GOexchange: The Third Option
Not too hot, not too cold, for Exchange maintenance.
1: Virtually inoperable or nonexistent
5: Average, performs adequately
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.
[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
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.
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.