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VMware vSphere necessities for Exchange 2010 virtualization

The right hardware, software and tools will enhance any Exchange 2010 virtualization effort. Heed these suggestions if virtualizing with VMware vSphere.

Exchange 2010 is a Tier I application that lots of users depend on, so it's important to ensure that any Exchange 2010 virtualization project has adequate resources. If you're constructing a virtual Exchange infrastructure to run on VMware vSphere, it's critical that you have the proper software, hardware and tools in place to properly support your infrastructure. Weigh these important requirements and advice before moving forward.

Hardware and software requirements for Exchange 2010 virtualization

Server virtualization has become so common in today's servers that all but low-end systems are VMware vSphere and Microsoft Hyper-V compatible. All a server really needs is an AMD-V- or Intel-VT-enabled CPU and enough memory to host the desired number of virtual machine (VM) instances. If the server will host numerous VMs, it also helps to have multiple 1 Gigabit Ethernet ports available (or a single 10 GbE port) to ensure adequate LAN connectivity.

Make sure you're aware of CPU-compatibility issues; servers in the same virtualization cluster need the same CPU brand and model (such as two Intel Xeon E5-2637 processors) in order to use features like vMotion and Distributed Resource Scheduler (DRS). If your cluster contains servers from the same brand but different families, then Enhanced vMotion Compatibility (EVC) -- a feature of VMware vSphere -- can provide compatibility between CPUs that aren't from the same CPU family.

Virtual machines are loaded from and protected with storage. Local or direct-attached storage will work, but a storage area network (SAN) or network-attached storage (NAS) is required in a virtual infrastructure if you want to use vSphere's advanced features.

Besides the obvious issue of storage capacity, also consider the I/Os per second (IOPS) offered. Measure that against the I/O demands of applications running on the VMs -- and the number of workloads in your infrastructure -- to ensure that your storage will have the necessary I/O bandwidth. Microsoft's Exchange Server Profile Analyzer is the best tool to help Exchange administrators determine IOPS demands.

You'll also need to license and install a variety of VMware vSphere components in your Exchange 2010 virtualization project. This includes vSphere Enterprise or Enterprise Plus, vCenter for centralized vSphere management, vMotion for workload migration between servers, Storage vMotion for virtual disk file migration in storage, DRS and High Availability.

Virtual infrastructure tools to support your project

Once you have the proper server hardware, your ESX or ESXi vSphere hypervisor, the vCenter management console and any advanced features in place, it's important to consider two other virtual infrastructure tools from VMware or a third party.

The first is a backup/recovery/replication tool. Traditional Exchange 2010 backup tools should still work after you've virtualized Exchange 2010, but a tool specifically designed for the new virtual infrastructure offers better performance and versatility.

VMware includes the VMware Data Recovery (VDR) tool in every version of vSphere except Essentials. VDR does a good job when it comes to backup and recovery, but it doesn't scale beyond 100 VMs. Also, its backup repositories have limited capacity, and it does not offer replication. Third-party tools -- such as those from Veeam Backup, PHD Virtual and Appassure Backup -- are more powerful than VDR but will cost you extra.

The second infrastructure tool should provide performance and capacity analysis. Although vCenter offers basic performance analysis, it doesn't go far enough in identifying, predicting and troubleshooting capacity bottlenecks.

You can use the recommended VMware vCenter Operations Management Suite, but you also have third-party options, like vKernel vOPS from Dell. Depending on your virtualized Exchange 2010 instance, you may also want to consider a tool that takes a different approach, such as virtual network capacity analysis from Xangati.

Selecting the right hardware, VMware products and virtual infrastructure tools won't guarantee a successful virtualized Exchange 2010 deployment, but it will certainly improve your odds of success.

These tools can also be complex, so build your own lab, learn as much as you can and create a virtualized Exchange Server proof of concept.

David Davis is the author of the VMware vSphere video training library from Train Signal (including the new vSphere 5 video training course). With more than 18 years of enterprise experience, Davis has written hundreds of virtualization-related articles for the Web and is a vExpert, a VMware Certified Professional, a VMware Certified Advanced Professional-Datacenter administration, and Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert #9369. His personal website is

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