EDITOR'S NOTE
Some vendors you might expect to see in this Buyer's Guide said they didn't have a product that exactly matched the criteria or didn't respond to our requests for information about their products.

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You can't travel backward in time but if you're a Microsoft Exchange Server administrator, you want something that's almost equivalent: to be able to quickly restore your Exchange environment after a failure or data loss. You can use several methods to recover this data, depending on the tools you use and what your recovery objectives are.

This Buyer's Guide focuses on the abilities to recover damaged or lost databases from earlier copies and to recover selected items from within damaged databases. The mechanics of doing so vary widely between products, but most products generally can be grouped into four broad categories according to how they let you recover lost or damaged data.

Conventional Recovery Solutions
Conventional Exchange recovery solutions target backup and restore functions. These products, such as UltraBac Software's UltraBac Exchange Bundle and VERITAS Software's VERITAS NetBackup Server, can perform either offline or online backups of Exchange databases, letting you recover a backup and produce a database file that you can mount to the original server (or, in the case of Exchange Server 2003, to a recovery storage group). These products also allow backup and restore of individual messages (known as brick-level backup), although such backups take much more time and space to create than database backups do. When evaluating these products, consider whether your combination of hardware and software provides the adequate throughput to back up or restore your data in the amount of time you've allotted and how easily the tool restores selected items.

Offline Recovery Solutions
Offline recovery solutions such as Quest Software's Quest Recovery Manager for Exchange can selectively retrieve items from a backup software-produced database file without mounting the database, which lets you access any backup in your archive and retrieve only the items you need. These products are best used in conjunction with conventional backup solutions because they work only on existing backups of your databases. They let you quickly grab selected items without restoring and mounting an entire database; accordingly, their search, selection, and filtering capabilities are important.

Replication Recovery Solutions
Replication recovery solutions are designed to speed recovery by creating a complete copy of your Exchange data on a remote server. Products in this category, including Sonasoft's SonaSafe for Exchange Server and CommVault Systems' CommVault QiNetix, copy data from a source server to one or more target servers across a LAN or WAN. If the original server fails, you can either move the data back to the original server or restore operations by forcing clients to move to the target server. These products can speed recovery significantly, but they tend to be complex to install and manage and Microsoft typically doesn't support their use with Exchange. If you're considering a product in this class, talk to other users of the product and find out whether they've had good experiences with both day-to-day operation and emergency recoveries.

Corruption Recovery Tools
Corruption recovery tools such as Recoveronix's ExchangeServerRecovery attempt to analyze data in an Exchange database file and fix the problems they find or recover data from the database file. These tools might be helpful as a last-ditch method of recovering data from a database that wasn't backed up. They probably shouldn't be your first line of defense, however.

Choosing the Appropriate Tool
How do you choose the best tool for your environment? If your business operations dictate a particular recovery time window, you obviously need to look for products that let you restore your data and resume typical operations in that amount of time. If your primary concern is to recover items from past backups or if you're worried about being able to pull data from a corrupt backup, your selection will be different than if your primary concern is safeguarding your data by replicating it to a remote site. In general, you'd probably benefit from having access to one of the offline recovery tools because they're often the fastest way to go back in time and retrieve data from an old backup. And that's probably the closest you'll ever get to time travel.