Category Archives: Exchange Server

3 Benefits of Running Exchange Server in a Virtualized Environment

3 Benefits of Running Exchange Server in a Virtualized Environment

Guest post by: Brien M. Posey

Benefits-of-Running-Exchang

One of the big decisions that administrators must make when preparing to deploy Exchange Server is whether to run Exchange on physical hardware, virtual hardware, or a mixture of the two. Prior to the release of Exchange Server 2010 most organizations chose to run Exchange on physical hardware. Earlier versions of Exchange mailbox servers were often simply too I/O intensive for virtual environments. Furthermore, it took a while for Microsoft’s Exchange Server support policy to catch up with the virtualization trend.

Today these issues are not the stumbling blocks that they once were. Exchange Server 2010 and 2013 are far less I/O intensive than their predecessors. Likewise, Exchange Server is fully supported in virtual environments. Of course administrators must still answer the question of whether it is better to run Exchange Server on physical or on virtual hardware.

Typically there are far greater advantages to running Exchange Server in a virtual environment than running it in a physical environment. Virtual environments can help to expedite Exchange Server deployment, and they often make better use of hardware resources, while also offering some advanced protection options.

Improved Deployment

At first the idea that deploying Exchange Server in a virtual environment is somehow easier or more efficient might seem a little strange. After all, the Exchange Server setup program works in exactly the same way whether Exchange is being deployed on a physical or a virtual server. However, virtualized environments provide some deployment options that simply do not exist in physical environments.

Virtual environments make it quick and easy to deploy additional Exchange Servers. This is important for any organization that needs to quickly scale they are Exchange organization to meet evolving business needs. Virtual environments allow administrators to build templates that can be used to quickly deploy new servers in a uniform way.

Depending upon the virtualization platform that is being used, it is sometimes even possible to set up a self-service portal that allows authorized users to deploy new Exchange Servers with only a few mouse clicks. Because the servers are based on preconfigured templates, they will already be configured according to the corporate security policy.

 Hardware Resource Allocation

Another advantage that virtualized environments offer over physical environments is them virtual environments typically make more efficient use of server hardware. In virtual environments, multiple virtualized workloads share a finite pool of physical hardware resources. As such, virtualization administrators have gotten into the habit of using the available hardware resources efficiently and making every resource count.

Of course it isn’t just these habits that lead to more efficient resource usage. Virtualized environments contain mechanisms that help to ensure that virtual machines receive exactly the hardware resources that are necessary, but without wasting resources in the process. Perhaps the best example of this is dynamic memory.

The various hypervisor vendors each implement dynamic memory in their own way. As a general rule however, each virtual machine is assigned a certain amount of memory at startup. The administrator also assigns maximum and minimum memory limits to the virtual machines. This allows the virtual machines to claim the memory that they need, but without consuming an excessive percentage of the servers overall physical memory. When memory is no longer actively needed by the virtual machine, that memory is released so that it becomes available to other virtual machines that are running on the server.

Although mechanisms such as dynamic memory can certainly help a virtual machine to make the most efficient use possible of physical hardware resources, resource usage can be thought of in another way as well.

When Exchange Server is deployed onto physical hardware, all of the servers resources are dedicated to running the operating system and Exchange Server. While this may initially sound desirable, there are  problems with it when you consider hardware allocation from a financial standpoint.

In a physical server environment, the hardware must be purchased up front. The problem with this is that administrators can simply purchase the resources that are needed by Exchange Server based on current usage. Workloads tend to increase over time, so administrators must typically purchase more memory, CPU cores, and faster disks than what are currently needed. These resources are essentially wasted until the day that the Exchange Server workload grows to the point that those resources are suddenly needed. In a virtual environment this is simply not the case. Whatever resources are not needed by a virtual machine can be put into a pool of physical resources that are accessible to other virtualized workloads.

 Protection Options

One last reason why it is often more beneficial to operate Exchange Server in a virtual environment is because virtual environments provide certain protection options that are not natively available with Exchange Server.

Perhaps the best example of this is failover clustering. Exchange Server offers failover clustering in the form of Database Availability Groups. The problem is that Database Availability Groups only protect the mailbox server role. Exchange administrators must look for creative ways to protect the remaining server roles against failure. One of the easiest ways to achieve this protection is to install Exchange Server onto virtual machines. The underlying hypervisor can be clustered in a way that allows virtual machines to fail over from one host to another if necessary. Such a failover can be performed regardless of the limits of the operating system or application software that might be running within individual virtual machines. In other words, virtualization allows you to receive the benefits of failover clustering for Exchange server roles that don’t normally support clustering.

 Conclusion

As you can see, there are a number of benefits to running Exchange Server in a virtual environment. In almost every case, it is preferable to run Exchange Server on virtual hardware over physical hardware.

What’s new in Exchange 2013, 2 Webcasts, and More!

Next week I’ll be on a couple of webcasts related to Exchange server protection:

In these webcasts, we will balance a solid blend of best practices content with information about some of our latest products.   I promise not to waste your time!

Webcast 1:  Introducing EMC AppSync: Advanced Application Protection Made Easy for VNX Platforms

In this webinar, we’ll describe how to setup a protection service catalog for any company and how easy EMC AppSync makes using snapshot and continuous data protection technology on a VNX storage array… As a bonus we will show a cool demo.

Sign up here.

Webcast 2: Protecting Exchange from Disaster: The Choices and Consequences

In this demo, we’ll explore the 3 common Exchange DR options available to customers with an advanced storage array like an EMC VNX.  One of the highlights is that I will be joined by independent Microsoft guru Brien Posey who has the low down on what’s new in Exchange 2013 related to storage and DR enhancements and describe how many things change in Exchange 2013 and how many things stay the same.  Oh, of course we will have a cool demo for this one too!

Sign up here.

2 Great AppSync Exchange 2010 Single Item Restore Demos

Our friend Ernes Taljic from Presidio, launched the Presidio Technical Blog “Converging Clouds” with a post about EMC’s new replication management software EMC AppSync.

He also made two excellent videos that showcase virtualized Exchange 2010 Protection and Single Item Restore with RecoverPoint and VNX Snapshots – all managed by AppSync.

Enjoy:

AppSync and ItemPoint with VNX Snapshots

AppSync and ItemPoint with RecoverPoint

Pimp My Exchange: The Microsoft Exchange Calculator with EMC Extensions

Challenge

People designing Exchange storage layouts often use the excellent Microsoft Exchange storage calculator.  This is a great first step, but the tool does not include a couple important things.  One is background database maintenance (BDM) which can sometimes cause a disk IO testing tool like JetStress to fail.  Another is that it lacks in providing a visual view of the Exchange layout.

EMC Solution

EMC’s extensions add in some of the IOPS details (like BDM) that the base calculator might miss and we’ve also designed a tool called the DAG Instant Visualization Application (DIVA) that helps to visualize the environment in a more legible way.   Watch this great video interview with Jim Cordes (creator of these tools) for more details!

To get the calculator with EMC extensions and DIVA, go to the Everything Microsoft site.

The direct link to the pimped-out calculator is here.

[updated 2/1/2013] Here is a link to a recent training module for this calculator.

EMC AppSync for VNX / Microsoft Environments

We had a great time launching EMC AppSync in Las Vegas a few weeks back!

Some of the highlights were an on stage demo, an appearance on Chad’s World Live, 4 breakout sessions, and so much more. We got interviewed by industry analysts and taught our TCs what AppSync was all about.

We also launched a new ECN (EMC Community Network) space where I’ll be spending a lot of time in the future. The product becomes officially available later this year and now we’re handling all of the customer requests to join our beta program and learn more about the product.

If you want to find out more about the launch and if you want to ask a question – go ahead and ask one over here!

Application Protection: There’s Something Happening Here

There’s something happening here
What it is ain’t exactly clear
There’s a man with a gun over there
Telling me I got to beware

Yes, it’s blasphemy to simply change a classic like Buffalo Springfield’s “For What’s It Worth” – but I will anyway to prove my point.

There’s something happening here

If you haven’t noticed, IT is changing rapidly. Just search for IT transformation, IT as a Service, and converged infrastructure to see how far we’ve come in only the past few years.  This industry moves!

What it is ain’t exactly clear

We know a Cloud is built differently, operated differently, and consumed differently. So we know companies have begun re-architecting IT in order to offer more of a service in order to react faster to meet user needs. They know they must change their operational models and in many cases their organizational structure. They might also seek converged infrastructures to get moving faster.    But… has protection changed to keep pace with this transformation?

There’s a man with a gun over there
Telling me I got to beware

It’s been said that in the song the gun is more of a metaphor for the tension between groups within the US before Vietnam. And in a much less violent analogy, the tension between the IT team and the application owners has never been stronger.

The application teams want to have great performance and protection of their application. But they’ve never been empowered by the IT department to protect themselves with storage-level tools. The storage team wants to let them, but they fear they might create too many copies of their data. Instead, the app owners went out and used tools for their own application, creating their own protection strategy which might not deliver the best protection they can get.  To win back the hearts and minds of the application owners and DBA’s, the IT department and the storage teams need to get better at protecting applications as a service.

On the Road to Application Protection as a Service

Many companies have has attempted to do this in the past – with products that help you protect and restore your applications and critical virtual machines. They have tools that install on the server and can “freeze” and “thaw” the current transactions into the database, so that when a snapshot is taken, there is a clean copy that can be easily restored.  The major benefit of these tools is SPEED as the copy process is incremental and the restore process is also lightning fast.  Restoring a 1 TB database in minutes.

It needs to get easier. Like any “enterprise” tool, many of these products designed for snapshots and replication require a significant learning curve. We need something simple that integrates with the tools we know and love.

We should provide self-service capabilities. Instead of spending hours and hours making sure application owners are getting the protection they need, they should be empowered to simply protect and restore their own data.

We are driven by service levels. IT departments and storage teams need to offer “protection service catalogs” with various (e.g. Platinum, Gold, Silver, Bronze) levels of protection varied by RPO – from very low data loss (synchronous replication) to more sporadic application-consistent snapshots – all from one interface. This makes it easy for the app team and people with the checkbooks to really understand the value placed on the different applications in your catalog.

There truly is something happening here
And what is will be made clear at EMC World 2012!

Hope to see you there!
Brian