TechMentor: Best Practices for Exchange 2010 Capacity Planning

Experts described optimal preparations for deploying Exchange 2010 at the TechMentor Las Vegas event last week.

TechMentor 2010 Las Vegas concluded last week. At the event, attendees were treated to a panel talk on a nettlesome topic for IT pros -- namely, Exchange 2010 capacity management planning.

Exchange 2010 was released on November 9, 2009, but Microsoft made some archiving and storage changes to the product that can affect IT organizations considering an upgrade to Microsoft's newest messaging server. One of the TechMentor panel sessions, "Exchange 2010 Capacity Management: Scaling Your E-Mail From 10 Users to 10,000," described best practices for setting up e-mail storage with Exchange 2010.

The TechMentor Tuesday session included speakers J. Peter Bruzzese, Exchange instructor for Train Signal and cofounder of Clip Training, along with Raphael Barini, chief solutions architect for ENow Inc., a Los Angeles-based consulting company and sponsor of the TechMentor event. At one point during the talk, Barini asked for a show of audience member hands who were Exchange administrators. About half the room raised their hands.

Bruzzese outlined the basics for Exchange. It works from a database infrastructure and tracks mail migration -- from memory to transaction logs and on-disk files. From a best practices standpoint, Bruzzese recommended that storage files and transaction files should not be saved in the same location. He explained that transaction log files get written to the database, taking up disk space, which can lead to poor performance as the logs get filled up. Bruzzese recommended putting transaction logs on a mirror site that's fast.

For Exchange 2010, Microsoft eliminated the ability to use single-instance storage. That capability was removed from the extensible storage engine in Exchange 2010, leading to a 70 percent improvement in I/O performance, Bruzzese said. You still can use high-end storage area networks (SANs), but Exchange 2010 doesn't support NAS (network attached storage). It's possible to use less expensive storage disk options with Exchange 2010. For instance, you can use JBODs (just a bunch of disks) and that will work fine, Bruzzese said.

Bruzzese described four storage aspects to consider when planning to deploy Exchange 2010: performance, price, size and configuration. While IT organizations are likely to be concerned with performance, price usually takes precedence when determining storage options for Exchange 2010, he said. Storage choices for Exchange 2010 include SAN, direct attached storage (DAS), iSCSI, SAS (serial attached SCSI) and SATA (serial advanced technology attachment). Microsoft provides an overview of storage options for Exchange 2010 in this TechNet library article.

Storage is cheap, especially using JBODs, Bruzzese said, but the real task for IT pros is deciding what to choose. One tool that might help with assessing storage requirements is the Exchange 2010 Mailbox Server Role Requirements Calculator, which is not a product affiliated with Microsoft, Bruzzese said. He explained that this tool is "a little too neat and clean" for real-world IT planning, adding that "I hate it…but it can be valuable." The alternative is to make a "guestimate" of storage size.

Storage design involves carrying out three steps. First, IT pros should gather the storage input requirements. This step involves assessing the number of mailboxes that will be needed, mailbox size (or the quota per mailbox), mailbox concurrency and usage profiles. Use the Exchange Server Profile Analyzer, which provides information about individual mailbox use in production environments, to determine the usage profiles. Second, calculate the requirements -- either via a guestimate or using the Exchange 2010 Mailbox Server Role Requirements Calculator. Finally, IT pros should validate the size and type of storage using the Exchange Jetstress Tool and the Exchange Load Generator. The Exchange Jetstress Tool tests disk performance by simulating inputs and outputs. The Exchange Load Generator tests how a server running Exchange performs when handling e-mail loads.

Despite all of this tech talk, Barini noted that IT pros should know their users before moving to Exchange 2010. "If you don't know your users, you won't know what problems you'll have," Barini said. IT pros should monitor their environment and create policies and procedures. For instance, some compliance policies mandate that if an e-mail is deleted, it should still be available for five years, which is a common requirement in Latin America, he noted. He recommended using the Exchange management shell, but warned IT pros to be cautious about following the Microsoft NNF ("next, next, finish") wizard approach as it can "crash your AD [Active Directory] and your e-mails."

Barini recommended some tools for Exchange 2010 capacity management planning. They include:

He explained that Jetstress and the Exchange Load Generator tools are similar programs but that Jetstress creates a real-world scenario with which to test Exchange 2010 performance.

Barini warned that IT pros should remember to prepare Active Directory before moving to Exchange 2010. "You will have big problems if you don't do that," he said, adding that if AD dies, Exchange dies with it.

Exchange 2010 allows the use of three ports on the network. Barini said that performing firewall tuning and having a good network (LAN, WAN) in place was "extremely recommended." He added that switches are important and that IT pros should tune them up for Exchange 2010 to work well.

IT pros should use virtualization when they can to save money. With regard to hardware considerations for storage, Barini said those deploying Exchange 2010 should not be afraid of using iSCSI and SATA. However, manufacturers' specifications and hardware compatibility lists should be checked first.

In conclusion, Exchange 2010 can be "a monster," Barini said. IT pros should try to learn all they can about what Exchange 2010 can bring to an organization, he added.

Disclosure note: TechMentor is an 1105 Media Inc.-run event and this author is an 1105 Media employee. Bruzzese is a contributing writer for Redmond magazine and other publications, including this Exchange 2010 features article.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media's Converge360 group.


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