Get IT Done: Troubleshoot MS Exchange with Performance Optimizer

Learn how to use Performance Optimizer to find problems with Exchange.

Although I am relatively new to the Exchange world, one lesson I learned many years ago was to avoid installing crucial software to the system drive of a Microsoft Windows NT 4.0 server. Unfortunately, a client of mine failed to follow this rule, and I had to pick up the pieces. My task was made easier, however, thanks to Microsoft Exchange 5.5’s Performance Optimizer. Here’s how using this tool can save you time and effort when you have to move Exchange databases.

The problem
My client’s problem was threefold.
  1. The system drive (C:) was crucially low on disk space, yet still contained Exchange 5.5.
  2. The paging file was never resized to support the server.
  3. The IT budget disallowed the option of a hardware upgrade.

A silver lining
Although all seemed lost, closer inspection of the server revealed a saving grace. The total hard drive space including all volumes would provide enough storage to accommodate Exchange and allow a few more months of smooth operation. Exchange’s databases could be strategically spread out over various volumes. This technique would buy enough time for the new budget year to roll around, thus allowing the allocation of funds for a hardware upgrade. Also, there would be enough room after the optimization to adjust the paging file to proper limits.

Spreading Exchange’s databases over a number of volumes sounds tough, but it was surprisingly very easy. Exchange comes equipped with a tool that does all the work for you.

Performance Optimizer
Microsoft’s Exchange Server Performance Optimizer, a simple wizard, actually runs during the initial setup of Exchange. During the installation, most technicians simply click Next to move on through the installation rather than use the Optimizer. Most likely, the engineer who installed Exchange at my client’s location did the same. Unfortunately, the company’s needs may have changed. Nonetheless, the Performance Optimizer will help manage Exchange’s database Storage locations.

The moving process
Using the Performance Optimizer is a simple process. All Exchange services, however, will be stopped after the Optimizer launches. Therefore, users will be unable to connect to Exchange.

Before running the utility, groom through the server’s hard drives. Identify where you would like the database files to be relocated. The following list specifies the different database files:
  • Private Information Store
  • Public Information Store
  • Information Store Logs
  • Directory Service
  • Directory Service Logs
  • Message Transfer Agent

After you have completed analyzing the Exchange Server, run the Performance Optimizer. A shortcut should be conveniently located in Start | Programs | Exchange.

Running Performance Optimizer
After launching the Performance Optimizer, you should see the screen shown in Figure 1. Note that, in the fine print, the software warns that all Microsoft Exchange services will be stopped. At the conclusion of the utility, services are automatically restarted. Before clicking Next, make sure you have a good backup of Exchange.

Figure 1
All Exchange services will stop while running the Optimizer.

Next, you will be prompted to complete the survey shown in Figure 2. This information will be used to evaluate the database, modify registry settings, and make good recommendations concerning database locations.

One option to carefully consider on this screen is “Limit memory usage to XX MB,” You can tell the utility that only a specific amount of RAM is dedicated to Exchange. If you leave this box unchecked, Exchange will use the total RAM in its calculations. Limiting the amount of RAM, however, doesn’t mean that Exchange will never use more memory than the amount you define. Exchange will only allocate resources as if this computer only had the specified amount of RAM.

Figure 2
For this optimization, I did not limit the amount of RAM.

Clicking Next will display the screen shown in Figure 3, and the Exchange server will churn away for a few minutes.

Figure 3
This may take several minutes depending on the size of your databases.

Once the utility evaluates the server, the screen shown in Figure 4 will appear. The current and suggested database locations will be detailed. This is the screen where you can control the database location. The suggested locations are where the Optimizer will place the database files when you click Next. However, if you would like to change their locations, simply enter a new path in the box.

Figure 4
The default database locations

After clicking Next, you will be advised that moving files is necessary to optimize Exchange (see Figure 5). Although you can move files manually, I strongly suggest that you let Exchange move the files automatically.

Figure 5
You’re almost finished.

Microsoft recommends running the Performance Optimizer:
  • After every new installation or upgrade of Exchange Server, before the server is put into production.
  • After adding components to a server, such as connectors.
  • When the number of users or mailbox activity significantly changes.
  • When hardware changes are made to an Exchange Server computer, such as adding RAM or changing hard disk configurations.

Wrapping up
After the utility finishes, make sure to go to Control Panel | Services and verify that Exchange was properly restarted. Just to make sure, I would do a complete reboot of the server. After the box is back up, connect through a client and make sure that the Public, Private, MTA, and other Exchange activities are operational. And that’s it. Now you know how to use the Exchange Performance Optimizer as a means to manage your Exchange Server more effectively.
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