Exchange 2010 and the end of third-party archiving

A bottomless mailbox capability and support for low-cost storage leaves third party archiving solutions out in the cold

With the push for larger mailbox sizes by users and increasing compliance requirements by legal departments, e-mail archiving is no longer optional for most organizations. But thanks to new technologies available in Exchange 2010 and Exchange 2010 SP1, including a bottomless mailbox capability and support for low-cost storage options, the need to deploy third-party archiving solutions is fading fast.

More often than not companies start down the archiving path in an effort to meet the never-ending need for larger mailbox capacities and/or to meet data retention requirements imposed by regulatory mandates. Until now, IT pros have typically turned to third-party archiving applications to meet these needs. This introduces yet another application that must be monitored and managed by already overburdened IT departments.

Best and Worst of Exchange 2010

With the release of Exchange 2010 and improvements in Outlook 2010, Microsoft has significantly increased the amount of data that Exchange can handle natively. It is now realistic to roll out mailboxes that are 5GB, 10GB or even 25GB in size without deploying any third-party software to archive data to a secondary location. This is possible because Exchange 2010 features some major architectural changes that not only support large databases (up to 2TB in a DAG, according to Microsoft, but realistically only 1TB in this author's opinion), but also enable the use of low-cost SATA drives for storage.

Deploying Exchange with low-cost storage eliminates the need for a stand-alone archiving system in order to support large mailboxes. That's because the whole purpose of archiving systems designed to enable large mailboxes is simply to move data to inexpensive storage. If an Exchange 2010 system is already using low-cost storage, why deploy software that would be performing an interim and unnecessary step? Most companies will find Exchange 2010 can solve two important problems: support large mailboxes and get rid of third-party archiving products. For customers that need to meet compliance mandates, a third-party solution is required. However, it can be limited to only those employees that fall under the compliance mandate's umbrella.

SP1 and Office 2010 deliver the goods

While the initial Exchange 2010 release last November offered all of the above archiving benefits, it still forced IT pros to make some tough decisions because of the way the archiving function was implemented. First, archiving was only supported with the Outlook 2010 client, which only became available with the release of Office 2010 in May. Second, Exchange 2010 archiving required a personal archive to be kept on the same mailbox database as the primary mailbox. Unfortunately this didn't allow for the logical implementation of tiered storage for less frequently accessed e-mail.

Here's the good news. With the upcoming release of SP1 for Exchange 2010 Microsoft is addressing all these issues. First, archiving will work with the Exchange 2007 client. Second, the company has added the flexibility to provision a user's personal archive to a different mailbox database from their primary mailbox. Third, new capabilities will allow administrators to import historical e-mail data from .PST files directly into Exchange, and new controls to facilitate delegated access permissions to a personal archive will also be released.

What about SANs, backups and disaster recovery?

Using SATA drives for database storage on Exchange 2010 is now a very realistic option. Although Exchange 2007 made progress towards supporting lower-cost storage, it lacked the ability to handle high enterprise IO workloads.

Exchange 2010 has changed all that. In fact, most organizations should be using SATA/NL SAS type storage unless their environment generates intense IO traffic loads that only Fibre Channel can handle. It's important to note that "low cost" does not mean cheap. Therefore, existing investments in SAN technology should be evaluated to determine which architecture delivers the best value based on costs and functionality.

For organizations that are using archiving as a pseudo backup or disaster-recovery solution it is important to consider using the native functionality in Exchange High Availability as an alternative way to meet these needs. Using the new Exchange 2010 Database Availability Group is highly recommended, especially when using large databases. In conjunction with a good VSS aware backup application like Microsoft's Data Protection Manager, IT organizations can offer much larger mailboxes, with higher SLAs and lower RTO/RPO numbers than ever before. Plus, they can achieve all this at a much lower cost than the tag-team combination of previous versions of Exchange with a third-party archiving solution.

Clearly, the new capabilities built into Exchange 2010 and Exchange 2010 SP1 provide IT departments with flexible and cost-effective alternatives for deploying large mailboxes and reducing system management and administration burdens. However, its biggest impact may be on the future of stand-alone e-mail archiving solutions, which will only be needed for compliance.

Dumas (lee.dumas@azaleos.com) is director of architecture for Azaleos, a provider of managed services for Exchange (and other Microsoft UC servers), and a Microsoft Certified Architect. He previously served on Microsoft's Exchange development team and has worked with Exchange, messaging and unified communications technologies for over 15 years.

Read more about data center in Network World's Data Center section.

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