This is the second of two blog posts exploring the helpful setup tools Axcient includes in its easy-to-use backup, business continuity, and disaster recovery service. My last post focused on helpers for avoiding and troubleshooting onsite and offsite connectivity problems. Now we draw our attention to helpers that assist with configuring Microsoft applications for data protection.

Traditionally, IT professionals have hit snags in getting onsite backup solutions working for Microsoft systems, especially in two main areas:

  • Utilizing the Microsoft Volume Shadow Service (VSS) to facilitate image or file backups
  • Configuring Exchange for granular mailbox backups

So, what makes these two situations complicated and what can be done about them?

VSS for Image and File Backups

VSS is the native Windows mechanism for capturing a snapshot of a file system image. A VSS snapshot is necessary for backing up data in a consistent state. This is ensured by invocation of application-specific VSS writers and the capture of all files regardless of their open/close state. This is especially important when protecting an Exchange or SQL database server.

There are several pitfalls associated with VSS. First of all, if your Windows system is hosting Exchange, SQL Server, SharePoint, or Active Directory, their respective VSS writers must be properly configured. Then, sufficient headroom must be allocated on the Windows system to accommodate the VSS snapshots.

Improper configuration of VSS can result in failed or faulty backups.

Another potential VSS hazard is that multiple applications utilizing VSS on the same Windows system can collide with one another. There are no provisions for one application to protect its snapshot from another bad neighbor deleting it. Since many backup tools use VSS, running multiple tools can cause a backup job to fail if a snapshot is deleted before the job has finished. If you are running another backup tool alongside Axcient, then it’s advisable to schedule the jobs so that they don’t overlap. Or better yet, disable the tool that isn’t Axcient. 😉

The VSS configuration helper on the Axcient appliance can ensure that VSS is enabled and configured correctly on each Windows system to be backed up.

The helper is a script under the heading VSS Configuration, which can be downloaded from System->Tools in the Axcient Unified Management Console (UMC). Running the script will walk you through a number of setup and validation steps, including enabling VSS-related services, starting VSS writers, identifying other VSS requestors for possible conflicts, reporting on potential configuration issues, and verifying that a snapshot can be created. If the script completes successfully, then you’re good to go.

Exchange for Granular Mailbox Backups

For granular mailbox backups, the Axcient appliance is a Messaging Application Programming Interface (MAPI) client that requires access to the Exchange servers being protected. Configuring each Exchange server without Axcient would mean logging into the server and performing a number of manual steps. These steps differ depending on the version of Exchange – 2010, 2007, or 2003.

To speed up the process of configuring Exchange for mailbox backups and avoid having to perform error-prone manual steps, the Axcient appliance provides a configuration helper for each version of Exchange.

The helper is a script that can be downloaded from System->Tools in the Axcient Unified Management Console (UMC) and run on the Exchange server to be configured for agentless protection.

The script steps through preparation of the Exchange server for granular mailbox backups. These steps include creation of an organization unit in Active Directory, creation of a user in Active Directory for Axcient mailbox backups, enabling an Exchange mailbox for the newly created user, and granting necessary permissions for the user. Once the script completes, you can configure mailbox jobs from the appliance and start protecting Exchange e-mails, contacts, calendars, and more.

One quick tip before leaving this topic: If your Exchange server has more than 1,000 mailboxes, make sure the MaxPageSize limit is not set to the default value of 1,000. Details on how to do this are provided in the “Exchange Configuration” section of the Axcient product documentation and online help.

I hope this article has provided you with insight into how the built-in Axcient “helpers” can streamline the setup process and resolve a couple key pain points involved in protecting Windows systems.

tscallan