Rescuing the Exchange Server on SBS

One of the many questions facing one reader with a misbehaving Microsoft Exchange Server 5.0 on his customer’s Small Business Server (SBS) 4.0 system is whether to be a generalist or a specialist. If you’re a system administrator in a Fortune 1000 IT department, you might have the luxury of specializing. Perhaps your forte is messaging, back-end database design, or security. However, system administrators and consultants in smaller companies often need to be generalists. Suites like Microsoft BackOffice Server and SBS hammer this message home. By offering wizards and integration across products, these suites offer people with general NT Server network OS expertise, and perhaps knowledge of one or more applications such as Proxy Server or Internet Information Server (IIS), a sense of confidence in deploying and supporting less familiar applications. This type of consistency across server suite components is similar to Microsoft’s Office family. How many of you know a power user of an application such as Excel who quickly made the leap to Word, PowerPoint, and Access because she felt comfortable with the wizards, common buttons and menus, and integration? A certain danger exists with all that confidence building. Richard Banister, a consultant with UK-based Baniftec Ltd. knows this well. Banister sent me an email 2 weeks ago with the subject line “SBS horror stories with Exchange failure.” The email discusses a recent hard disk failure on a customer's SBS box. The customer runs Exchange Server 5.0 on SBS 4.0a, and for backup uses Seagate Backup Exec 7 with the Agent for Exchange Server. Backup Exec 7 reported a successful restore of Exchange Server and the ISINTEG command line utility found no problems with the restored Exchange data. However, Banister was puzzled because the Internet Mail Service and Information Store (IS) would not start. Seagate technical support told Banister to disable all Backup Exec services and then use NTBackup to restore the Directory and IS. From Seagate technical support’s recommendation, Banister was able to restore the Directory and IS. However, the Internet Mail Service still would not start until he removed and added it back. Much like any IT professional who is passionate about his work, Banister had convinced his small business customer to migrate all of its contacts, calendar, and email to Exchange Server. However, now with all major services back online, he discovered some missing and corrupted data. Banister originally asked if I knew a way to perform a more granular restore of Exchange Server mailboxes--similar to how one might export a corrupted table from a relational database to ASCII, clean up the data, and then reimport the table. As with many consultants who work with small businesses, I don’t consider myself an Exchange Server maven. So I decided to present Banister’s dilemma to a few Exchange experts at Microsoft. The Exchange Server and SBS system engineers in Microsoft Product Support Services (PSS) wanted to know what specific error messages were surfacing. If the problem was a “generic –550 error,” the Exchange representative would’ve advised running ISINTEG. However, if the problem was a JET-based error, EDBUTIL would’ve been next on the troubleshooting list. The Exchange Support and SBS PSS representatives added a few disclaimers or pieces of advice that relate to both Exchange Server 5.0 under SBS 4.0 and Exchange Server 5.5 under SBS 4.5. - “Exchange Server was designed to be recoverable not repairable.” - “A brick backup solution, one that lets you restore data one mailbox at a time as opposed to the entire IS, has been requested for each version of Exchange Server since 4.0, but there has never been one from any vendor.” One of the SBS program managers, and a former Exchange developer, also reviewed Banister’s call for help. He too was not aware of any tool that would perform what Banister was looking for and felt that the Exchange Server’s database structure, given the single instance storage model, would preclude the existence of such a utility. He did recommend reviewing Chapter 12, Disaster Recovery, in the Exchange Server 5.5 Resource Kit. If you have any advice for Richard Banister, who was kind enough to let us print his war story, or have any SBS battle scars of your own, send them to [email protected]

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