The feeling of sync after an Exchange restore • The registry


Who I? It’s Monday, and this week’s column includes another reminder to check if those backups are in an unfortunately dubbed episode of Who, Me?

Written by a reader we call “John” (because that’s not his name), our story takes place in the glory days of Windows NT 4 and Microsoft Exchange Server 5.5.

John had earned his spurs in the technical support department of a mail order company (remember the happier days before e-commerce?) and was promoted to the dizzying level of ‘IT team’.

“Which consisted of me and another guy,” he remarked.

Despite this, John had to do all kinds of exciting work, such as processing the data for the catalog shipments in SQL Server. When that colleague (who took care of the domain and took care of Exchange’s weaknesses) left, John was given the keys to the server room. Thanks to a boss who considered himself a technical genius, he was even allowed to take some courses for an MCSE certification.

Time passed and not much went wrong. The lights stayed on. Computers buzzed. John clearly did a great job.

Until, as he put it, “the first domino fell.”

“The Exchange server,” John said, “which doubled as a fax gateway (because email wasn’t really a thing yet and almost everyone got their bank statements by fax — that weekly fax job was literally critical to the cash flow of the company), blue screening started.”

A look at the code on the Blue Screen of Death (BSOD) suggested that the motherboard could be to blame.

“The boss asked me if I was ready for the Exchange rebuild task,” John recalls. “I tactfully suggest we get outside help – ‘I know a guy who’s great with Exchange!'”

Act! The work was scheduled to be completed on Friday evening. Simple – back up Exchange Server to tape. Back it up again just in case. Then get to the hardware.

All went well. The new motherboard came in. “We pulled out the 8-way fax card, marveled at its grotesqueness, and put it on the new motherboard.”

At midnight Windows was back. The exchange was back. Everything was service packed. Only the tape recovery of the data…

… which worked well. A few obscure ESEUTIL Commands were required and… Exchange failed to start. Strange. The other backup was tried. Again Exchange wouldn’t start and complained about a corrupted database.

It was now 2am and John decided to end the night. Finally, there was the whole weekend to get things up and running.

It’s not hard to guess what happened next. It turned out that ESEUTIL had enough options that the potential for error was enormous. “Nothing worked,” said John, “no one had a mailbox anymore.”

That was bad. But not a catastrophe. Backups were run every day (a full one on Sunday and then daily increments) so restore those, right? They have been restored… thumbs crossed… Exchange has restarted…

No luck. Repair attempts with ESEUTIL Took hours but nothing worked.

At this point it was 4am on a Sunday morning and the tools had to be put off for a few hours in favor of sleep.

“Tomorrow is coming,” John said, “and this time we’re trying to bring the machine back with the old motherboard because we’re running out of ideas. screwdriver out. Four hours later the same result. Back to the new motherboard because we found more ESEUTIL the settings. Oh. It turned out that every single one of the 36 backup tapes was damaged.”

A weekend of sorting things had turned into just seven hours before employees were due to arrive at work.

It was midnight on Sunday, and desperation was spreading.

“What’s better than no email service at all? Empty inboxes!”

And so there was one last try. Exchange was installed and configured from scratch. The directory has been restored. Sure, everyone would come to work with an empty mailbox, but at least it would be possible to send and receive messages from the outside world.

By 6am, the duo were at the front of the building, ready to break the bad news to staff as they arrived.

“Your email is working, but you don’t have any of your old emails,” the message is gradually being delivered.

Reactions were mixed: “The best part was the warehouse manager: ‘Don’t worry buddy, it was all useless shit anyway.'”

Eventually, John’s boss (who described himself as a technical genius) showed up. Questions and explanations ensued for half an hour before accepting John’s apology: “Well, OK, you did everything you could. It is OK. I have a backup copy of all my contacts on it…”

He held up his snazzy new Palm PDA, one that hadn’t needed a cable for wireless connectivity.

“He went into the office smugly and prepared to get all his mailboxes back,” John recalled.

“Except that the sync settings in the Palm software said ‘Get the latest version’.”

“What’s new but Friday’s full mailbox? Today’s empty”

And with that, the duo made a hasty retreat. Similar to “I’ll get my coat…”

Ever get a slap in the face from sync settings? Or have you seen a Friday night that was just a job explode into a weekend of disaster? Of course you have, and you should share your story with an email to Who, Me? ®


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