NTBACKUP caveat for Exchange and system state backups

Find out why you shouldn't back up the system state and Exchange information store in the same backup set when using NTBACKUP.

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The Windows backup utility, NTBACKUP, is "Exchange-aware." In other words, it can perform backups of Exchange stores without interfering with normal Exchange operations. Many commercial backup programs are also Exchange-aware, but NTBACKUP is a freebie that comes bundled with Windows and is relatively easy to use.

NTBACKUP can also back up the system state, a collection of key system files that includes the registry, the COM+ Class Registration database, boot files, the Certificate Services database, the Active Directory database, and many other items crucial to system functionality.

If you use NTBACKUP, you should be aware that you cannot back up the system state and Exchange information store in the same backup set. They must be backed up separately.

NTBACKUP uses the Volume Shadow Copy Service (VSS) to back up protected system files, including the files that make up the system state. However, NTBACKUP doesn't use VSS to back up Exchange files. -- it uses Exchange Server's own backup APIs.

The problem is that whenever VSS is activated for other copying operations, it locks the Exchange Server information store, and Exchange's own backup API cannot bind to the store. So if you try to back up both the system state and the Exchange information store in the same backup set, the backup will partially fail.

The easiest solution is just to back them up separately. In fact, this is probably the best solution, since it means the system state can be stored as a separate file, without the added baggage of the Exchange information store to go with it.

It's a little like storing a spare tire for your car in your attic. Why not just put it where it really belongs?

About the author: Serdar Yegulalp is editor of the Windows Power Users Newsletter.


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This caveat only exists if you have Exchange mailbox databases installed on the same drive as the Windows operating system installation. I know Exchange sets up the mailbox databases this way by default. However, if the mailbox databases are set up on a separate partition, then NTBACKUP can back up the Exchange information store and system state backups in one job.

I feel that it really depends on the customer's situation and needs as to how the backup should be done (separate backups or one huge monolithic backup).
—Brian A.


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Related information from SearchExchange.com:

  • Tip: Sample batch file script to run NTBACKUP on Exchange
  • Crash Course: Backing up Exchange Server with VSS
  • Reference Center: Exchange backup and recovery tips and resources

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  • This was first published in November 2005

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