Product Reviews

All Is Not Lost

Mimosa NearPoint provides e-mail recovery in a matter of minutes—not hours.

Recovering lost e-mail is a task every Exchange administrator must face at some point. The challenges range from small (recovering a single deleted user message) to critically large (restoring an entire mailbox store). From accidental user deletions to corrupted Exchange databases, there's no lack of scenarios that call for restoring Exchange data from tape or other archived media.

Before we look at how Mimosa's NearPoint handles Exchange recoveries, let's review the traditional methods of backing up Exchange. These coincide with the two methods of mail recovery—message level and store level.

Message level backups (also called brick-level backups) make a MAPI call to the Exchange server. This lets the backup software open every mailbox and individually backup each e-mail message as a file, so single-message recovery is easy. Alas, this approach extends the time needed to perform the backup process. Some organizations literally can't perform brick level backups because they can't finish them within their established backup window.

Store-level backups speed the process by saving each mailbox store as a unit within a single file. The problem is that you have to restore the entire file, even if you're only recovering a single message.

Exchange 2003 addresses these limitations with the Recovery Storage Groups feature, which lets you restore your mailbox to an alternate database and then copy over the messages you need. However, it can still take quite a while to restore an entire database.

Mimosa's NearPoint improves on Exchange's recovery methods by providing immediate mailbox data recovery without resorting to a traditional restore. NearPoint manages every aspect of Exchange mailboxes, including messages, contacts, calendar items and tasks. It also provides built-in search features to make it easier to find needed items.

Best of all, users can restore messages themselves. There are no special clients to install—management takes place through Outlook or Outlook Web Access (OWA) using NearPoint organizational forms.

To prevent possible data loss, NearPoint keeps a full online copy of the Exchange database. It frequently updates it, which lets you immediately recover all mail sent and received within a few minutes of the last saved copy of the file as it exists on your production Exchange server.

NearPoint does this by writing the data from the Exchange transaction log files to its database. So you can't use circular logging on the Exchange Storage Group or NearPoint will fail. NearPoint can use either local or network storage, however Mimosa recommends using local SATA drives configured in a RAID array to attain optimal performance.

Figure 1. Browsing the mail archive, you can access message details and thumbnail views.
Figure 1. Mimosa NearPoint lets you browse through your mail archive, giving you message details and a thumbnail view. (Click image to view larger version.)

That's Not All
At first glance, Mimosa's NearPoint seems like just another Exchange backup utility. The product packs a few surprises, though, including e-mail discovery and mailbox storage optimization features.

REDMOND RATING
Documentation 15%
9
Installation 10%
6
Feature Set 35%
8
Performance 30%
8
Management 10%
8
Overall Rating:
8

——————————————
Key:
1: Virtually inoperable or nonexistent
5: Average, performs adequately
10: Exceptional

E-mail discovery is the process of searching all messages over a period of time—whether or not they still exist in the Exchange server's database. For example, if your company is involved in a lawsuit, your legal department could tell you to produce all e-mails received from a certain group of users over a set time period.

Without NearPoint, you would have to restore every Exchange backup tape covering that period and merge all of the mail into a single store. Then you would start the laborious process of searching for the target messages. With NearPoint's archiving feature, all mail is retained and searchable until you tell NearPoint to delete it.

Mailbox storage optimization lets you give your users more mailbox space, without having your Exchange databases grow to an unmanageable size. By using larger quotas, you can avoid personal folders, which can become corrupted. Also, personal folders aren't easily accessible as people move between machines and can't use OWA to access them.

Figure 2. NearPoint also lets you search by keyword.
Figure 2. NearPoint also lets you search by keyword. (Click image to view larger version.)

NearPoint will replace older or larger attachments (you set the criteria) with “stub files.” The e-mail looks the same to the user, but when they open the attachment, the stub file retrieves the original attachment from NearPoint. This can save enormous amounts of storage space.

Do Your Homework
I highly recommend reading the installation guide before installing NearPoint. Being a typical IT guy, I immediately jumped right into the installation. Only then did I learn that I needed to download a bunch of prerequisite software before I got started.

What You Need
You'll need the following hardware, software and operating system components to install NearPoint:
  • SQL Server or MSDE
  • Windows 2003 with SP1
  • SQL XML 3.0 SP3
  • Outlook 2003 with SP1
  • Exchange System Manager (Exchange 2000 or 2003)
  • IIS 5.0 or 6.0
  • .Net Framework version 1.1 with SP1
  • ASP.NET

The installation itself wasn't difficult, just a bit tedious as I spent about two and half hours getting everything loaded and configured. The documentation was a big help. It provides a 20-step check list that walks you through installation, with detailed instructions for each step.

I did find a couple of gotchas. NearPoint doesn't support Windows Authentication for SQL—you'll have to use SQL Authentication. If you're installing NearPoint onto the Exchange server itself, you can't have any other third-party backup agents installed that use volume shadow copies. You'll have to remove any such backup agents for NearPoint to work. This means you can no longer use volume shadow copies to backup Exchange. Of course, if you have NearPoint running on a different server, this isn't a problem.

I really like NearPoint and its feature set. I found the Administrative Console easy to learn. If you're used to other Exchange-related software such as virus protection or spam protection, then you'll feel right at home with NearPoint.

The one thing I didn't care for was the onerous installation requirements. There are a lot of prerequisites that need to be in place before you can start the installation.

One final concern would be the price—at almost $10,000 dollars for 100 mailboxes, a lot of smaller companies may struggle to justify the cost. If you can work it into your budget, though, NearPoint works well for Exchange recovery and storage management.

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