I like Windows Server 2008 a lot. It's a major improvement over Windows Server 2003 in virtually every area. In fact, it's my preferred OS—I have Server 2008 loaded on the ThinkPad that I use as my primary traveling machine, and it works flawlessly. However, there's one area where Server 2008 is seriously deficient, at least when combined with Microsoft Exchange Server 2007: backup.

First, a quick history lesson. Back in the dawn of Exchange Server, the only way to back up an Exchange database was to use the streaming APIs that Microsoft provided. With these APIs, you could back up an Exchange database without dismounting it, meanwhile ensuring that all arriving transactions were properly preserved and that the transaction logs were truncated when they should be.

For Exchange 2000, Microsoft updated the APIs to allow backup and restore operations on multiple databases, and there were a few minor tweaks again in Exchange 2003. However, the big change in Exchange 2003 was the introduction of support for the Microsoft Volume Shadow Copy Service. VSS provides a fully supported way for a backup tool to make a point-in-time copy of an active Exchange Server database without having to dismount it first. Backup and storage vendors seized on the VSS APIs and have integrated them into their products.

Exchange 2007 still supports the streaming APIs on Windows Server 2003, although they are deprecated. However, you can't back up Exchange 2007 on Windows Server 2008! That's because Server 2008 doesn't include the familiar NTBackup utility. Instead, it has the all-new Windows Server Backup utility. Windows Server Backup adds a number of useful features—including full support for VSS—but it takes away one major feature: support for the Exchange streaming APIs. You can dismount databases and take a VSS backup, but that's not a very Exchange-friendly method.

In March 2008, the Exchange team posted a blog addressing this situation and presenting two options:

  • Buy a VSS-based backup application, such as Microsoft's own System Center Data Protection Manager 2007 or Symantec's Backup Exec.
  • Make local streaming backups on the Exchange server by using a third-party backup product; this requires you to install the third-party agent on the Exchange 2007 server and back it up remotely.

Note that both of these options involve spending money, which made them wildly unpopular with customers. NTBackup has long been a part of our toolkit for backing up and restoring Exchange. In addition, it's very comforting to know that there's a Microsoft-supported, always-available last-ditch tool to use when you really, really need to be sure that you have a good backup. After absorbing some pretty pointed feedback, the blog post was updated to say that the Exchange team was investigating providing full support in Exchange 2007 for Windows Server Backup.

To make things worse, Microsoft has had very little to say since that initial announcement. A June blog post said that Microsoft was working on Windows Server Backup support but had no date to announce for its availability. More than six months later, there still hasn't been any public statement of a release date, which is leading people to the reasonable conclusion that this isn't a priority to Microsoft. The announcements surrounding Exchange 14 worsen this perception.

A comment by Phil Carter on the June Exchange team blog post says that you can copy ntbackup.exe, ntmsapi.dll, and vssapi.dll from a Windows 2003 server, put them in a folder on your Server 2008 server, and run NTBackup on your Exchange databases. I haven't tried this, and of course this method is completely unsupported, but it might be an option for those who insist on having access to NTBackup functionality.

In the meantime, I remain hopeful that Microsoft will release Windows Backup support for Exchange Server 2007 in the near future. I know that some influential folks at Microsoft read this column, so if the lack of built-in backup support is a problem for you, leave a comment on this article so they can see it—the Exchange team has proven very willing to listen to feedback, and this is clearly something that's bothering a lot of administrators.