A Case for Exchange Personal Archives

With the expanded role of email in business communication, there is a need for organizations to preserve emails for compliance and security reasons.  Email has become the lifeblood of companies, the primary means by which employees communicate with clients, coworkers and vendors.  Since electronic messages contain business related data or content, emails often maintain importance that extends months or years into the future.  Additionally, many times an Email administrator will be faced with the task of gathering and producing messages for legal cases.  For these reasons, message Archiving is a vital process.

Lets examine some of the evidence for considering Exchange Archives over other solutions.

Exhibit A:  The Archive is a secondary mailbox in Outlook

The Archive mailbox is a secondary mailbox that appears in Outlook beneath a user’s Primary mailbox.  Archive Retention policies on the Exchange server are configured to move messages from the Primary mailbox into the Archive once the messages reach a certain age.  For the end-user, this is a seamless process.  Additionally, the archived messages are stored in the same folder hierarchy in which they resided in the Primary mailbox.  For users, it’s a benefit to have a consistent view between the two mailboxes.  However, there isn’t a process in place to synchronize the Primary and Archive mailbox folder structures.  If a folder is deleted or moved in the Primary mailbox, the same actions are not applied to the corresponding folder in the Archive mailbox.  This can lead to some divergence between the two folder structures.

Exhibit B:  No third-party utility needed for management

This article will not explain the steps involved in creating Retention polices and Archive mailboxes.  But will only highlight the advantages they provide towards managing them.  For Exchange administrators, Archive mailboxes are managed using the Exchange Management shell or console.  The Archive mailbox can be created via the shell or console.  As with Primary mailboxes, limits can be placed on Archive mailboxes or the databases that contain them.  If limits are placed on both, the mailbox settings will override limits that are configured at the database level.  Also, the Retention policies that determine when and what items are Archived are setup in the console.

Exhibit C:  Can leverage native Exchange HA solutions

The databases that hold Archive mailboxes are not different from the databases that contain Primary mailboxes.  As a matter of fact, both types of mailboxes can reside on the same database.  For this reason, Archive mailboxes are able to be included in a DAG and replicated.  Some organizations may require Archives to be available in database *over scenarios.

Exhibit D:  No Stubbed messages

Due to the fact that messages are not transferred to a separate database with Exchange Archives, there are no linked messages that point to the actual email.  This is particularly important for compliance reasons.  Most organizations have compliance standards that mandate emails are retained and produced for legal cases.  When messages get archived with 3rd Party solutions, important meta data gets removed.  This can render the message incomplete and not reflective of its original state when collected for discovery procedures.

Conclusion

Upon looking at the evidence, it can be stated that Exchange Personal archives in most cases is a better choice:  seamless integration, access to native high availability, no linked messages, Of course, all situations aren’t equal and in some cases a 3rd party solution could be more viable.  Each organization will have to evaluate its particular needs and challenges, and make a decision accordingly in regards to an archiving solution.

 

 

 

 

 

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Exchange 2010 DAG Unavailable

I had a situation where my test environment DAG was offline and not detected.  I’m not sure what caused this issue, however the mailbox databases were dismounted and the Content Indexes were in a failed state.  This environment has two sites with a single DAG expanding across the sites.  One site is active with a single Mailbox server and one CAS/HUB multi-role server.  The passive site has the same configuration.

The following was returned when I executed a Get-MailboxDatabaseCopyStatus |FL:

copy status

Attempting to mount the databases doesn’t work.  I attempt to start the DAG and get the following error:

start DAG

The errors associated with the Cluster API in the above figure show that the Cluster service is not in a healthy state.  Furthermore, I was not able to determine which data center was the cluster owner as seen below:

cluster owner

After checking the cluster service in Services, I see that it’s not only disabled but greyed out as well.  Therefore, I’m unable to start it.  Next, I proceed to the Failover Cluster Manager snap-in and notice that none of the DAG nodes are listed.  This article by Tim McMichael was helpful in resolving this issue by providing the following steps in restoring the cluster.

Since this server is running on Windows 2008 R2, I run this command:  Import-Module FailoverClusters

Next, I cleanup the cluster by running:  Clear-ClusterNode -Force -Verbose -Confirm:$FALSE

Now I have to reset the DAG Cluster Name Object (CNO) in Active Directory.  Once the object is located, you simply right click on the CNO and select reset.  After this is complete the CNO has to be disabled.  If it’s still enabled, you will not be able to recreate the Cluster using the existing name as Failover Cluster Manager will think it’s being used.

Finally, I’m able to recreate the Cluster in Failover Cluster Manager, I was able to restore the DAG and bring the mailbox databases back online.

In this blog, I covered the steps I used to recover from a scenario where the DAG in my Exchange 2010 test environment was offline.

 

 

 

 

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Where is My Archive Mailbox Folder?

Microsoft introduced the Personal Archives with Exchange 2010.  In earlier releases of the product, messages were archived using 3rd party utilities.  In addition to eliminating the need for external archiving solutions, this new feature removed the necessity of PST files.  Also, since the Exchange Archive is a mailbox, it’s capable of leveraging built-in replication and high availability features within Exchange.

I won’t go into the details of how messages are processed and archived; there are plenty of articles on this process such as this Microsoft Technet article.  The purpose of this post is to discuss a consideration that must be made when renaming or moving folders in your Primary mailbox, and how that impacts the Personal Archive mailbox.

The Exchange Personal Archive will move emails that are older than X amount of days to the Archive mailbox.  The Retention Policy and its associated Retention tags that are configured and applied to the mailbox will determine when this move occurs.  When messages get moved to the Archive mailbox, a folder with the same name and path as found in the Primary mailbox will be created.  If there are no eligible messages to be archived, then nothing occurs.

However, there are times when folders will get renamed or moved around in the Primary mailbox.  When this occurs with a Primary mailbox folder, the corresponding Archive folder will not get renamed or moved.  Let’s consider the following example where you have a folder in your Primary mailbox called “Client A”, as seen below.

pic

If you rename the “Client A” folder in your Primary mailbox to “Client 1”, the result will be two different folders in your Archive mailbox when items in the renamed folder get archived.

client 1                 client a

Let’s consider another scenario where you move the “Client 1” folder that is located in the Primary mailbox “Current Cases” folder to the “Retired Cases” folder.  The result will be multiple folders in different paths in the Archive mailbox as seen below:

client 3                 client 4

If a user has dozens or more subfolders under his or her Primary mailbox, these routine activities of renaming and moving folders can possibly lead to confusion or the belief that folders are missing.  Although it’s not practical to never rename or move a folder, this has to be kept into consideration when performing such tasks.

 

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