Recover Exchange Database when no other option is available

Summary: Every Exchange Server faces issues now and then, and it is the job of the database administrators to get such troubled servers back online. While, issues like technical faults, mechanical glitches, and even database corruption can be dealt with straightforwardly, total loss of the Exchange Server can be a mammoth task to handle. Luckily, Stellar Repair for Exchange can come handy in such cases.

Since Exchange forms the backbone of many organizations, in the event of its failure, panic and hurried restore measures are natural. The situation is even worse in organizations having a single server handling all their communication, databases, and other network related functionality. Repairing the glitch and getting the server back online becomes the highest priority in such cases.

Talking about repairing failed servers, usually, doing so involves rebuilding the entire Exchange environment from scratch; and that is quite the challenge in itself. But the task can be simplified a bit if the Exchange Active Directory is safe and healthy, since Exchange saves much of its configuration settings in the Active Directory. However, even the Active Directory cannot bring back all the data that may get lost from the server if it fails. That’s because it doesn’t save user and public folder databases, third-party certificates and, customizations made outside of the Exchange management tools.

General Techniques used for Database Recovery

Depending upon what has caused a database to fail and how bad the damage is, there could be several general techniques to repair the database:

  • The most common, rather, the primary technique for repairing failed database is restoring it from backup
  • Architecting a Database Availability Group (DAG) for disaster recovery is also recommended
  • A different, yet intelligent, approach includes keeping a copy of the Exchange install files at a safe location. A cumulative update can prove to be a great source for Exchange installation files which can be used for the restore

The above methods can be used in situations where the Exchange server either suffers from a massive virus corruption, database damage, technical overhaul, or accidental deletion of critical files. In such cases usually, the data is in a “recoverable” state. But what should an administrator do when the Exchange database suffers a total loss and there seems to be no plausible way of recovering the data saved within it?

What to do if Exchange Server suffers Total Loss

For the purpose of illustrating what actions should be taken if Exchange suffers total loss, we have mimicked a dummy scenario in which an Exchange 2016 Server fails causing the database stored on it to get deleted. A relevant backup isn’t available and the deleted database isn’t part of any DAG. Thus, the recovery procedure technically cannot be performed using any conventional technique. A different approach needs to be used.

Here are the suggested steps:

  1. First find the operating system and directory path the Exchange server used. For this, “Active Directory Users and Computers” can be used as follows:
    1. Open “Active Directory Users and Computers” and locate the computer account for the failed Exchange Server
    2. Right-click on the account and select Properties from the context menu
    3. Select the Operating System tab
    4. To find the installation directory for Exchange you will need to use ADSI Edit
    5. Open ADSI Edit and right click on the ADSI Edit node
    6. Then select Connect to from the context menu
    7. Under “Select a well known naming context” pick Configuration from the drop-down menu and then click on OK.
    8. Expand Configuration and then keep expanding the following options:

CN = Configuration -> DC = <your-domain> -> DC = <your-domain> -> CN = Services -> CN = Microsoft Exchange -> CN = <your-Exchange-org-name> -> CN = Administrative Groups -> CN = Exchange Administrative Group -> CN = Servers

  1. Once you’ve expanded all the above options and reached the name of the Exchange server that has failed, right-click on its name and select Properties
  2. In the properties dialog box that opens up, double-click on the attribute named msExchInstallPath to see the Exchange installation path on the failed server
  1. Now you need to decide whether you are recovering to the same or different hardware. If recovering to the same hardware, you needn’t worry about sizing. If recovering to new hardware you need to make sure it meets both the system requirements to run Exchange and that it is in accordance with the Exchange Server Role Requirements Calculator.
  2. Once the hardware is ready the operating system needs to be reinstalled. It is imperative the same operating system and service pack level are used.
  3. Next, reset the Active Directory computer account for the failed Exchange Server. Resetting the computer account makes two things possible. First, it allows rejoining the new server to Active Directory under the old computer name. Second, it allows the recovery process to retrieve all configuration data from Active Directory for the failed Exchange server. Here are the steps to be followed:
    1. Open “Active Directory Users and Computers” and locate the computer account for the failed Exchange Server.
    2. Right-click on the account and select Reset Account from the context menu.
    3. Click ‘Yes’ to confirm. You will receive a notification that the account was successfully reset.
    4. Click Ok.
  4. Once the operating system is installed, give it a static IP, the same computer name and, join it to the domain. If the domain join fails you may need more time for replication.
  5. Now install Exchange 2016 through PowerShell as follows:
    1. Run PowerShell as administrator
    2. Execute the cmdlet to install Exchange 2016
    3. Verify that the necessary version of the .NET Framework is installed
    4. Download and install the Unified Communications Managed API (UCMA) 4.0
    5. Reboot the server

Note: Above settings will vary depending on the version of Exchange and operating system you are installing.

  1. When the server finishes rebooting, open a Command Prompt and within it, navigate to the location of your Exchange setup files
  2. Issue the command Setup /m:RecoverServer /IAcceptExchangeServerLicenseTerms
  3. When setup completes you will need to reboot. Once rebooted you will be able to log back into the Exchange Admin Center and confirm that all settings are properly restored from Active Directory

Easier, Alternative Solution

While the above mentioned method is quite effective to bring back a failed Exchange server, the one obvious drawback of it is that it is too lengthy. For a novice user, performing the above procedure won’t be any less than a feat in itself. It would require a lot of time and proper technical knowhow since most steps involve executing command line statements. The slightest mistake and you could end up inflicting even further damage to the server.

To overcome the shortcomings of this method and to make the process of recovering Exchange server after total loss quite simple, we recommend using reliable and competent third-party software, Stellar Repair for Exchange. Laced with an interactive GUI, this software makes the Exchange recovery very easy and straightforward. The product has been helping users all across the world bring failed Exchange servers back online with ease and without any side-effects like data distortion or loss.

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