Exporting data from Microsoft Exchange is quite easy, when you have a server which is healthy and active. With Exchange Server 2010 SP1 onwards, you can export mailbox data by using the PowerShell cmdlet New-MailboxExportRequest or export to PST through the Exchange Admin Center (EAC). However, there is no native tool to export a Public Folder to PST from the Exchange server. You would either need external resources like third-party applications or use Microsoft Outlook to export your public folder.

Now, the real challenge comes when you have to export a public folder to PST from an inactive Exchange Server. You need to first understand the reasons behind an inactive Exchange Server.

  • - Migrated to cloud services and decommissioned the local Exchange Server 
  • - Migrated to a newer Exchange Server and decommissioned the old one 

Take into consideration that a backup of either the server or database is taken before decommissioning the server. After the process has been completed, you would need to export something from the old Exchange Server. In this case, a Public Folder or some of its contents. There are different ways to do it.

If the server was a virtual machine and you have left it powered off for some time, the solution would be to start the server along with a copy of the Active Directory Server in a segregated network between each other. And then install a virtual machine with Outlook and export the data from there. For this setup, you would need to keep in mind the requirements, resources and administrative time.

A copy of the Active Directory at the time of the backup of Exchange

  • - The Exchange Server running
  • - An isolated network to have communication only with the servers in the recovery
  • - A Windows machine with Outlook installed

Of course, if the Exchange server is a physical server, you would need to setup an isolated network with the Active Directory. On the other hand, if you had a physical server and the hardware has also been decommissioned, you would face some problems restoring the machine. You could try to convert the machine to virtual, but you would need to restore it as a working machine. If you have a full bare metal backup of the server before decommissioning, you would still need a physical server with the same hardware to restore it. This will put you in a difficult situation when you try to restore the data.

If the server’s backup is available, you would still need to restore the Active Directory. You can use the current Active Directory copy, if available, but there would have been many changes done in it that it would not be a healthy Exchange Server to export from it.

The last thing is the portability of the database, when people just backup the database as part of daily routine. If the database of an Exchange Server 2010 was restored, you will not be able to make a restore of the database on an Exchange 2013, 2016 or 2019. There is no native application that can export data from the database. You need to use a third-party solution. 

To rebuild an Exchange Server with the same version and Operating system in an isolated system, along with a copy of the Active Directory server, will take a considerate amount of time and administrative effort. In case a company has decommissioned everything and went completely on the cloud, it would need to reinvest in rebuilding the old infrastructure.