MS strips Server 2008 of free Exchange backup feature

Redmond removes previously free Exchange backup functionality from Server 2008, only to sell it as part of a new backup product

Update to Post: We would like to thank Rui Silva for providing additional information regarding the content of this article. In the conclusion I mentioned my hope that someone would set me straight on the subject. The Exchange Team, specifically Scott Schnoll, wrote about the new extension that is soon to be released that will fix this backup issue. You can read more about it here

(Original Post Below)

Exchange and I go way back to Version 5.5 with NT 4.0. At the time, when you installed the duo, you were granted the ability to back up your Exchange Information Stores. Yes, there were better third-party backup solutions on the market, but at least the feature was included for free as part of the Windows-Exchange pairing. That pattern has held true through the years until now -- sort of.

With Windows Server 2008, Microsoft includes a new backup tool called Windows Server Backup -- but it's missing the ability to perform online streaming backups like its predecessors. That means you now need an additional product to perform any type of Exchange backup.

Here is where it gets odd: Alongside the third-party backup solutions out there, Microsoft is now pushing its own competing product called Microsoft System Center Data Protection Manager (DPM), part of Redmond's System Center line. I've worked with DPM, and it has some features that are better than the old NTBackup, which you would expect. For example, it can perform Volume Shadow Copy (VSS) backups and restore to the mailbox level.

What piqued my curiosity here is that Microsoft is offering reduced backup functionality for Server 2008/Exchange 2007. You have to pay for them, but they hook right into the APIs that are available within Server 2008. Fair enough, you might think; Microsoft seems to have done away offering free, included Exchange backups with its server line and is now entering another market, one with healthy competition, including CommVault, Veritas, CA, and others.

However, the Exchange Team had posted a blog that said, "For customers running the upcoming version of Windows Small Business Server (SBS) 2008, Windows Server Backup will be able to take Exchange-aware backups."

Small Business Server 2008 is slated for a November release date, so I have yet to confirm this position. But this concerns me. Is Microsoft saying that the APIs for local online streaming Exchange backups -- the ones that are no longer included with Server 2008 -- will still be included in SBS 2008? If so, I have to ask why. What worries me -- or ticks me off, if it turns out to be true -- is that it appears Microsoft selectively removed the ability from Server 2008 to perform Exchange backups so that it could push a new product. Granted, the Exchange backup solution wasn't the best ever invented -- it wasn't even close -- but it was free, functional, and included.

It would be one thing if Redmond honestly said (or otherwise made it clear), "Hey, we realize that the backup tool for Exchange was never stellar, so with Exchange 2007 we didn't want to take any chances. Starting with Server 2008, you need to buy third-party solutions." I would have respected that decision. But to remove the interface -- but not the actual internal APIs -- from Server 2008 while still providing it in Small Business Server 2008? I am a bit confused.

So my hope is to investigate the validity of the Small Business claim when it arrives. If I'm wrong on the reasoning here, I hope someone from Microsoft writes in, because I hate to feel railroaded into a product -- even if it is a solid solution as DPM. I'd rather it sell on its merit.

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