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Microsoft Exchange 2010 adds email archiving and high availability features

Microsoft's Exchange 2010 strategy is to centralize email archiving and high availability failover inside the production email database, but not everyone's buying it.

Microsoft Corp. released Exchange 2010 this week with improved email archiving, compliance, and high availability features.

Despite the improvements, some storage pros and analysts are taking a wait-and-see approach to the new features and are leery of an approach that doesn't allow for tiered storage.

Rajesh Jha, Microsoft corporate vice president for Exchange, says Microsoft optimized the way the email application performs I/O to disk. He says by updating algorithms and "smoothing out" I/O patterns, Microsoft has improved I/O performance tenfold between Exchange 2003 and Exchange 2010. "I/O used to be bursty, but we smoothed it out so that read and write patterns were more consistent," Jha said.

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Like Exchange 2007 and other Microsoft applications launched in recent years, Exchange 2010 also supports a 64-bit operating system and more memory than in previous versions. Microsoft contends the improvements let customers run Exchange 2010 on SATA disks while keeping mailboxes archived for legal compliance within the application, rather than moving messages out of the primary Exchange Store for archiving using third-party products.

"Archive data tends to take up a lot of storage but be less I/O intensive, and 'hot' active data tends to be more I/O intensive but take up less storage," Jha said. "So it may be more cost-effective to keep both archive and the primary mailbox together in the Exchange database."

The new archiving features were designed in response to customers who don't want to manage a separate repository of .pst archive files for users. "A lot of organizations have a lot of psts," Jha said. "That has two main disadvantages – it can be difficult to search across those files for discovery, and they may be locked into a single machine. Users can now move psts to the Exchange server, and end users can access them from anywhere online."

However, Exchange 2010 doesn't provide offline access to a personal archive, a feature offered by email archiving products such as Mimosa's NearPoint and Symantec Corp.'s Enterprise Vault. Exchange 2010 doesn't automatically download the archive into end users' Outlook when they sign on, which Jha says can lighten the load on the desktop.

Simplified failover for high availability

Microsoft also moved high availability and failover within the primary application for Exchange 2010.

Exchange 2007 offered three types of native replication: local continuous replication (LCR), cluster continuous replication (CCR), and standby continuous replication (SCR), and customers could set them up to provide high availability and failover. The problem, as Microsoft's release notes put it, was that "management of an Exchange 2007 high availability solution required administrators to master some clustering concepts, such as the concept of moving network identities and managing cluster resources. In addition, when troubleshooting issues related to a clustered mailbox server, administrators had to use Exchange tools and cluster tools to review and correlate logs and events from two different sources: one from Exchange and one from the cluster."

Exchange 2010 now offers Data Availability Groups (DAG) in place of LCR and CCR. The DAG feature performs mailbox and database-level failover rather than server-level failover, consolidates multiple cluster services into one management console, automates failover operations, and allows up to 16 copies of data.

Storage industry experts skeptical

Ingram Leedy, managing partner for Exchange service provider Elephant Outlook, said he's been part of Microsoft's Technical Adoption Program (TAP) for Exchange 2010 and plans to put archiving and DAG into production as soon as possible.

"Not having to deal with third-party software makes things simpler for us," said Leedy, who also uses Microsoft's Data Protection Manager (DPM). "Clients don't want to have to deal with psts—it's just one more place for data that they don't have control over."

Leedy said he's also considering using a combination of Exchange 2010's improved data dumpster and DAGs to reduce point-in-time backups. "We're starting to consider whether we need DPM," he said. "We can make backup copies using CCR now, and the concept of a backupless environment could save money and resources while giving users what they want, which is not to have to delete anything from their inbox."

Despite the archiving improvements, Exchange 2010 doesn't support tiered storage for moving archive mailboxes to another database. A secondary archive mailbox must reside on the same disk as the primary mailbox database. Ed Sitz, IT manager at Med James Inc., a Shawnee Mission, Kans.-based management company, said he would like to see Microsoft offer a native archiving tool he could use to replace his current instance of Mimosa NearPoint. He says his users aren't comfortable with needing a separate interface and product to search mailbox archives.

"It's not that I don't like Mimosa, it's that my end users don't like it," Sitz said. "From my standpoint, it's fine, but we've installed Exchange 2010 in our test environment and are looking into whether it would satisfy the users better."

That said, the lack of support for tiered storage with Exchange 2010 archiving gives Sitz pause. "One benefit of Mimosa [being on separate storage] is the fact that it can be used as a failover in case our Exchange server or information store is corrupted or crashes," Sitz said. "I would have to read more on 2010's recovery from such an event, but…it could impact our decision."

Sitz said his organization already has about 1 TB of email already archived with NearPoint, and it would be no small feat to migrate that back into Exchange 2010.

Jha said Microsoft is aware that customers want tiered storage support. "We definitely have received that feedback and we are looking into it."

David Stevens, storage manager for computing services at Carnegie Mellon University, said there are already ways to integrate data retention policies for Exchange to cut back on Exchange data backup. "We store email on backups for three weeks and three weeks only," he said. Users can choose to retain data as long as they want inside their primary mailboxes, "but if they delete it, in three weeks and one day it's gone for good."

Others just don't need a new email archiving vendor. "We're considering upgrading but not for archiving," said Derek Kruger, IT and communications supervisor for the City of Safford, Ariz. Kruger already uses third-party archiving products from Tarmin Technologies for files and Barracuda Networks for email. "If I hadn't signed up for Barracuda's service six months ago I might be looking into it."

Enterprise Strategy Group analyst Brian Babineau wonders if performing so many services within a production Exchange application would appeal to most enterprise users. "The question for users is how much processing do you want to stuff into Exchange?" he said. "Most users would never do this with another production database like Oracle, but Microsoft is saying to try it, and they'll simplify this world for you."

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