Exchange Server under the tree this Christmas?

I’ve been reading a lot about Exchange 2007 and have been thinking about what the next move for our Exchange server at the office should be. We haven’t decided on Exchange 2007 vs. Exchange 2010 yet, but no matter… I want Santa to bring me a way to eliminate all the PST files being used around the office.

We don’t have a large staff. With less than 70 people our Exchange server doesn’t work that hard. However, with the desire to bring email services back up as quickly as possible after a failure we have a policy in place that limits the amount of mail stored on the server to 250MB per user. This leaves our data store at a little over 18GB. Our last test restoration of exchange required about 2 hours for loading the database.

Contrary to this is everyone’s need to keep every scrap of every email message. This has lead to numerous PST files created as archives for all this mail. It’s pretty safe for me to assume that almost every employee has at least one PST file and they are all stored on the network shares.(Yes, I know PST storage on the network is unsupported.) My quick search yielded about 30 GB of PST files and I know I didn’t find them all.

So what exactly can Santa bring me?

First, I would be lying if I said I needed a server with more space. The current exchange server still has upwards of 180GB free, so it’s likely I could support years of user email with our current setup just by throwing open the storage limits.

I would like to have a proper email archiving system that would automatically move mail from the active mailboxes to secondary storage, thus leaving my primary database small while allowing users to seamlessly access old messages. Personally, I don’t keep much in the way of work email and I think that if my company wants me to keep mail for historical purposes, they should provide an easy way to do so. However, I haven’t managed to convince the powers-that-be that this is something to embrace quite yet.

My next choice would be reconfiguring Exchange using 2007 or 2010 to take advantage of additional storage groups and “dial-tone” mail service. If I could virtualize the mail server with a SAN for storage, I could bring basic services up in a snap(shot). By breaking up users into multiple storage groups, it would be possible for us to restore mail service immediately and then backfill the databases in small chunks. While it would still take time to restore all the data, users would be able to send and receive mail while old mail would trickle in as the storage groups come back online.

I know “dial-tone” restores are possible with my current setup, but utilizing it in Exchange 2007 or later is much easier than Exchange 2003 due to the auto-discovery features. I also would like to have at least one storage group (with only one database) per department, nearly double of the four storage group limit with Exchange 2003. With the 50 storage group limit in Exchange 2007 I wouldn’t have any problem meeting my goal. Also, Exchange 2010 has some good “starter” archiving features for mail management that might be worth a closer look.

Of course Exchange 2007 and 2010 require 64-bit hardware, so maybe Santa can bring me that new server after all.
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7 thoughts on “Exchange Server under the tree this Christmas?

  1. Exchange 2010 will do everything you need, including dropping PSTs into the online archive and allowing you to setup policies to automatically move e-mails to the online archive after X number of days.

    See for more information.

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  2. Hi Jennelle.

    I'm involved with the development of an email archival product. Rather than just post a link, I thought it better to share some thoughts and design decisions in the same spirit as your well thought out and nicely described post.

    Backing up PSTs (local or distributed) can be a nightmare. Negative side-effects could include errors, data loss or duplicate backups, scalability issues, etc. thus making the resulting archive less than reliable.

    Fundamentally, a good architecture would allow for a central point of control, central storage and transparent archiving of email. Around that fundamental you build the goodies like:

    * Archival system works with ANY mailserver, thus protecting the customers investment (present and future)
    * Archives grow large over time, so save space using de-duplication (single instance of any email) along with compression.
    * Web browser based easy access from anywhere
    * Time saving and convenience features for busy administrators, including self service for users and automatic system alerts
    * Make searching through email as easy (and fast) as a Google search
    * Flexible email restore options
    * Reports, etc., etc.

    If it sounds interesting, do check out MailVault at http://mailvault.in/ and if you have any thoughts or suggestions, we'd love to hear them.

    For your situation, in a nutshell, I think your idea of virtualization for “instant-on” service availability, with a flexible archival solution is the way to go.

    And if you manage to convince Santa to get you a new server, please do give him my address too πŸ˜‰

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  3. I have also been struggling with similar issues albeit not with exchange but another mail server. We happen to have been using MX Logic for spam and virus filtering of email for quite some time which also provides us with a DR spool. In the event our mail server is off line all of our incoming mail is “spooled” at MX Logic. Now with the addition of their archiving service all email in or out of our server is archived at their facility. The killer part of this is that since we have DR spooling and archiving, in the event of a disaster users can log into their MX logic account and access a “spooled inbox” of all of their incoming mail from the time the server was down as well as any email that was archived so they effectively have access to all but the most current email that has not been pulled from the archive (about every 10 minutes). This IMHO is an unbeatable solution to archiving with the added bonus of very seamless way to support business continuity.
    There is an outlook 2007 plugin that allows users to search their archive from within outlook. (not perfect but best I have seen so far) Now convincing users that they do not need to save everything… that is another matter entirely.

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  4. I have the same problems with many client sites and was really excited to move everyone to Exchange 2010 when I heard it would have the built-in archive. I still will deploy Exchange 2010 because who wants to install last year's version but there were a few gotchas for me. You need Outlook 2010 to view the user's online archive mailbox (or OWA) so that's a bummer for most of my clients who have lots of OEM Office 2007 installs. It also requires the enterprise CAL for the online archive additional costs above the standard CAL. 😦 Also the online archive is stored on the same database as the user's mailbox. I'm still going to have to use a 3rd party mailbox archive solution for those clients of mine who really need it.

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