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Exchange 2013 Virtual vs Physical

Posted on 2014-09-29
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Last Modified: 2014-09-30
I am in the process of planning an Exchange migration from 2007 to 2013.  I am debating on whether to go virtual on the new Exchange 2013 install.  Here is my environment and hardware:

HP Proliant DL360 G7 Performance model
2 PROCs
64 GBs RAM
(7) 15k SAS 300GB Drives

Currently 150 mailboxes (may grow to 250 over the next 5 years
One site

My options are to install on physical box or.....

Install Hyper-V or VMware on physical and then create VM for Exchange.  I would prefer this for obvious DR reasons, but I am concerned about performance..... Here is my question....

If I keep the Virtual HOST dedicated to the Exchange VM and store both VHDs... One for Exchange C drive and the other for Exchange data on the internal D Drives of the new Hyper-V/VMware host would it perform well?  I do have the ability to TEAM NICs to improve throughput.

I am currently running Exchange 2007 on a physical DL380 G5 with 2 PROCs and 12 GBs of RAM.
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Question by:BSModlin
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LVL 117
ID: 40350127
At present, we are see-ing a fashion of sites, move off Virtual platforms (Hyper-V and VMware) to physical servers, to aid with performance.

But these are delivery more mailboxes than you currently have, and will have in the future.
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Author Comment

by:BSModlin
ID: 40350134
Ok but given the scenario above do YOU feel there would be a performance issue?
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LVL 117
ID: 40350153
That depends on the sizes of your users mailboxes. and how your users operate ?
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Author Comment

by:BSModlin
ID: 40350175
Understood.... but is there something to follow... like best practices?  Some prior experiences or implementations?  User mailboxes average about 5GBs each..... a few are 10GBs+.......  We also have Metalogix Email Archiver that stubs all mail older than 60 days.

Any input, recommendations, would be appreciated.... I understand it will be "opinion" and I am not holding you responsible for your input.
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by:Gareth Gudger
ID: 40350303
Silly question. But are you just going to have one virtual host? If so, then there is not much benefit of virtualizing. Remember as well that virtualization only eliminates hardware problems. It still does not eliminate issues at operating system level or Exchange server level.
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Author Comment

by:BSModlin
ID: 40350382
I will have 3 Hyper-V hosts total, and plan on clustering in the future.
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Expert Comment

by:Gareth Gudger
ID: 40350611
Ok. Just making sure.

Virtualization is fine. The big things is to make sure you don't use dynamic memory or dynamic disks. Exchange doesn't like it when things change.

Spec wise, you build it the same way you would build a physical box. So for that I recommend Ross' sizing calculator.
http://gallery.technet.microsoft.com/Exchange-2013-Server-Role-f8a61780

You may also want to check out this video from MEC. Where they cover Best Practices for Virtualizing Exchange 2013.
http://channel9.msdn.com/Events/MEC/2014/ARC305

When you build the servers though. Definitely go multi-role. And definitely build a DAG. Despite virtualization reducing the likelihood of being affecting by hardware failure, you can still have patches go bad that mess up the Windows OS, or, Exchange Server. And you can still have databases get corrupt. So, even though your virtualization provides high availability over hardware, you need Exchange to offer high availability of the software.
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by:aleghart
aleghart earned 250 total points
ID: 40351251
BSModlin, we've got over 2,000 mailboxes spread over 4 mailbox servers, three of them VMs.  The VMs run faster than iron, becase the old servers were 10 years old.  Hosts are 1-3 years old, more RAM, and far more cores.  SAN storage versus local disks, etc.

The biggest VM with ~300GB in 8 mailbox databases (keeping ~50GB or less in each).  Running mailbox server with 16GB of RAM, 2 cores, and can be quickly upgraded during a maintenance window...which is a sub-5-minute reboot.

Your database size should be fine.  A lot of people still say that SQL, Exchange, etc. performs better on iron.  But...at what cost?  I wouldn't notice a 5% or even 10% hit when the hosts have far more capacity than is needed.  The problem comes when there is resource contention.
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Author Comment

by:BSModlin
ID: 40351265
Are your VM mailbox servers connect to SAN storage via iSCSI, or are the VHDs themselves stored on the SAN from the host itself??  I will only have one server but curious whether to go with internal disk on the host or connect VM exchange to iSCSI??
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Expert Comment

by:Gareth Gudger
ID: 40351271
I've done both. I have a few customers with a single server running on VSphere and the databases are operating out of VMDKs just fine. I have others doing Raw Device Mappings.
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Author Comment

by:BSModlin
ID: 40351274
Do you have a preference, and reasoning for that preference?  Sorry for all the questions... Just want to make the best decision for my deployment.
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Gareth Gudger earned 250 total points
ID: 40351279
Mostly customer driven. Sometimes they just want to only have to deal with VMDKs/VHDs. Or they want to try that first and monitor performance and go to a RDM later. I've got a few customers around 200 users on a single multi-role server running solely off VMDKs/VHDs no problem. The database I/O of 2013 compared to 2003 is 93% less.
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by:aleghart
ID: 40351293
Ours are VMDK.  Biggest advantage of the SAN over local RAID is the redundant controller.  We had one physical Exchange server lose half of the backplane recently.  Lost part of the data volume, all of the log volume...so database crashed dirty.  It took days, not hours to recover.

Our EMC engineers told us to use normal VMDK, not worry about RDMs.  NetApp is also not using RDM.
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