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Planning Exchange Backup around Microsoft Exchange 2010

Planning Exchange Backup around Microsoft Exchange 2010

A Contributed Article by Joseph Hand, Senior Director of Product Strategy at AppAssure Software

The operational and performance characteristics of Microsoft Exchange are well known, and much has been written on best practices related to the design, set up and ongoing operations, including Exchange backup and recovery.  Earlier versions of Exchange could not necessarily run as efficiently in virtual modes as their physical counterparts, but with Exchange 2010, those limitations largely disappeared, opening the door for many companies, who previously felt they had to stay with a physical Exchange Server, to consider virtualizing the application.  

Test numbers tell the story

Test numbers confirm that Exchange Server 2010 has a decided advantage over predecessors. It can halve disk I/O compared to Exchange 2007.  And performance differences that once existed between physical and virtual machine configuration of Exchange have evaporated, so there's no reason not to virtualize. But to take full advantage of the cost benefits of virtualizing Exchange, it's important to pay attention to the details of the transition to a virtualized Exchange server by paying attention to issues like VMware infrastructure as well as network, CPU, memory and storage requirements.

Keep the environment sized, optimized and up to date

VMware recommends that virtualized Exchange environment will benefit from the latest version of vmxnet and it recommends taking advantage of vSphere 4's support of 2nd-generation virtualization assist for Intel processors. Intel memory management - Extended Page Tables -operates with ESX 4.0 or newer. VMware Infrastructure 3 delivered similar improved support for AMD processors for workload-related memory management - Rapid Virtualization Indexing (RVI) - which can be optimized with ESX 3.5 and later releases.

Sizing requirements for Exchange 2010 needs to take into account business requirements, expected workloads the mailbox will be subjected to and hardware considerations, among others.  Fortunately, these sizing issues are the same in both physical and virtual environments, so it's not a wholly brave new world you have to conquer; the same basic principles you already used will still apply. Still virtualization does require you to pay fairly close attention to them if you expect to get the maximum benefit from virtualizing your Exchange environment in the first place.  They're detailed in many websites, including on VMware's own, but we'll highlight a few to look for your planning:

VMotion can move small virtual machines (RAM, CPU) more quickly than it can for larger virtual machines.

You should size CPU and RAM resources fairly conservatively, and see how it works. It's so easy to change the parameters at any time, and if needed you can quickly specify more CPU or RAM.

VMware recommends paying attention to Microsoft's recommended minimums and maximums for mailbox servers; two processor cores (or vCPUs) is the minimum and vSphere limits cores for a single-role server to 8 vCPUs. Standalone servers with just the mailbox role should not exceed 70% usage during peaks, but if the server runs multiple roles, the mailbox component should be limited to 35%.

The next step is to determine the amount of required physical memory. Then there is the scaling issue. VMware recommends for vSphere that you create Exchange Mailbox Servers based on having virtual machine "building block" configurations of 500, 1,000, 2,000 or 4,000 users rather than creating single huge Exchange. This approach makes it easier to size the servers to their smaller populations during the first stages of deployment and to scale them as the environment changes.

Apply equal effort to your Exchange backup as you do to any VMware backup. After you've organized a valid virtual Exchange environment, it's time to protect it. And it's critical to build in a high enough level of Exchange backup capability to make sure you can recover quickly enough to satisfy user demand for really fast recovery time objectives. The shorter the recovery, the better, with the ideal situation being a recovery that is so fast that an outage goes unnoticed. Fortunately image-level Exchange backup technology, with recovery times that number in just minutes rather than hours, make the ideal of seamless and continuous email service a practical and affordable reality.

Look for an Exchange backup solution that offers the flexibility to quickly restore not just the entire image or a database individually, but one that offers granular restore of Exchange objects. The image level protection is great to be able to recover the entire system which we hope we never have to do. What we see more often than not is the need to recover a message, a folder, a calendar item, a contact, etc... If you stick with the native tools approach, you are wasting a lot of money on labor to perform these tasks. The Exchange backup tool you select should offer these capabilities in a seamless, easy to operate manner, cutting the time and cost to practically nothing.

Look to a strong Exchange backup scheme that backs up faster, restores faster, requires a minimum of administrative overhead, and is very easy to use. That last point is especially important. Ideally your Exchange backup application is cut from an overarching backup application that protects the rest of your resources. There's no longer any reason to learn, pay for and maintain multiple backup schemes. There are enough leading software solutions that support all of your backup schemes under one management interface that it doesn't make sense to do it the hard way anymore.

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About the Author

Joseph Hand is the Senior Director of Product Strategy at AppAssure Software, focusing on virtualization for AppAssure's VMware backup, Windows Server backup, Microsoft Exchange backup, and Hyper-V backup platforms and how they can work together to leverage technology to solve today's problems facing the modern day enterprise.

Published Wednesday, March 07, 2012 6:55 AM by David Marshall
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