Product Reviews

GOexchange: The Third Option

Not too hot, not too cold, for Exchange maintenance.

GOexchange 3.2
Documentation 20%
Installation 20%
Feature Set 20%
Management 20%
Intuitiveness 20%
Overall Rating:

1: Virtually inoperable or nonexistent
5: Average, performs adequately
10: Exceptional

If there's anything less exciting and appealing than routine preventive maintenance, I'm not sure what it is (although a root canal might qualify). This is especially true if you manage a Microsoft Exchange infrastructure.

If you're an Exchange administrator, then you know that Microsoft Exchange Server databases degrade over time. Like all complex database systems, slow and steady degradation is inevitable. Ignoring regular maintenance can lead to errors, warnings, database fragmentation and even system crashes. IT research firm Gartner Inc. claims that nearly 20 percent of unplanned Exchange downtime is due to database or Active Directory corruption. The fact is that Exchange Servers run better and get faster response time when old information is cleaned out of the store.

The odds are, however, that you fall into one of two broad categories when it comes to the preventive maintenance. The first includes those who are extremely diligent and stay on top of the issue, regularly cleaning the store. The second are those who only do Exchange information store maintenance when it's absolutely necessary. There's a third group as well, comprised of some mix of the other two, who fervently hope for a better option. These people fall somewhere between being borderline obsessive compulsive and preventive maintenance dilettantes.

Given the significance of e-mail in today's business environment, it's important for IT managers to develop preventive maintenance practices that check databases for consistency and errors and warnings, and that optimize Exchange Server to improve performance and stability. Microsoft Exchange Server comes with a number of tools for handling most preventive maintenance tasks, resulting in a more stable, faster running system. These tools function quite well and produce the desired result. They are, however, cumbersome to use and limited in terms of reporting and completeness.

This leads us to GOexchange, which was developed to optimize the performance of Exchange databases by diagnosing and repairing errors, compressing them for more efficient storage and tuning them for optimal performance. One of the strengths of GOexchange is that it greatly expands on the Microsoft tools and makes Exchange database server maintenance less difficult and more automatic.

Figure 1
[Click on image for larger view.]
Figure 1. The GOexchange administrator's display provides a large number of easy-to-use features for maintaining Exchange installations.

Ready, Set, GO
I downloaded the evaluation copy of GOexchange with minimal difficulty. The wizard-driven installation process was quick and simple. GOexchange automatically detected which version of Exchange was installed-Exchange 5.5, 2000 or 2003-and then applied the appropriate rules and maintenance processes for each configuration. It also automatically detects and supports Microsoft Clustered Exchange servers in Active/Passive and Active/Active configurations, so you can integrate it with your existing high-availability framework.

Configuring the remaining features was also quick and fairly painless. GOexchange includes a complete GUI environment that's much more intuitive than Exchange's command-line utilities. It also has a number of useful features that make it easy to configure and use, as well as enhancing its already considerable flexibility.

GOexchange supports advanced features such as automated maintenance progress notification, integrated backup, automated scheduling options and other sophisticated capabilities. You can also select from advanced configurations such as Offline Diagnostic Report, Full Maintenance, Analysis and Repair or MTA Check only.

You manage GOexchange through a Microsoft Management Console-based centralized management console that lets you configure, manage, schedule and review preventive maintenance for all your Exchange Servers. GOexchange also scales to meet the needs of large enterprise environments with hundreds of Exchange Servers. GOexchange uses Microsoft's software security model to ensure that only authorized Exchange administrators have access to it.

You can schedule unattended regular maintenance jobs for any server within your organization to automatically take place on specific days, times and intervals. You can also use the Notification features to notify specific persons, all members of a particular group or the entire organization weeks, days or hours before a scheduled maintenance. When maintenance is complete, you can inform them of any problems that occurred and require attention.

GOexchange lets you do maintenance and backup for an individual server, storage group, individual store or on an enterprise-wide basis. This kind of granularity and targeting is not only useful, but among GOexchange's most powerful features.

Each maintenance job has resource checks that ensure the required resources -- such as disk space, information stores and backup systems -- are available prior to each maintenance job. If there's a deficiency of any type, GOexchange will notify designated operators to correct the issue or abandon the scheduled maintenance. It also records the state of critical services prior to the start of a maintenance job, so that after completing maintenance, all services are returned to the pre-maintenance state.

GOexchange documents every action that occurs during a maintenance configuration and job. As a result, it can generate summary and detailed reporting for every job. Reports can include a day, date and time stamp feature providing a detailed audit trail. You can review both detail and summary maintenance reports for each maintenance job. You can also automatically e-mail lost maintenance summary reports to designated individuals or groups.

Restore and Reassure
As you should know, best practices (and also common sense and job security) demand that you make a backup to disk or tape of the Exchange databases and other critical files prior to any maintenance process. GOexchange has built-in integration with existing enterprise backup solutions from CA Inc., CommVault Systems Inc., Veritas, UltraBac Software and other leading vendors.

GOexchange can also initiate, monitor and report the state of an Offline or Online Exchange backup job before and after Exchange maintenance. If the associated backup job is successful, then maintenance will proceed. However, if for some reason the backup job fails, then you can configure GOexchange to initiate a failover backup job via a secondary or tertiary backup server. Otherwise the backup will be aborted and the operator notified.

I ran the product in a medium to large sandbox, using Microsoft Exchange Load Simulator (LoadSim) to build a large, fragmented Exchange database. GOexchange impressed me with its ease of use and its thoroughness in cleaning and defragmentation. It readily and efficiently cleaned the priv and pub stores in a short period of time.

Its completeness is another impressive aspect. The maintenance routine also includes rebuilding the information store indices, reducing the mailbox and public information store size and removing hidden errors, warnings and inconsistencies.

GOexchange literally did nearly everything I asked, and was surprisingly hassle-free. It happily ran pre- and post-task backups and scripts, as well as taking stores offline and putting them back online when the tasks finished. Because of a flaw in one test (deliberately introduced), it even sent me an e-mail alert (via a non-Exchange SMTP server) that something had gone wrong.

A Capable Option
If Exchange administration is part of your responsibility, not giving this product at least a serious review consideration is borderline incompetence. This is especially true if your work environment includes a large number of Exchange servers. GOexchange's ability to schedule preventative maintenance tasks for multiple Exchange servers is a lone boon that might be worth the price of admission.

It's also important in evaluating your needs for GOexchange that you recognize that this isn't just a defrag or backup solution. It claims, with a great deal of pride and a high level of justification, to be a preventive maintenance solution that analyzes the health of the databases and corrects issues before they become major problems. GOexchange can and does defragment information stores when running a full maintenance job. Of all the products on the market, GOexchange is alone in providing this range of functionality in such an easy to use manner.

About the Author

David W. Tschanz, Ph.D., MCSE, is author of the recent "Exchange Server 2007 Infrastructure Design: A Service-Oriented Approach" (Wiley, 2008), as well as co-author of "Mastering Microsoft SQL Server 2005" (Sybex, 2006). Tschanz is a regular contributor to Redmond magazine and operates a small IT consulting firm specializing in business-oriented infrastructure development.


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