Exchange Server Virtualization: The Why and The How

Exchange Server Virtualization: The Why and The How

January 21

Whether you’re upgrading to a newer version or taking it for your very first spin, making the move to enterprise email with Microsoft Exchange Server isn’t the only critical decision on the table. In today’s IT environment, it’s very likely that you also have to decide whether to deploy the software on a physical machine, or virtual machine. If the thought hasn’t crossed your mind, then it’s something to consider. And here’s why:

Better Hardware Utilization and Cost Savings at Your Fingertips  

You paid premium coin for that souped up server, but are you really getting your money’s worth? Virtualization helps you maximize that investment by allocating available CPU and RAM to both Exchange and any other applications you need to run on the designated machine. Since you’re running fewer boxes, you’re using less energy and spending less time on maintenance, which means immediate savings now and possibly more in the long run. Although a dedicated machine is nice for a powerful application such as this, it isn’t always ideal with cost, administration, and other factors to account for.

You Can Scale Without Performance Hits

Exchange performs its best with direct access to the underlying physical hardware components. It’s conventional IT wisdom, but if you have the need for more, yet lack the resources to support it, virtualization can accommodate it without asking you to sacrifice too much performance in the process. With the ability to run Client Access Server (CAS), Mailbox Server, and other vital Exchange server roles, a company that needs to support a mass hiring effort can do so by scaling out hundreds more mailboxes across a virtual environment that matches the performance of a physical server.

Disaster Recovery Is Easier

In Exchange Server 5.5, Microsoft introduced Clustering, a Windows feature that promotes high availability by creating an additional passive node that picks up the slack should the active node running your mailboxes happens to fail. While Clustering offers a degree of redundancy, it’s a complicated process that only supports the server role. The virtual Exchange environment lets you  bypass those clustering complexities, enhance availability, and improve disaster recovery capabilities by enabling seamless failover of all server roles from one host to another.

Making Virtual Exchange a Reality

In previous posts, we’ve discussed how software licenses influence how you’re legally able to use virtualization with certain applications. If you’re worried about Microsoft foiling your plans there’s no need to, because the God of software totally embraces the idea. Having said that, there are a few things you should view as the best established how-to’s of getting Exchange virtualization right.

Choose a Virtualization Tool

Choosing the right hypervisor for the job is important, but not necessarily for the reasons you might think. If we’re talking VMware or Microsoft’s own Hyper V, you can relax a bit because both offer adequate capabilities for the task at hand. The best decision will ultimately come down to which hypervisor your IT people feel most comfortable using, and perhaps a few exclusive features that cater to company-specific needs.

Be Judicious with Resources

Although we’ve been talking about getting the most from your hardware, adopting this mindset can make it easier to go a little overboard. You may be tempted to run to SharePoint, SQL Server, and Hadoop next to Exchange all to create this powerful sprawl of virtual machines. Just remember that if you tie up too many resources, you’ll pay for it in the performance department.

Respect Microsoft’s Support Policy

Microsoft has its own policy and guidelines for deploying Exchange in a virtual environment. It’s a good idea to keep up with this stuff so you know what is required from supported hardware, hypervisors, and other key components. Examples can be found in this list of requirements designed for virtualization with Exchange Server 2013.

Resource-conscious organizations in search of an efficient email solution will be happy to know that a virtual Exchange platform can be deployed without sacrificing performance or reliability. A poorly structured virtualization project will suffer no matter what system it’s built around, so execute your strategy with precision and keep it rock-solid!

Photo Credit: Dennis Skley via Flickr