“Archiving”. Lately, this seems to be quite the buzzword – and rightly so; I think companies, hosting vendors, and SysAdmins alike are becoming increasingly desperate for a solution that works “right out of the box” and provides them with all the features they need for an enterprise-level archiving solution. In recent years, nobody seems to have been able to quite get the perfect solution nailed down. I have, however, been lucky enough to use Red Gate Software’s Exchange Server Archiver v2 in production over the last year or so. It’s done a magnificent job at archiving and keeping mailbox sizes down to a minimum, but there have always been one or two little extra features or bits of functionality missing that would have been great to have. So when I discovered that version 3 was out in the wild, I naturally set about installing a new Exchange 2010 test environment and putting the product through its paces.
Looking out for your Exchange stores (and users of course!)
Exchange Server Archiver v3 continues to do what versions 1 & 2 have done best, take the pressure off your Exchange Mailbox stores by archiving user mailboxes in your Exchange environment. It offers a variety of “archiving modes” to choose from, my personal preference being the “Full Archive” mode. Here is a quick breakdown of the various options available.
- Copy attachments only – This mode only copies attachments to the Archive Store, leaving the originals (and the messages bearing them) on Exchange.
- Copy and remove attachments only – This mode copies just the attachments to the Archive Store, and removes the originals from Exchange. If attachments are taking up a lot of space in Exchange, then this should help to significantly reduce storage requirements.
- Full archive – Copies messages and attachments to the Archive Store, creates message placeholders in Exchange, as well as removing the attachments. This mode creates a message placeholder in Exchange, which is essentially a very small remnant of the original message with the first few lines of text. The rest of the text and any attachments are moved to your Archive Store, significantly reducing the size of user mailboxes. The placeholder is used to recreate the message on demand via an Outlook Add-in, giving the end-user a 100% transparent experience.
You control the entire archiving solution from the ESA v3 Admin Console. From here, you can set up archive schedules, configure different archiving rules (such as specifying the age of messages that are archived), change archiving modes, and manually run various archiving tasks, to name but a few of the tasks you’re in control of. Data is stored in your specified Archive Store(s) and indexed automatically by ESA when it processes mailboxes that your Archiving rules apply to.
The system has no problem archiving mailboxes whilst users are still working. Red Gate always seems to highlight the fact that their solution is virtually invisible to the end user, and they are, in my opinion, quite correct. The only difference you notice (and that’s only if you’re looking carefully) is that archived messages are depicted by a “yellow envelope” icon in Outlook, instead of the usual “white envelope”. You could see for yourself by taking the test, but I’ve already given away the only small difference. Have a look at the screenshots anyway, and you’ll see that there really are no other differences for the end-user.
A good example of the solution being transparent to the end user springs to mind. When I first deployed Exchange Server Archiver in a production environment, there were around 80 users with 125 mailboxes that needed to be archived. We naturally let everybody know what was going on in terms of the new archiving solution being put in place, but one very stubborn old gentleman was adamant that we should not archive any of his email. He was fixated on the idea that archiving email meant using PST files to store archived mail, and so he thought his mail was going to be moved into another sub-tree in Outlook, as tends to happen with PST files. At this point, management had already decided that everybody’s mailboxes were to be archived. Keen to see how this would all turn out, we went ahead and enabled a “120 day” archive rule, which was scheduled to run in the evenings. This particular user’s mailbox was archived, just like all the others, and he has since never complained – I think this is a great testament as to how stealthy the end user result actually is. Knowing this particular user very well from the other times he had disputed changes to IT policies, he would definitely have kicked up a gargantuan fuss if he had realised that any of his mail had been “archived”, regardless of how efficiently it was done.
Another ESA feature worth mentioning is the “Copy back” option. Some of you might be concerned as to what happens to all the email once it’s been archived, and whether you can get it back into Exchange. I’m sure you’ll be pleased to know that this function will, as the name suggests, copy archived emails back to the Exchange stores. This allows you to very easily send archived emails back into the original mailboxes if you ever have reason to. This is also a great feature to have available for trial users who want to get a feel for the product in their environment, but are worried about getting to their email should they choose not to go continue using ESA after the trial expires.
Exchange 2010 and Archiving
Although encouraging, Exchange 2010’s personal archiving feature is essentially just a secondary mailbox, used for simple storage purposes. It’s a simple successor to the PST file, and doesn’t provide the necessary features that today’s corporate mail environments demand. On the other hand, ESA v3 provides a full-featured archiving solution (Organizational Archiving), compatible with this latest version of Microsoft Exchange.
I’ll walk you through the installation process I went through, just to demonstrate how painless it was. After my base installation of a new Active Directory Domain was complete and I had a fully functioning Exchange 2010 environment set up with external mail, I set about populating mailboxes with the large collection of PST files I keep stored in my archived backups for just such occasions (Sad, I know!) With the PST files loaded & my test environment complete, I was quietly thankful that I’d managed to convince myself to keep those old mail archives – despite their inefficiencies, they had their uses after all!
The next step was, of course, to get ESA v3 installed. I downloaded the ESA v3 software to my freshly setup Archiving server and ensured I had the prerequisite requirements satisfied. After this, it was a simple case of setting up a new Domain Admin account for the “Archive User” in Active Directory, and installing the ESA Console. The installation process from here was really intuitive; the installer does an excellent job of guiding you through the initial configuration and explaining what to do at each point.
I must admit that I did run into one small snag which actually turned out to be me not reading the installation document carefully. I had created my “Archive User” as a Domain Admin, but if I had chosen not to go this route, then I just needed to run a quick PowerShell cmdlet to set the correct permissions for the user. I didn’t read the “if” part of that instruction, and thought I needed to set the permissions and run the cmdlet. After contacting Red Gate, their friendly support team quickly identified my error and had me on my way in no time.
Overall, I found the installation and setup of ESA v3 to be even easier than with previous versions. It is encouraging to see how the installation and configuration procedure has constantly been evolving through to its current incarnation in v3. The team are clearly listening to users and the feedback they give, and using this to improve and streamline the software.
Improvements over the last version
Whilst putting Exchange Server Archiver v3 through its paces, I’ve noted various improvements and additional features that I’ve either stumbled across or specifically hunted out. There were a couple I was expecting to see in version 3, but some of these were pleasant surprises to find in this latest offering.
Snappier archived message display and overall performance improvements
There is a noticeable improvement in speed when browsing through your mail in Outlook. Don’t get me wrong, ESA v2.1 displayed archived messages almost instantly, but there was always a very slight delay (maybe half a second) between clicking on an email and waited for Outlook’s Reading Pane to display the message. I was very pleased to notice that the Reading Pane now displays the selected archived email almost instantly.
No more “The original message has been archived” messages being shown for a split second when opening archived emails.
ESA has always been virtually invisible to the end user. However, one or two users with keen eyes have pointed this out to me whilst using ESA v2.1 in the past. When highlighting an archived email, you could see the original message stub held in Exchange along with the message “The original message has been archived” in the Reading pane, if only for just a split second (as you can see in figure 1). ESA v3 has definitely solved this small annoyance. All you see now is a clean email, indistinguishable from a non-archived email, with no split-second message stub showing in the background.
Forwarding archived emails
From the start of my testing, I was ready to check that ESA v3’s feature set had delivered on this one. Previously, when forwarding emails as attachments to external users or other users in the same organization, the attachments couldn’t be opened. Users in the same organization would be prompted for credentials and only the original owner’s domain credentials would open the email. External users weren’t able to open the attached email, either. However, Red Gate delivered on this feature, as I am now able to attach and forward multiple archived emails to other users without any problems.
Moving archived emails (drag and drop)
A small limitation in the previous version of ESA (v2) was that you could not easily drag and drop archived emails between folders. The workaround was to highlight the ones you wanted to move, go to the “Edit” menu in Outlook, select “Cut” and then highlight the folder you wanted them in and select “Paste”. I haven’t come across many users that move their archived mail around on a regular basis, so this wasn’t too much of an issue in my situation, but it is good to know that ESA v3 now supports drag-and-drop. I tested this feature in a few different mailboxes by highlighting pages of archived mail and dragging / dropping them between various folders in Outlook.
The end result you can expect after installing Exchange Server Archiver v3 is a messaging environment where mailboxes are reduced in size, constantly monitored by archiving rules, and kept manageable and trim in Exchange. Users are not bothered by any changes to their comfort zone, and IT staff can relax once the solution is in place and automated archiving schedules have been activated. The archived emails are placed into special archive stores – located on your choice of storage server – and as such, they are easy to manage and backups are fantastically effortless. I think Exchange Server Archiver is doing a great job at keeping Exchange environments in shape. Whether you’re running Exchange 2003, 2007 or 2010, it provides a great way for you to archive user mail in a seamless and easy manner. It is a full-featured organizational archiving product, which delivers on its promises of being simple to set up and manage.