By Henry Baltazar  |  Posted 2006-01-16 Print this article Print

EMC Corp.s Storage Administrator for Exchange 2.1, or SAFE, simplifies storage management and improves data availability for SAN-based Microsoft Corp. Exchange implementations. Because storage area networks have the ability to expand storage capacity on the fly—and also are able to move storage resources among servers—they are a good fit for e-mail servers. Unfortunately, despite the rapid and virtually uncontrollable growth of e-mail storage, the daunting complexity of SANs has scared many IT managers away from an upgrade from DAS (direct-attached storage).

EMCs SAFE 2.1 should allay those fears. Its a cleverly designed storage management tool that hides the complexity of SANs from Exchange administrators, allowing organizations to reap the benefits of SAN storage for Exchange without the steep SAN learning curve. The catch, however, is that SAFE 2.1 can be used to optimize Exchange e-mail storage only on EMC Clariion storage arrays.

SAFE 2.1, which began shipping last fall, is priced at $2,000 per array.

Keep it simple

During tests, eWEEK Labs was impressed by the ease of use of SAFE 2.1 itself and by its ability to simplify storage management.

During the installation process, SAFE 2.1 does a thorough analysis of an organizations Exchange implementation, ensuring that all the various components—including the Exchange server, the network and the storage arrays—have been configured according to best practices. The validation process uses the Microsoft Exchange Server Best Practices Analyzer Tool to ensure that Exchange is patched up and stable before installing SAFE 2.1.

We like that the product provides new functionality without adding extra management interfaces: Once installed, SAFE 2.1 adds subtle extensions to the Exchange System Manager.

Using the Exchange System Manager MMC (Microsoft Management Console), we could easily create and manage new storage groups and migrate mail stores from DAS onto SAN storage devices.

Our testbed consisted of a Dell Inc. PowerEdge 2800 server with twin Xeon 3.6GHz processors and 4GB of RAM. The server was attached to two Clariion arrays—an iSCSI-based AX100i and a Fibre Channel-based AX100. During tests, SAFE 2.1 was adept at managing and using both storage units, even though they used different data paths to connect to the server.

When setting up a new array, SAFE 2.1 takes care of all the basic array configuration chores, including RAID setup, LUN (logic unit number) masking and the creation of the storage pool. These steps arent painfully difficult to get through manually, but they can be time-consuming and confusing to e-mail administrators who have never before set up a SAN storage device or an external RAID array.

Using EMC best practices, SAFE 2.1 configured our Clariion arrays to create RAID 5 volumes; it efficiently laid out data to take advantage of all our arrays spindles (minus the hot spares, of course).

SAFE 2.1 also does things to intelligently boost performance and reliability—such as ensuring that Exchange transaction logs and database files are kept on different storage volumes to avoid bottlenecks and accidental data loss.

During the array configuration process, SMTP notification is set up to let the array send e-mails to an administrator when hardware failures occur or when volumes run low on space.

Storage provisioning and optimization is a strength of SAFE 2.1 because it makes the expansion of e-mail storage quick and painless. With just a few clicks and keystrokes, we added storage to our Exchange servers, a process that can be tricky in SAN environments.

SAFE 2.1 automatically formats volumes with NTFS (NT File System) and sets up mount points for Exchange. When using SAFE 2.1 to expand a mail store, it automatically extended the file system for us, eliminating the need for utilities such as Diskpart or Microsoft Disk Manager.

One limitation of SAFE 2.1 is that it cannot span an Exchange storage group across multiple arrays.

The storage group migration capabilities of SAFE 2.1 allowed us to quickly reassign storage groups to new e-mail servers after a simulated server crash. During the migration process, SAFE 2.1 gives the new server control of the storage group and updates Active Directory to redirect Exchange users to the new server.

With this feature, IT managers can make sure that e-mail service is not disrupted for long periods of time, even if an Exchange server needs to be rebuilt. SAFE can migrate storage groups from older Exchange 2000 servers to Exchange 2003 servers, so it also can function as a useful upgrade tool.

Next page: Evaluation Shortlist: Related Products.


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