Saturday, February 28, 2009

MS Exchange P2V

I've been prepping for this one for a long time. Anyone can vouch for the level of importance that email systems play in today's world. Several months back during planning for 2009, my Exchange 2K3 server came up as hitting its end of hardware warranty. While looking into extending it, I was not excited with the cost compared to going virtual(on ESXi).

My Exchange environment is simple - 1 server, less than 200 users, OWA, & OMA. While this is 'simple' it means everything rides on just one box. Sometime down the road it'll move toward a multi server, split role configuration.

Given the high importance of email and the relatively 'young' status of the physical-to-virtual process I had concerns using P2V on Exchange Server. After much searching and reading, largely through the VMware communities, I gained confidence that if done properly it would work well.

The Keys to Exchange P2V
  1. Testing - build a test Exchange Instance and utilize tools like JetStress
  2. Backups
  3. Consistent Exchange DB's
  4. Minimal amount of System activity during P2V
  5. Highly documented process/plan

The summary of my procedure was:
1) Full Backup
2) Cut off Net Access
3) Disable client related services
4) Incremental backup
5) Disable ALL non system critical services
6) Robocopy (local) data drive (Exchange databases) to iSCSI drive & disconnect
7) P2V the system drive then shutdown physical box
8) Bootup the VM, configure the VM network devices, and connect iSCSI drives
9) Startup services and check event logs after each service startup
10) Test "Internal" Clients
11) Open up external client access and Test
12) Full Production
13) Full Backup
14) Monitor, monitor, monitor

The entire process went smoothly and the new Exchange VM is functioning perfectly. Hopefully this is useful for those unsure about running Exchange Server in a virtual environment or considering an Exchange P2V.

Net positives of this operation include: Less power draw, longer UPS standby capacity, less heat generation, free'd up rack space, better performance, simplified DR, reduced maintenance costs, no client setting changes, etc...

Drawbacks - (Yawn) a late night of lost sleep to catch up on.

Side Note: OEM licenses are not transferable to different hardware - you must have a non-oem license for the new virtual system if the physical box was OEM licensed.

Some helpful resources I'd found:
Article 1
Article 2
Article 3(PDF)

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Britains got Talent said...

Jeff, very helpful post. I am looking at the same thing for a 2000 exchange environment. As ever with email there is that risk because everything is centered around the use of email. I have successfully p2v'ed a sap installation made up of 4 servers which went well and just ran the vmware convertor and ignored any manafacturers custom partitions. Later in the year I am hoping to introduce vranger or something similar to give use some kind of DR using virtulisation. One thing I want to try is take a virtual copy of our mail server, keep it offline but update the mail store via a backup or copy. It sounds a bit crude but it may just work and give me a backup mail server on tap as it were.



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