Data Centers

Exchange, SANs, and blade servers

One TechRepublic member posted a question in the Discussion Center regarding the installation of Exchange on a blade server with the data stored on a SAN. Scott Lowe offers his advice.

In March, 2005, TechRepublic member mlepage posted this thread in the Discussion Center: "I will be installing Exchange 2003 soon, and because available space is an issue in my server room, I was thinking of going with a blade server infrastructure and eventually replace all servers with blades. Has anyone seen or know about issues with installing Exchange on a blade server?"

In a subsequent thread, mlepage said he was also considering an Exchange installation on a Dell rebranded EMC CX300 fibre channel SAN. He asked for fairly inexpensive SAN recommendations for his Exchange infrastructure and other data storage needs.

The short answer to his question regarding the installation of Exchange on a blade server with the data stored on a SAN is: Go for it! Exchange works extremely well in this kind of situation. In addition, by using the SAN as the data storage device, mlepage can investigate a clustering solution for Exchange that will allow him to provide a highly available e-mail infrastructure to his company.

One restriction of blade servers is local storage. A blade server can accommodate only two drives, so mlepage will be limited to mirroring the drives, which will result in a single physical volume. This probably isn't a major problem for a small or midsize Exchange server, but the ability to separate the operating system paging files and run the Exchange application locally from yet another set of spindles can result in improved performance for non-blade servers. Mlepage should try to get demo units in house and measure system performance to make sure a blade solution is adequate for his needs. Since space is a major consideration, the slight performance trade-off may be worth it.

Is the Dell CX300 a good choice for his budget-conscious company? This question is difficult to answer, especially without knowing how large his company is and how many mailboxes he'll eventually store on the SAN. However, if cost is a major factor, he should examine the many iSCSI storage options available on the market. Exchange and iSCSI SANs work quite well together, and the per-TB price of an iSCSI SAN is much less than fibre channel, plus the storage infrastructure is easier to maintain.

For more information on iSCSI, check out this iSCSI project series.

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