Microsoft Corp. recently previewed Microsoft Exchange 2010 SP1 features, and storage pros say they're interested in the email archiving and e-discovery updates in the release, although many will still use third-party email archiving products with its approach.
The biggest news for storage administrators is the ability to provision a user's Personal Archive mailbox to a different database from the primary mailbox. This was missing in the first release of Exchange 2010, which drew some consternation from the field, according to Microsoft director of product management Michael Atalla.
"With our first foray into email archiving with Exchange, we received strong feedback as soon as we disclosed [Exchange 2010 features] about archiving to a separate database," he said.
Atalla said customers wanted to store archives on less expensive tiers of storage, and also wanted the ability to replicate and back up mailboxes on a different schedule or as part of a different Data Availability Group from the primary mailbox.
Microsoft claimed with the first release that it had optimized performance of the Exchange database to the point where relegating less frequently accessed files to cheaper storage wasn't necessary, but "I think there's an in-field reality," said Matt Lavallee, director of technology at Shrewsbury, Mass.-based MLS Property Information Network Inc. "After they got out into the field, they changed the approach. I think they've solved the problem — we need to be able to separate managing the archive from the primary mailbox."
Exchange service provider Elephant Outlook adopted the single-tier archive with the first release of Exchange 2010, but will be able to use the separate databases to its advantage as well, according to system engineer Jonathan Webster.
"We've done our own simulations storing everything on 7,200 rpm SATA disks and we're satisfied with those results," Webster said. "But because the archive and primary mailboxes aren't tied to the same database, they're no longer tied to the same SLAs. Now if a drive associated with the archive goes bad, it won't affect the primary mailbox. Before, you couldn't split the databases onto different drives, and with archives being bigger by definition, it takes more time to rebuild that data."
Webster said he's pleased with a new ability in Microsoft Exchange 2010 SP1 that will allow direct import of historical email data from .pst files into the archive, rather than having to go through the primary mailbox and then into the archive using retention policies.
"As we were moving our users to Exchange 2010, we had to load all of their historical messages into the primary mailbox and then send it to the archive — this simplifies all that," Webster said. The new ability to access Exchange 2010 mailboxes using the 2007 version of the Outlook client will also be important "for users whose back-end infrastructure is upgraded more frequently on a hosted platform, but that might not have the resources to go around updating everyone's Outlook as frequently."
New replication, e-discovery user interface support
Microsoft's Atalla said Retention Policy Tags will be supported within the Exchange Management Console with Microsoft Exchange 2010 SP1. Retention Policy Tags set up a workflow to retain, export or delete emails according to an organization's compliance and records management policies, and they required PowerShell scripting in the initial release.
The multi-mailbox search in Exchange 2010 is also being updated with support for search preview. Search preview estimates the number of items that will be returned using a given search term; this helps users refine searches and search result data deduplication so multi-party conversations aren't restored multiple times.
Exchange 2010 initially supported replication that was based on sending log files, but Atalla said Microsoft realized "that wasn't going to cut it." With Microsoft Exchange 2010 SP1, replication will be done block by block, which means potentially less data lost if there's a failure while replication is still going on. Log replication will also remain an option for servers that crash and have to be caught up when they come back online, Atalla said.
Microsoft Exchange 2010 SP1 vs. third party email archiving vendors
There was trepidation in some corners of the storage world when Microsoft issued its own snapshot backup product -- Data Protection Manager (DPM) -- that the operating systems and application vendor was looking to take over a new market. However, DPM has since found a niche as a relatively basic product for small- to medium-sized businesses (SMBs). Similarly, analysts and customers predict that only the smallest of shops will consider replacing a third-party e-discovery or compliance archiving tool with Microsoft Exchange 2010 SP1.
"For organizations doing a small amount of e-discovery, this may be fine, but for those expecting a full legal workflow with an audit trail, that's when you need to go to more sophisticated applications," said Brian Babineau, a senior consulting analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group in Milford, Mass.
Third-party email archiving vendors have evolved in recent years from a focus on Exchange to support for multiple email systems and other applications such as SharePoint, developing integrated legal review and e-discovery applications, and supporting new storage topologies like grids and the cloud.
MLS Property Information Network's Lavallee said his organization is currently using DPM in tandem with Hewlett-Packard Co.'s Data Protector, and sees a similar picture evolving with Microsoft Exchange 2010 SP1 for email archiving. "SP1 will give companies that otherwise couldn't afford to purchase or implement a third-party e-discovery platform an alternative, but the robust demands of the enterprise won't be met by this," he said.
Derek Kruger, IT and communications supervisor for the City of Safford, Ariz., already swapped out BakBone Software Inc.'s/Asempra's backup tool for DPM several months ago to cut down on licensing costs, and will be testing out Microsoft Exchange 2010 SP1 for his 225-seat environment with the possibility of replacing his third-party email archiving product in mind.
"It depends — I want to wait and see. [The product we use] has been good and does everything we need, but it comes down to dollars and cents," he said.
Some users' wish lists still include SQL
A tried-and-true debate when it comes to Exchange is the desire among some users to see Microsoft port its SQL database to the back end of Exchange, replacing the Jet database that's been the backbone of the product for more than a decade. "Just get over it — there's enough of us with SQL infrastructure and experience, and to keep Exchange in this black box doesn't make sense," MLS Property Information Network's Lavallee said.
But according to Microsoft's Atalla, Jet is here to stay. "Jet is optimized to work with Exchange specifically, and some of our new archiving and high-availability features are all based on heavy investment in Jet," he said. "Customers prefer that value over replacing Jet."