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October 9, 2013

Best practices with Exchange 2013 virtualization


The following is a guest post from J. Peter Bruzzese. Exchange has been Peter’s primary focus for ten years.

Microsoft-Exchange-20132When I was in the development phase of my Pluralsight course, Best Practices with Exchange 2013 Virtualization, I looked at as much information as I could regarding Exchange virtualization — my own content included. I looked at best practices from Microsoft, the Exchange Team, fellow MVPs, third-party vendors and random experts, and while doing so, I made sure to approach virtualization from an entry-level perspective because we know for some this may be very new. What I found were a lot of vendor-specific articles with hidden gems on best practices, which is great, but the problem was that they weren’t all in one place. This is what sparked the idea to create a course about it.

While much of the information I compiled was pooled together for the meat of my course, I thought it would be helpful to highlight a few points, or best practices, that really stood out.

Does the vendor you use matter when virtualizing Exchange?

It does, but not as much as you might think. Microsoft has a Windows Server Virtualization Validation Program that shows which products are certified by Microsoft. This program includes all the major players so there isn’t worry that VMWare or Citrix aren’t supported. But what about performance? Does the hypervisor determine the performance of Exchange? Technically, sure it does. Realistically, the difference in performance metrics between the major vendors (Microsoft, Citrix, VMWare) is so minimal that it’s impossible to truly see or to care about. What does this mean for you? Go with the vendor you feel comfortable with for your environment; Exchange isn’t going to care.

Should you virtualize both Exchange server roles (CAS and Mailbox)?

Exchange is supported in a virtualized environment. So yes, you can virtualize both roles.  Should you? Well, that depends on many things including the mindset of the decision makers in your organization. If you do virtualize Exchange, do not undercut or shortchange your virtual server. Too many make the mistake of trying to cram server after server as virtual machines (VM) on their physical boxes and undercut the RAM and processor power to the Exchange (or other) servers. Give the VM what is required as if it were running on a physical box, and you will have solid performance. You also want to avoid using features of your hypervisor solution like memory overcommit or dynamic memory.

What about disk recommendations?  What should I do for best performance?

You need to go with fixed disks. No dynamically expanding solutions are supported with Exchange. And in the case of Exchange you can go with fixed .vhdx files or pass-through disks. On the Mailbox server role (which is where this counts) many swear by pass-through iSCSI storage for best performance.

For more tips check out J. Peter Bruzzese’s latest course, Best Practices with Exchange 2013 Virtualization, available now in the Pluralsight course library. For those looking to get started with Microsoft Exhange we recommend the entry level Exchange Server 2013 training.

About the Author

edits content on the Pluralsight blog. Say hello on Twitter: @manyas.