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(Yes, I know Exchange 2007 does replication but migrating is pretty expensive.)

I'm looking to set up a backup Exchange 2003 server in my VM farm to help increase recoverability. Our email needs are modest ("normal business hours") so back when Exchange was setup a few years back it was placed on a beefy (way overkill) Dell with 4-hour response time to parts and left alone. We're doing nightly backups but that still would leave a big gap should the exchange box fail at 5PM.

To that end, I'd like to set up a VM for Exchange 2003/Windows Server 2003 R2. I have the appropriate licenses but am not sure if I can reasonably set this up.

I don't expect my users to actually connect to this VM to send/receive email (unless it's easy to do) but I would like it to, in near realtime as possible, be a mirror of the Exchange data store. That way, if the primary box fails or the data store gets corrupted we have the ability to at least ensure that emails sent/received from the point of the last full backup are as up to date as possible once the primary is restored. A nice side benefit would be able to use it to send/receive emails but if not, no big deal.

As an analogy, in SQL Server I have a DB mirror set up w/HA. Should primary fail, I have an up-to-the-second copy of the data. Prior to SQL Server 2005, I'd have done this via log shipping or some other form of replication. I want to set this up with Exchange 2003 as well. If I can't do that, some sort of near term transaction logging (aka dump tran) would be fine, too.

I'd like to keep costs to as near 0 as possible. As costs start to go up, 2007 licensing becomes more reasonable (and then we'd just use 2007 rep) or spring for hosted Exchange with someone else. Thanks!!!

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3 Answers 3

up vote 3 down vote accepted

An observation: You're going to get what you pay for. If you do something that's a cheap hack then you're going to get a cheap hack.

The Microsoft "story" for what you want is Windows Clustering. That implies shared storage, and increased expense.

If you're interested in keeping mail flowing into the organization in the even of an outage of the existing Exchange Server computer, consider an edge SMTP server that can queue mail. It doesn't have to be Exchange, though it could be.

It's unclear to me what else you're looking for. If you don't want users to "connect to it", then you're just talking about queuing inbound mail in the event of failure of the existing Exchange Server computer. Presumably your disks on the existing Exchange Server computer are configured with a separate fault-tolerant spindles for the transaction logs(RAID-1 or RAID-10) and the database (RAID-5 or RAID-10). As long as both spindles aren't destroyed by the fault you will have point-in-time recovery up to the occurance of the fault in that configuration. (If your disks aren't configured that way then they should be.)

I can envision some kind of scenario (with, frankly, a very low return relative to the amount of work you'd put in) whereby you keep a VM sitting around ready to have Exchange 2003 (and whatever current patches are installed on the existing Exchange Server computer) installed. In the event the existing Exchange Server computer "fails", you'd bring up the "standby" server with the same name as the failed server, perform a "/disasterrecovery" install of Exchange 2003, then move the database and transaction logs over to the standby machine. (I've done just this operation for a number of migrations of Exchange 2003 from old hardware to new hardware.) When the failed server is "fixed" you migrate back.

Sounds like a lot of work for not a lot of gain, to me, if you've got 4 hour parts availability and a server that can queue inbound mail in the meantime. Still, I suppose it's some midway point between no fault tolerance and an active / passive Windows Cluster solution.

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Amen brother :) I was trying to wordsmith this together in my mind when yours posted. –  GregD Oct 13 '09 at 16:56
    
Couldn't have put it better myself, one thing possibly worth considering instead of having our own edge SMTP server, we went with a backup MX service from our ISP so they can queue the mail in the event we lose the Exchange server, or our WAN connection. –  Mike1980 Oct 13 '09 at 17:23
    
I don't care about inbound emails while the server is down (SMTP will handle that). What I care about are emails sent/received AFTER my full backup has run. I want, essentially, an up-to-the-minute off-server copy of existing emails (like I would continually dump trans logs for SQL Server to a storage array) so when I need to recover my system no existing emails have been lost. –  Matt Rogish Oct 13 '09 at 17:55
    
@Matt Rogish Then it sounds to me like you need to rethink your backup plan. Nightly backups may not be enough for you. What product are you currently using for backups? –  GregD Oct 13 '09 at 18:17
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@Matt: E2K3 doesn't have log shipping. As I said in my answer, if your database and transaction logs are on separate spindles you can lose one and still have point-in-time restore. If you want to get the transaction logs off of the box in a format that can still be restored then you need to do more frequent backups of the logs. Perhaps you should run more frequent incremental backups targeted at disk on some other server computer, etc. –  Evan Anderson Oct 13 '09 at 18:41

Doubletake will do this for you -- but it isn't cheap. There is no "native" way to have a secondary fully available failover machine with Exchange standard edition.

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If you are looking to queue mail in case of outage, why not use a 3rd party like Postini? Its relatively cheap, and will do what you need with only the need to make some external DNS changes. Although, this won't help if there is a ton if internal mail flying around as well.

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What I gather from additional comments by the OP is that he's worried about mail that's been delivered after he's taken his nightly backup, not mail that's queued in case his server dies. –  GregD Oct 13 '09 at 18:24

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