Shadowing the mail server
NearPoint for Exchange eases the pain of archiving and retrieving e-mail
- By Greg Crowe
- Jan 18, 2006
Since its inception, Microsoft's Exchange Server has been the most widely used mail and messaging program on Windows-based networks. But every Exchange administrator would agree that one of the biggest inconveniences is dealing with backup and restore processes. Both normally require unmounting an Exchange e-mail store, which makes it totally inaccessible to users while you work. Although you might be able to perform backups during the night, emergency restorations are rarely so convenient.
Mimosa Systems Inc. has come up with a solution to this thorn in the side of many network administrators. NearPoint for Microsoft Exchange Server makes archiving and retrieving Exchange information interruption-free.
You can install NearPoint on any Windows 2003 server. Recommended system requirements increase with the number of mailboxes, but Mimosa recommends a Pentium 4 processor with at least 2GB of memory. While you can probably get away with installing it on a server that performs other functions, such as file or print sharing, it is not advisable to put it on your actual Exchange server. The disk space you need will depend on how long you plan on keeping e-mails in the system, but should fall between two and five times the size of your Exchange databases.
NearPoint also requires Microsoft SQL Server 2000, which may be installed on the NearPoint server, but also works if installed elsewhere. In short, actually implementing NearPoint is no cakewalk. A fair understanding of Exchange is necessary, but for the tech-savvy network administrator, the rewards are worth any setup hassles.The shadowing process
We ran NearPoint on the GCN Lab network for two months. In our testing, NearPoint kept an exact copy of our Exchange stores, as well as archived and deleted e-mail, without bogging down the Exchange server with any resident programs. This is crucial because Exchange is designed to demand all of a server's available resources.
How it does this is a process called shadowing. When you first bind the Exchange server to NearPoint, all of the Exchange databases are copied over. From that point on, however, only the transaction logs are retrieved, and only when Exchange is done with them. NearPoint then makes changes to its copy of the Exchange databases according to what it reads from the logs. By doing this regularly, NearPoint is able to keep an exact copy in almost real-time.
In this way, the NearPoint server is like a mirror of the Exchange server, although it does not exactly duplicate every change. For example, if an e-mail is deleted on the Exchange server, the NearPoint server records that the e-mail has been deleted, but would not actually erase the file.
Once NearPoint is installed, you may browse or search through e-mail that you've archived or deleted. You do this by clicking on the Mimosa Archive folder that now appears in your mailbox. This way your users can find any e-mail they've archived or deleted within a time period you specify. This will considerably minimize user requests concerning e-mail. During testing, we could restore any of the deleted e-mails at any time through the user interface in Outlook. This was possible without shutting down the Exchange server or disrupting e-mail operations in any way.
The administrative console is as easy to use as any Windows console plug-in. You can set how long NearPoint will keep e-mail and how often it will shadow the Exchange server, which can be made more efficient if you know what times your Exchange server generates its log files. Restoring deleted mailboxes takes two clicks. While this process can slow down the Exchange server for a time, it remains up and accessible during restoration. The console also lets you set exactly what a user is allowed to do to the archive, and to establish auditor roles among your users. Auditors can help people restore e-mails without going all the way to the administrator.
Considering all that NearPoint does, a starting price of $9,995 for the first 100 mailboxes is reasonable. Of course, this doesn't include the cost of a server, which may be necessary depending on the number of users and your existing network configuration. If you need a copy of SQL Server and another server to run it on, then the total cost can balloon considerably.
But even at the high costs, preventing e-mail downtime will result in real savings and eliminate Exchange headaches. And avoiding even one disaster that turns off your e-mail would help NearPoint pay for itself very quickly.
Greg Crowe is a former GCN staff writer who covered mobile technology.