Developing Exchange Server Recovery Objectives

Developing Exchange Server Recovery Objectives

March 25

In order to control and manage office communications you’ve probably got a Microsoft Exchange server as your electronic mail room. It’s crucial to have Exchange server backup capabilities and to know how long it will take you to get back up and running following disruption.

This article is designed to look at how long Exchange Server recovery can take based on different scenarios. You can use the information you’ll gain from this article to estimate feasible recovery time objectives (RTO).

There’s an awful lot to consider when thinking about your RTO, and it’s important to realize that an RTO doesn’t refer to how quickly you can recover, but how quickly you absolutely need to recover based on your company’s level of tolerance to downtime. When it comes to Exchange server failure and recovery, you’ve ultimately got to determine how long you can be without email communications before your company starts losing more money than it can afford. With that in mind, you need to look at how quickly you can recovery so that you know whether or not your abilities meet your needs.

Also important is to understand up front that it’s difficult to say precisely what a good RTO is for your Exchange server. Different businesses have different systems and larger businesses may have multiple exchange servers running simultaneously. Plus, there are dozens of different things that can go wrong when it comes to computer systems. You’ll have to think about your unique requirements and resources to determine your RTO.

The biggest question is are you taking backups? If the answer is no, let’s look at what can happen.

What if you don’t take backups?

For illustrative purposes, let’s say you’ve got one Exchange server that crashed completely and you didn’t back it up.

First of all, this is an awful thing to happen. Say goodbye to contacts, settings, and vital information communicated over weeks or months or years of time. Having a good cry about the disaster will take about an hour, so do that first, and then continue to resetting your Exchange server.

After researching tech forums and talking with experts like our technical marketing manager, Steve Snyder, I found that the general consensus is that in order to set up one Exchange server with 40 mailboxes from scratch, you’d need to plan on half an hour to an hour to load Windows and set up Outlook and about three minutes (about two hours for 40 boxes) to set up each individual account (if you’re a pro).

Just getting off the ground can take three to six hours (assuming nothing goes wrong, something usually does) but getting everything set up properly (group policies, signatures, firewall and spam settings) can take days—especially if you’ve got multiple domains, servers, and lots of mailboxes. This is a worst-case scenario that you can avoid, but should illustrate that without taking backups of your Exchange server, your recovery will take a day or more (depending on how long you cry), even if the job is small. You can do a lot better.

What if you do take backups?

Let’s say you’ve backed up all of your hardware. If you’re using  ShadowProtect Granular Recovery for Exchange, you don’t have to set up an OS or re-load software and re-enter account information or make new group policies or anything—the process is much faster.

Of course, you still have to wait for the data to transfer from wherever your backup images are housed to your new unit or units. This takes time, which you probably can’t afford much of. Under this formulation your RTO would still have to be a number of hours to be a reasonable goal (again, depending on size, it could take from an hour to days to fully recover from failure, even with backups).

The best idea is to keep extra failover equipment around in the event that you need something to failover to. Using the StorageCraft HeadStart Restore technology, available in StorageCraft ImageManager, you can spin up a pre-loaded VM of your failed Exchange server on your extra unit in just few minutes while you work to implement a full physical recovery at the same time. Now we’re talking!

Even if you do have extra equipment for failover, however, it will likely be destroyed along with your building in a large disaster. That’s why StorageCraft Cloud Services provides you with the final option. I’ll note here that StorageCraft promotes local backups and local recovery first, so use of the cloud should be limited to site-destroying events or situations where recovering from local images is impossible.

That said, if you’ve got your systems backed up in the cloud and your physical unit goes down, you can spin them up as a VM in minutes from the cloud, similar to how you would using HSR on a backup server. Your employees will have fully functional email capabilities while you map your backup image onto new hardware then transfer the newly created VM data to the physical machine, kill the VM, and continue business unfettered .

Determining Server Recovery Times

Worth noting is that although the focus of this article is on the special needs of Exchange servers, this article is useful for most other types of servers as well.

Your RTO can’t change based on the size of disaster because regardless of what happens, there’s only a certain amount of downtime your business can stand. But you may still find it useful to determine different RTOs for different pieces of equipment based on how critical each one is to the operation. If you do experience failure, it will more likely be one server rather than a few at once, so you’ve got to know how long you can afford to be without each piece of equipment, and you’ve got to decide which pieces of equipment you need to recover first if there’s a site-destroying event.

Now, you’ve got your backups, but there’s more. You’ll have to think about exactly what you’re planning for. Do you expect to experience full failure? Failure of a few Exchange mailboxes? Complete site destruction? Is one of your two servers down? We recommend you try to plan for as many scenarios as you can. You don’t want to get caught with your pants down, so try and expect the unexpected.

You might have more than one server, Exchange or otherwise, so ask yourself: how many servers are running? About how much data do you have collectively? How fast can you feasibly transfer data? Do you have extra hardware to fail-over to? You need to know about how much data you’ve got and where that data will need to be recovered to once you’ve backed it all up—you’ll struggle if you’ve got failover equipment without enough storage space to handle the data.

When planning for full site destruction, you’ll also need to know where you’ll recover. The alley next to Burger King might have an outlet and Wi-Fi, but it’s probably nowhere you can really do business. You need a secondary site, but will you need a hot site? A cold site? Warm? Our guide should help you decide what you need with respect to “where.”

The bigger the disaster, the more data you have, and the larger your network, the more time it’s going to take. Be realistic when determining your RTO, plan for a few hiccups and allocate more space on fail-over equipment than you think you need, just in case. There are really a lot of factors that affect how quickly you can recover but if you’re vigilant about planning, you’ll be ready for most of them.



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