I am curious of what to do as far as backing up my Zimbra ZCS server I am testing for my company. I am running the open source edition so I am not able to do a hot backup of Zimbra, I would have to stop Zimbra.

The question I pose is simple, Zimbra is running on a VMware ESXi VM and we have the VCB and vStorage licenses, So I am able to backup VMs without the free version hackery.

Instead of worrying about backing up Zimbra on its own would backing up the VM say every other night be sufficient?

We don't have to adhere to any regulations of anything about mail archiving and if we lose a day of mail it would not be the end of the world.


I'm also running the open source version and I would normally shutdown zimbra service (as well as mysql and LDAP) and then backup my entire /opt/zimbra directory tree. Then restart services. I tested recovery on several occasions and it worked reasonably well, but my installation is relatively small. This was before we virtualized the server with VMware. Now, I'm simply taking snapshot every 4 hours and making backup of it, then I delete the snapshot. This also works well but it requires backup software that employs data de-duplication - otherwise this approach may be inefficient.

  • Interesting, I have heard of this before. The need for DeDup seems to be high in VM backups and I can understand why. We are kind of a small company and if our email was down for a few hours or so and I could restore it from yesterdays backup we would be fine, I don't know if we need snapshots every 4 hours. Still you have a good idea, I will have to try both ideas. Backing up the Zimbra dir and backing up the Zimbra VM. See what one is better for my needs. – ianc1215 Jul 6 '11 at 18:27

Short answer: Try it. It's a VM, so it is lower cost than if you had to dedicate a server. Take an image / snapshot, wait a day, and restore it to another server in a sufficiently isolated network. See if it comes up and see if you can read your email, send new emails, etc.

Long answer is more of a question:

Sufficient for what? What are your needs? You mention 'it would not be the end of the world.' I can't think of a single backup that, if not taken, would mean the end of the world. Figure out how much it would cost you and your business. Figure out how much it would cost to go with each of the various options:

  • Daily snapshots
  • More frequent snapshots
  • ZCS Network Edition
  • Cobbled together backup
  • Something else?

It could be that email just isn't important to your business. That's good. I might ask why you're running your own email server though.

  • To be honest I am not sure why we are running our own email server. When I had go here we had an MS EXCH 2k3 server running and has been ever since. Outsourcing has always been an option in my head. – ianc1215 Jul 6 '11 at 18:25

What I do is perform a pair of hot rsyncs from the running Zimbra instance to a second directory. Immediately following the second hot rsync I stop all Zimbra services and perform a cold rsync. Immediately after the cold rsync is completed I start the services back up. From here I can take a backup of the target directory of the rsyncs instead of the working directory of Zimbra. Because little has changed between the second hot rsync and the cold rsync there should be much data to transfer so the operation completes quite fast. Our deployment isn't all that big but from service stop to service start is less than 5 minutes.

  1. Hot rsync running Zimbra directory to temporary directory
  2. Hot rsync running Zimbra directory again to temporary directory
  3. Stop Zimbra services
  4. Cold rsync stopped Zimbra directory to temporary directory
  5. Start Zimbra services
  6. Backup temporary directory instead of running directory

An alternative to this would be to forego all of the rsyncs and instead stop services, generate an LVM snapshot of the relevant volume, and start services. From here the LVM snapshot could be mounted and backed up.

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