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Fear not Exchange migration

If you still have an older version of Microsoft Exchange lumbering along in your shop, chances are good that you have a migration on the horizon, as Microsoft prepares to withdraw extended support for Exchange 5.5 on December 31.

Within the next six months, the percent of Exchange 2003 seats should increase to approximately 70% of the total Exchange seats, up from 45% today, says Lee Benjamin, an analyst at San Francisco-based Ferris Research. Exchange 5.5 seats will drop from 25% today to "the single digits," while Exchange 2000 seats will go from 30% to 20%. "People are finally getting the message that Microsoft is retiring the product," he says.

If you're among those dreading a migration, Benjamin says there's not all that much to worry about because Exchange migration "isn't as hard as it once was." People who had horrific experiences migrating from Exchange 5.5 running on Windows NT to Windows 2000/Exchange 2000 shouldn't worry, he says; there are many more tools available today and, for the most part, what made the migration really hairy—implementing Active Directory—is already done.

One such tool is XOsoft's InMotion, announced in October. Designed for Exchange 2000 and 2003, InMotion uses a wizard-based interface to walk you through basic migration steps: identifying the kind of migration you need to do, configuring the target server storage, synchronizing the data, testing the target application configuration and, finally, restarting new users on the new application. Server configuration, mailbox movement and testing all happen in the background, while users continue to work in the old environment.

Patrick Miller, director of information technology at Creditwatch Services Ltd. in Fort Worth, TX, recently used InMotion to automate a move from Exchange 2003 Standard to Exchange 2003 Enterprise. He reports users were offline for only a couple of minutes vs. six-plus hours when he manually migrated from Exchange 5.5 to 2000.

Going forward, having InMotion at his disposal "makes me aware that I can move an Exchange server for maintenance purposes in a single weekend," says Miller.

A lot of shops migrating to Exchange 2003 are using it as an opportunity to upgrade from DAS to a new Fibre Channel or iSCSI SAN, says Ferris Research's Benjamin. New features in Exchange 2003 allow administrators to consolidate once-geographically dispersed servers to a single central location, "making it easier to justify a SAN than when the servers were all spread out," he notes.

It should come as no surprise that vendors whole-heartedly embrace this line of thinking. For users considering a new EMC Clariion AX100 or CX array, for example, EMC will sweeten the pot with a plug-in for Exchange System Manager that automates the underlying storage tasks performed during a migration. Called Storage Administrator for Exchange, it does things like convert quotas and the number of mailboxes into SAN storage units; applies appropriate RAID protection levels to database and log files; and handles LUN creation, binding and masking. The software is priced per array—$2,000 for AX100 arrays and $6,000 for the CX models.

Once the migration is complete, Storage Administrator for Exchange can help you implement a sort of "poor man's clustering," says Katie Curtin-Mestre, EMC's director of Clariion software marketing. Because all of Exchange's server groups are stored on a single SAN, if one server goes down, you can simply reassign its storage group to a failover server, and get it up and running quickly.

Another e-mail project can be rolled into an Exchange migration: implementing an archive. "An Exchange migration is often the compelling event linked to archiving," says Nick Mehta, senior director of product management for Symantec's Enterprise Vault, formerly known as KVS. Why? For one thing, archiving e-mails can reduce the amount of data that needs to be migrated by up to 80%, says Mehta. By trimming your mailboxes, he says, you have less data to migrate and can potentially re-home Exchange on a smaller server.

But while purging junk from your mailboxes is a good way to "stabilize" an existing system before a migration, it's also a good idea to weigh the pros and cons of archiving as a precursor to migration, says Benjamin.

"It's a balancing act. Yes, having smaller mailboxes cuts down on the time it will take you to move them but, in the process, are you stressing out your older Exchange 5.5 server?" he asks.

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