Veritas Offers More Storage for Exchange

Perhaps one of the worst design issues of Microsoft Corp.’s (www.microsoft.com) Exchange Server is the massive storage requirement of the information store. E-mail itself isn’t that space-consuming, it is all of those attachments that users can’t seem to detach from the e-mail when it comes in. As a result, the information store grows to huge proportions. A network of 200 users can expect to need 4 GB of information store space.

At 20 MB of mailbox space per user, 4 GB should be enough. But we’ve seen information stores easily hit the maximum limit of an information store limit, or cause horrible mail-server slowdowns that get to the point of preventing mail from flowing.

A new product from Veritas Software Corp. addresses this problem with a simple and effective solution: Remove both old and new attachments from the information store and put them on offline storage media. Remote Storage for Exchange (RSE) creates a pointer to the file now on tape, and stores that pointer in a SQL Server database table. The attachments, stored on tape, are now in the Backup Exec management program’s records. RSE supports Outlook 97, 98, and 2000 clients when directly connected to the mail server. As yet, Outlook Web Access clients are not supported nor are any other mail clients.

When a file is needed, and requested in the information store, RSE informs the user that the file is being retrieved from offline storage. RSE then checks the SQL database, gets the pointer to the location of the file on tape, then retrieves the file. The user receives somewhat informative messages as to the progress of the file retrieval process. If the file is on a different tape, the administrator is prompted to insert the proper tape just as in any other Backup Exec backup/restore process.

The Test Platform

We performed the RSE test using several servers on the test network. The first server was the Exchange 5.5 server that also hosted Backup Exec with the Hewlett-Packard (HP) 4mm DDS-3 tape drive. The second server hosted the SQL Server 7.0 database, which is to be the logging server. Both servers are medium-build Pentium II 400-MHz processors with 256 MB of memory and suitable disk space for each process.

We wanted to test the product on a third server that hosted an HP CD-RW drive, and configured this server as a member server of the domain. The disk was shared out to the proper users, as was the CD-RW drive shared out to the administrators and the RSE logon account.

RSE installed in about an hour on the main backup server. We had to patch the server to Service Pack 5 or higher, then patch to MDAC 2.1 database drivers, and lastly patch the server to MS Internet Explorer 5.0 or higher. Aside from the Service Pack 6a that we installed, all required software was on the installation CD.

During installation, we discovered the product could not journal the attachments to one server that did not have the tape storage device on it. In this 1.0 of RSE, journaling to non-tape devices is not supported. Veritas confirmed that a soon-to-be-released update to the product will support attachment moving to disk space, such as a network attached storage array.

Operations

Veritas Software's RSE is easy to use and manipulate, but a bit of a bother to manage in times of disaster. The product has few menu options for the operational part of the product: The rest of it is in the client and in the Backup Exec server component.

We first set up RSE to perform journaling to tape every 30 minutes so we could test its impact on the network of our 60 users. We defined the operational time of RSE as all day long and set RSE to check for journaling every 30 minutes. You can adjust the time to any point in the day, and set journaling for any interval that suits your needs. We also defined a set of criteria for moving files: They had to be at least 50 KB in size and older than 90 days from the "today" date.

We set the initial criteria low enough to immediately check the information store and provide us some relief. The first cut of the journaling process moved 34 MB of attachments out of the information store and onto the tape drive. Since RSE supports any tape drive or tape library that Backup Exec does, switching tapes is easy. To check the completion of the process, we examined the Backup Exec records to see what happened to our newly liberated files.

The process was transparent and easy to manage. Our Outlook 2000 client worked well with the agent portion of the product, as it informed us of the progress in retrieving our files as requested. Yes, it was slow coming from tape, but quite effective and capable of holding nearly 24 GB on one, 125-meter DDS-3 cartridge. We hope that future evolutions of this product will support media such as regular disk storage, rewritable media, and network attached storage media.

Summary

Usually 1.0 products have there share of issues, but this product does its job effectively and to the point. It quietly and adeptly handles attachments of any size. It is easy to see where starting from scratch with this product seems a bit costly. You’ll easily spend $10,000 to get started, which is the cost of two small servers with tons of disk space. But, DDS-3, DDS-4, and jukebox tapes are much cheaper and take up significantly less space than additional servers.

Remote Storage 1.0 for Exchange Server
Veritas Software Corp., Mountain View, Calif.
(800) 327-2232
www.veritas.com

 

Price: $4,995 per managed RSE base server kit; $995 per Exchange Server Agent for one additional mail server; and $5,995 for Backup Exec for Windows NT/2000

Pros/Cons:
+ Excellent installation and performance.
+ Low server memory and processor utilization.
+ Easy to schedule jobs and job options.
+ Relieves Exchange information store bloating.

- RSE MMC console doesn’t tie into Backup Exec operations.
- No current method of storing files to disk or CD-RW.
- Requires RSE functions to be installed on the same server.