Microsoft Exchange 2003 – Alternative Forest Recovery

Introduction to Exchange 2003 Alternative Forest Recovery

Avoid the Alternative Forest method if at all possible.  Seek an easier solution to recovering the email, for example Mailbox Recovery Center.  Re-creating your Active Directory forest in a separate subnet is a huge undertaking.  However, one recommended use of this technique is where you practicing a restore on a standby server.

Topics for Exchange Alternative Forest Recovery


Typical Scenarios

An employee left your company last year, not only did you delete their mailbox, but you also deleted their Active Directory user account.  The boss tells you the name of the user and tells you to restore their mailbox.  Exchange 2003’s Alternative Forest Recovery would be one option, however if it were me, I would ask if there was an alternative, for example just creating a brand new mailbox enabled user.

Alternative Strategies

One clue that you should avoid this Alternative Forest method, is that previously, this was the only way to recover old mailboxes.  In Exchange 2003 server, Microsoft has introduced two if not three new strategies for mailbox recovery, so try them first.  For example, if the mailbox was deleted less than a month ago, then try the Mailbox Recovery Center.  If it’s over 30 days since you deleted the mailbox but the account still exists, then try the Recovery Storage Group method.  Even if the original mailbox is now attached to a different user, you may be able to avoid grappling with the Alternative Forest Recovery method.

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Preparation for Alternative Forest Recovery

  • Build a Windows Server 2003 Active Directory domain on another subnet.
  • Install Exchange 2003, if possible use the same Organization name.
  • Match the Administrative Group Name.
  • Make sure the Storage Group Names are the same as the production Exchange 2003.
  • Give the logical databases the same name in both forests.
  • If you are recovering an Exchange 5.5 database then make sure that the LegacyExchangeDN attribute matches the production network.  Launch ADSI Edit to check and amend LegacyExchangeDN if necessary.

Recovering the Mailbox in the Alternative Forest Recovery

  1. Create a store with the same name as the production server.
  2. Restore the store from the production backup over the empty store in the alternative forest.
  3. Create a user to match the mailbox.
  4. Logon as this user and export the email to a .pst file.
  5. Give the .pst file to the user in the production network.
  6. Alternatively, logon as the user in the production network, recover the .pst data in Outlook, then logoff and reset the password so the regular user knows how to logon and read their email.

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Import users from a spreadsheet, complete with their mailbox.  Just provide a list of the users with the fields in the top row, and save as .csv file.  Then launch this FREE utility, match your Exchange fields with AD’s attributes, click and import the users.  Optionally, you can provide the name of the OU where the new mailboxes will be born.

There are also two bonus tools in the free download, and all 3 have been approved by Microsoft:

  1. Bulk-import new users and mailboxes into Active Directory.
  2. Seek and zap unwanted user accounts.
  3. Find inactive computers.

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The Alternative Forest Recovery method would be my last choice for recovering a mailbox.  However, if the original mailbox was deleted more than a month ago, the user account does not exist in Active Directory, and this is a really important mailbox, then I would reluctantly resort Alternative Forest Recovery.

See Also