windows own backup utilities. Basically, the process is a kludge; if it weren't for regulatory requirements, no one would bother.
—Rick Cook, tip author

Do you have comments on this tip? Let us know.
Related information from the TechTarget Windows Network:

  • SearchExchange.com Ask the Expert: Reconstructing all of a user's mailbox data
  • SearchWinSystems.com Tip: Fine tune Exchange; get rid of storage issues
  • SearchExchange.com Learning Center: 20 tips in 20 minutes – protecting and recovering Exchange 2003 data
  • SearchExchange.com Reference Center: Exchange backup and recovery

    This was first published in August 2005

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