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One Easy Way To Recover Mail From A Dead Exchange Server

Exchange Server 2007

So, you may find yourself in a situation where you’re recovering an Exchange 2007 system, but your entire Exchange server is dead, and your backup is not exactly what you wanted. I’ve had the misfortune to see a number of these sorts of scenarios, and the one unifying key is that no one wants data loss. If you want every active user’s data back, here’s one way you can get there.

A Note: This process is based on working with Exchange Server 2007 and Office Outlook 2010 (in cached mode) in a Windows Server 2003 domain. Newer releases of any one of these products may require changes to your approach. Wherever known, I will note those changes.

You might think that adsiedit and powershell would be exclusively needed for this, but it isn’t. You can do most of this from provided graphical tools. Before starting this process you need to build a new server with a different name than the dead server, update it, place it in the domain and install the appropriate version of Exchange. Once you finish that, we can start.

#1. Get the data

Each user’s data is likely stored in the default offline file on each of your users computers. Since your mail server’s database is trashed, you won’t get it from there. If you don’t have a useful backup, there is still hope.

1. Go to the users computer and log in as that user. Open Outlook
2. Depending on the version of Outlook, find the import/export window. In 2010, it will be the rather unfortunately named File -> Open -> Export to Other File
3. Export from the top level (usually only the “Inbox” is selected). Export to a .pst file
Note: Keep this .pst file handy, you’ll need it later. Also copy it to a backup location, it can represent a backup of the user’s server data.
Also Note: Depending on your server, client, data size, and drive speed – this export can take a very long time.

#2. Clear references to the old server

Use this decent guide to forcefully removing the old Exchange Server. After that, I still looked through various parts of adsiedit as well as we as Active Directory Users And Computers. Make sure all the references to your old server are corrected. Take your time with this one and get it right.

#3. Remove the exchange attributes for a user

Note: You’ll need the Active Directory Users And Computers tool that includes the Exchange Server features. This comes with Exchange System Management Tools, ¬†and it won’t be on your Domain Controller by default. Make sure you go and get that installed. ¬†Newer versions of Exchange Server unify this process.
Also Note: You can select multiple users to speed up the process. I would start with one user, and ramp up the process as you become comfortable.

1. Open Active Directory Users And Computers on your Domain Controller
2. Right-Click on the user, and choose “Exchange Tasks…”
3. Click past the welcome screen (if you see it)
4. Highlight “Remove Exchange Attributes”
5. Click “Next” and accept warning

#4. Create a database for that user on your new Exchange Server

1. Open Exchange Management Console on your new Exchange Server
2. Open (or refresh) Recipient Configuration -> Mailbox
Note: The user you removed attributes from above will be absent from this list now
3. Click (on the right side) “New Mailbox…”
4. Follow the prompts to create the mailbox for the user’s attributes you just removed (be sure to choose the database on the new server)
Note: If any of your users are going to import a large amount of data, you’ll want to adjust the default quota in Exchange before starting the next step.

#5. Import the mail into your new Exchange Server

1. Go back to the user’s computer
2. Open Control Panel -> Mail
3. Delete and recreate the current profile
4. Open Outlook again, and ensure your connection to the server is good.
5. Import mail from backup or .pst file you created above. This is done by way of File -> Open -> Import From Other Program Or File. Be sure to select the root of each folder.
Note: Since this process happens completely over the network, many factors will affect speed, so it may take quite some time.

I understand this isn’t exactly a 1, 2, 3 process, but this may save you the time of doing a full RAID or other type of data reconstruction – or even worse – a restore of old data. The challenge is often to find the data that may just be sitting right under your nose, and using it. Keep in mind, nothing replaces a good, recent and reliable backup.