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Checklist: Tools that diagnose Exchange performance problems

Obvious answer: Bring your server back online as quickly as possible. Here are some tools and a checklist to help you remedy your problem as quickly as possible.

When a production Exchange Server goes down, you want to bring it back online as quickly as possible without losing data in the process. Often the solution is as simple as rebooting the server, but sometimes the solution can be more complex.

Over the years, I have repaired a number of failed Exchange servers. It has been my experience that having good diagnostic tools makes all the difference in the world.

While Microsoft has made great strides in the stability of the Exchange databases, there are some problems that just can't be fixed no matter what tools you are using. Likewise, there are also some repair operations that might work but that require an extremely long time to complete.

When you are recovering an Exchange server, it is important to know when to cut your losses and restore the most recent backup. That said, let's look at a sampling of diagnostic and recovery tools you can use to bring your server back online.

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 Checklist: Tools that diagnose Exchange performance problems
Make sure your database isn't corrupted
Tool to use: Goexchange
One of the big problems with Exchange is that the databases tend to be subject to corruption (especially in older versions). In most cases, this corruption starts out small and completely unnoticeable, but tends to escalate over time. You probably won't even know that you have a problem until you stop and try to restart the Exchange databases, only to discover that you can't mount them.

Goexchange performs regular maintenance on the databases and removes corruption before it can cause a problem. You can get a copy from http://www.goexchange.com. Pricing depends on the number of mailboxes on your server and ranges from $595 to $4,995.

Repair any existing corruption
Tool to use: ESEUTIL
Hopefully, you have had GOexchange constantly monitoring your server for corruption and repairing any minor issues as they occur. If not, there is a good chance that you may have some corrupted databases.

Microsoft includes the ESEUTIL tool with Exchange so that you will have a utility capable of repairing database corruption. Before you run ESEUTIL, though, there are a few things that you need to know. First, depending on the size of your information store, running ESEUTIL can take hours. Second, running ESEUTIL requires you to dismount the information store. Finally, you can freely use ESEUTIL to detect corruption, but you shouldn't use ESEUTIL's repair option lightly. ESEUTIL repairs Exchange databases by deleting anything that it doesn't understand. Using ESEUTIL to repair a database can lead to significant data loss, but sometimes running it is your only choice.

Examine your configuration
Tool to use: Exchange Server Best Practices Analyzer
Although a poorly configured Exchange server won't usually cause a server to suddenly crash, bad configurations can be blamed for a whole slew of other problems. The Exchange Server Best Practices Analyzer is a free utility from Microsoft that examines your entire Exchange infrastructure, compares it to Microsoft's recommended configuration and then points out any areas that could become potentially problematic. Although this is mostly a preventative maintenance tool, it does offer some diagnostic capabilities that it uses in determining the general health of your server. You can learn more about this tool here.
Compare the configuration to a functional machine
Tool to use: EXCHDUMP
Sometimes if a server is having problems it can be handy to compare the server's configuration to a server that is working. Microsoft includes a tool for doing so in Exchange called EXCHDUMP.

EXCHDUMP is a crude tool. It doesn't give you any type of analytical data in the way that the Best Practices Analyzer Tool does. Instead, it simply dumps the server's configuration to a file. You can, however, dump the configuration of the malfunctioning server to a file and then dump the configuration of a functional server to another file. You can then do a line by line comparison of the two files to see what is different between the two servers.

MOM in the background
Tool: Microsoft Operations Manager
Technically, Microsoft Operations Manager (MOM) isn't a recovery tool. What it does do is closely monitor your server's performance. The performance aspects that are monitored are compared with threshold values. The idea is that MOM can often spot a problem before it occurs. If MOM does detect a potential problem, it can alert you and /or take corrective action.

Exchange Server 2003 comes with a MOM management pack, but Microsoft still requires you to purchase a MOM license if you want to run MOM on your Exchange Server. A MOM 2005 server license is available directly from Microsoft and costs $729 per server.

Brien M. Posey, MCSE, is a Microsoft Most Valuable Professional for his work with Windows 2000 Server and IIS. Brien has served as the CIO for a nationwide chain of hospitals and was once in charge of IT security for Fort Knox. As a freelance technical writer he has written for Microsoft, CNET, ZDNet, TechTarget, MSD2D, Relevant Technologies and other technology companies. You can visit Brien's personal Web site at http://www.brienposey.com.

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