Best practice setting up Exchange 2k3 VM with SAN iSCSI target?

We are moving our backend Eschange 2k3 mail servers to VM's in a ESX vSphere environment.  We are trying to decide what is the best way to setup the database and log partitions which will be hosted on our Equallogic SAN for performance and ease of backup.  For backup we will be using a Dell Powervault tape jukebox and Backup Exec for software.

Currently we are debating whether we should create the luns on the SAN and then use the Microsoft iSCSI initiator inside the Win 2k3 Ent. Server VM to mount those drives for Exchange to connect to.

Or option two, connect to those luns from the ESX VM Host and present that as a drive to the guest Win 2k3 VM from VMware.

Of ESX environment consistst of a Equallogic SAN and 3 VM servers running ESX 4.0.

If anyone can suggest, point out another better way, or point me to some best practices links I would greatly appreciate it.

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I suggest you choose option2, connect the LUN from ESX, then assign the ESX storage to VM. this way the VM doesn't need to know anything about iScsi; you can easily move it to other storage ( e.g. you need to do maintenance on the SAN.)

When you connect to LUN from ESX, you can have dedicated Nics and network for SAN, you can follow Dell's suggestion to create mutilple IO path, so you have fault tolerate connections.  

I remember saw a Dell document how to configure ESX to SAN step by step, you can check to find some documents.

Definetely option 2.  Why put unnecessary overhead on the VM itself when the ESX host can better handle this.

In most situations, I'd also recommend 1 LUN for Logs and Another for the Infostores.  Then you just need to decide if you want to create Datastores and put the hard disks on them or just use a RAW LUN within the VM.

I tend to prefer mapping the RAW LUN since I find it keeps things more manageable within ESX so you don't have an abundance of datastores.
pusupportAuthor Commented:

When you say to just create a raw lun to use within the VM.  Are you using the MS iSCSI initiator to connect to that raw lun as a drive in Windows Server 2003?  Then just format it in Windows to ntfs and put the databases on it that way?
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No, let the ESX host have access to the direct LUN on the san itself.  Then add that drive as a raw device mapping within the settings of the VM.

The other method that would still allow the host to handle the iscsi overhead would be to create a datastore specifically fo the data volume of a VM.  Then just create a new hard drive in theVM and set it on that datastore.
We currently have Exchange 2010 deployed within our vSphere 4.1 environment utilizing the Equallogic SAN's as well. We did have Exchange 2003 set up in the same way. Under the windows 2003 server we did do a disk alignment for the exchange volumes. Not necessary under windows 2008.

Windows 2008 VM Server:  Microsoft iscsi initiator > Multipath IO > Persistent Volume Mapping

2 Volumes

1 Storage and 1 Logs

This is working for us very well within our environment.

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What's your data volume? both current database size and how many emails a day?

Not it will change how you set up the SAN - go with option 2 of course, but it may change how you set up your backup. Personally I would go with Double Take + Microsoft DPM.
pusupportAuthor Commented:
We are getting aprox. 220,000 external incoming emails a day.  Our database size is about 500GB.

Management has already purchased licensing for BackupExec so that is what we plan on using.

I think we are getting a handle on setting up the luns, etc. but still have to figure out the back/restore strategy.

I have a little write-up in my profile if you don't mind taking a quick read. It talks about what is the first step toward planning a backup and disaster recovery strategy.

In most cases, the strategy is always layered, meaning you don't use just one. Personally, and it looks you have the dough to do the job, I'd always suggest the following:

1. Have another Exchange box and use Double-Take run replication - this gives you very high availability and peace of mind.
2. Run some sort of image/snapshot based backup, since you have VMware, I'd use Veeam
3. Set up some routine daily backup. your BackupExec is good.

But again, take a look at my little article and think about the RTO and RPO, then you can plan it well.
Oh, how many mailboxes are there?
pusupportAuthor Commented:
Thanks, PT.  I'll take a look at your writeup tonight.  To answer your questions we've got 1183 mailboxes and our databases are at 376GB total (182GB + 194GB), for our 2 backend mail servers.
pusupportAuthor Commented:
We plan on using a combination of both solutions. thanks all!
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